•A lot of genderqueer/non-binary people prefer ‘they/them/theirs’ as pronouns, but Germaine likes the fact that she confuses people enough to have them stuttering over pronouns. As she says, “Gender is supposed to be confusing.” For the sake of the article, we have referred to Germaine as ‘she’.
Germaine De Larch is one of the few transgender spokespeople in South Africa who is living proof that being broken down is often the best way to discover your truth.
From being raised by a Methodist minister father, to being the school nerd, to spending almost a decade in government psyche wards, the path to enlightenment for Germaine was one of utter confusion and self-loathing. Several breakdowns in her twenties led the way to realising that literally everything she had viewed about herself spoke no truth.
The path to self-discovery only began when the darkness looked back deeply in a torturous death stare with reality.
Everyone has their story, but some are just more interesting than others.
Germaine shared a candid, honest chat with us and laid bare the truths behind how she became one of South Africa’s most respected transgender spokespeople and inspiring creative artists.
An educated “female-assigned-at-birth” person, Germaine spent much of her youth fighting internal battles with depression. Hardly sexually aware, Germaine experienced her first kiss at the age of 23 in the JHB Gen psyche ward. Literally feeling ‘in limbo’ as she swung between not actually wanting to die, but not wanting to live either, she was forced to ‘man up’ after realising that muddling through in the Sterkfontein Psyche ward was not an option. “You have to live, and if you want to live you just have to fucking do it”.
She realised she had a talent for writing and a responsibility towards the people who began to relate to her honesty. Through the cathartic process of blogging her truth, she met people walking similar paths, people who found therapy in her words.
“When you spend so much time in hospital you can’t not be vulnerable, I can’t lie and say “I’m ok”. Chit-chat doesn’t work for me and in turn I’ve had people finding more solace in my words than in 5 years of therapy”.
After a soured relationship, Germaine found another creative release through photography. Testing her personal boundaries by looking at who her parents had created, who she had created and who she’d allowed herself to become, she exposed herself through stark realism that caused much of the transgender world to sit up and take notice. “I decided to literally reclaim myself, and photography became a way of never losing myself again. I realised at that stage that I don’t fit in with lesbians that play out masculine, feminine and heterosexual roles.
I realised then I was queer, so the idea of reclaiming my gender became central to me reclaiming my identity. I found that extremely powerful and it became central to my activism”.
Germaine used social networking as a way to tap into like-minded resources and support and through the Transgender support group at Wits University, CtrlAltGender, she began to photograph the processes that various young transgender students were experiencing. “I fell in love with myself through images because at first it was very painful to see myself as the world sees me and what I truly look like – and I had to share this experience with them.”
Documenting the ‘coming-out’ process was a way of allowing Germaine and her photographic subjects to take back social media in a less superficial way and make it a platform for their processes. Through this activism her social media reach grew exponentially and she was approached to lecture at various conferences on the subject of transgender photography. “Social media has become a place where we can speak truthfully and if we are truthful then we will be responded to truthfully.”
Germaine was flown over to America by the Philadelphia Transgender conference in 2015 as a guest speaker on gender identity. Her real urgency is the township corrective rape situation. “The issue in South Africa is not a white one. Claiming your identity is a life or death situation. People in townships are being raped and murdered and they aren’t ‘lesbians’ per se, they are masculine of-centre people who scare conservative men”.
The language barrier in the townships is a big enough issue for many transgender people and in a culture where transgender doesn’t even have a vernacular word; these transgender people do not know how to describe their process.
Complex as a concept, transgender isn’t about the binary in Germaine’s opinion. Another vital part of the umbrella is non-binary, genderqueer people – a term she uses to describe herself. Genderqueer is more about the idea of being born non-gender specific, but rather both genders – opening up the possibility that we can indeed have more than just the male and the female genders.
Germaine explores this with her new project – Beyond Binaries – a social media campaign that captures the processes of 5 Gender Queer people. Set to become an exhibition at Pride 2015, Germaine is excited to show off the images and she herself is one of the profiled subjects. “I am somebody who tries to embody both physically and emotionally the best qualities of both genders. I feel more comfortable presenting as masculine but I enjoy fucking around with it. Gender is a joke we all take way too seriously and you can play around with it. I love looking masculine but then painting my nails and wearing a pink shirt”.
In a conservative country with very young views on transgender issues, Germaine is swimming upstream against a whole lot of challenges in the future – challenges she will deal with one verse, one photograph and one lecture at a time.