Thato Pule | Co-Founder of The Trans Collective & Transgender Activist

Thato Pule

Thato Pule is an actuarial science student and prominent activist studying at the University of Cape Town. Her activism, which is premised by her very own survival, is centered around issues effecting the black queer trans community. She began her degree in actuarial science in 2012 and hopes to pursue an Honours in the humanities in 2016.
Her politics are inspired by movements like Rhodes Must Fall, The Trans-Collective and Queer Revolution. She played a strong role founding all three movements. Her interests include gender, race and sexuality especially within the context of social justice.

I Am Driven By | My desire to take up and occupy space is political and is what drives me to wake up every day and work towards the total emancipation of the self and the community. It comes with the recognition that my existence always has to beat the odds. It is no longer a secret that poor black trans people are one of the most economically, socially and politically disempowered population groups IN THE WORLD. We are invisible to society due to the intersection of multiple forms of oppression all emanating from the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy; the ‘cistem’. I am driven by my conviction to stand up against the cistem in terms of what it seeks to do with my body and psyche by reclaiming my autonomy as a means of survival.

My Highlights | The formation of The Trans Collective, a collective of trans, non-binary and intersex students at the University of Cape Town, is most certainly one of the highlights of my activism. It filled a gap in the mainstream decolonization dialogue, calling for degendering and decisgendering to be a priority in the decolonization project. It represented the beginning of a journey into understanding exactly what it means to be a poor black trans queer womxn in Africa and thus empowered us to start doing the work of undoing the erasure of Afrikan trans narratives done by imperialists. Imperialist who imposed a rigid understanding of gender through patriarchy

The Characteristics Of Success | During my most difficult moments I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by the strongest and self-empowered black cis and trans womxn and non-binary people. I was then presented with the opportunity of learning, growing and surviving with a collective group of individuals who understood my pain to some extent. I was hungry for affirmation and received it instantly. This gave me an out of body perspective of my positionality and raised my self-awareness. The prospect of finding empowerment and strength through a collective is difficult to understand yet alone implement in your own life. Especially when the cistem is always using those around you to reinforce itself. I have learnt that putting in effort into striking a balance between letting my guard down and being on defense has to become habitual. The point here is that you don’t always have to be strong; making yourself vulnerable in safe spaces is an important part of self-care.

Principles I Live By | My politics are simple and clear and form the bases of my survival. Recognizing the plight that I face;  is of paramount importance that I believe in a decolonized, degendered society. I have to believe that it is indeed possible for me to exist in this world wholly from my positionality and as such, have the audacity to challenge the cistem. I thrive off of looking it in the eye and flaunting my existence to it in a daring manner. This kind of- all in one- self-affirmation , self-love and self care is essential to my survival.

Lessons I Have Learnt | That the world in its current configuration, with the status quo in tact as it is, unfortunately rules out any possibility of someone saving me. The large gap between my political aspirations (decolonization, degendering, decisgendering) and my everyday experiences of the white supremacist capitalistic patriarchy ( i.e while in my own room, at home, walking down the road, going to school, going to work etc) leaves my body and psyche in tatters. The institutionalization of the white supremacist capitalistic patriarchy brings violence into my personal space. It will always find a way to maximize violence at every point in my existence and it  will continue to do so until it is toppled over. In this way it is my belief that the  cistem manages to keep us all preoccupied with our own survival while simultaneously giving us the impression that we are going the struggle alone. The unfortunate consequence of this is that we become detached from our community struggles. This is exactly why spaces such as The Trans Collective have become important to me because their existence in itself  is in rebellion to the cistem.

Dealing With Doubt | The logical conclusion for any self-doubt, fear or negativity is that it originates from the exact system that seeks to suffocate my existence. Through a political lens the intent becomes visible and these emotions appear exactly as they are, as tools the cistem uses to try and derail me from path to true existence. I do not believe that it is possible -at this stage- to overcome these emotions because the cistem is still in full operation. It benefits a lot from defeating you in your personal space. I see negative perceptions of myself as symptoms of this aggressive and violent move.

Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | People who resist the chokehold of the cistem inspire me. This includes anyone who beats the odds: the poor black single mothers, poor black trans sex workers, poor black non-binary trans revolutionaries, poor black disabled womxn and many of us who find themselves breathing and living despite what the cistem dictates.

The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I want a legacy that challenges hegemony in all aspects of oppression. I give myself the option of always searching for my ‘true’ self and that means betraying the cistem wherever I can. This is not a random move, its calculated. For black people the concept of self is political because you are inherently dehumanized. As a black cis womxn you are battling with agency and male domination. For poor black trans queer womxn the self is invisible in all your experiences within the cistem. This invisibility is mostly driven by society’s contemporary rigid understanding of gender which finds its origins in imperialism. For poor black trans queer womxn this produces a form of blackness that is more toxic and violent in the status quo. My legacy is not going to be just mine alone; it will join the legacies of black cis and trans womxn and non-binary people who have dared to exist.

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