Zoey Black is a transgender woman living in Cape Town, South Africa. She is the owner, creator and blogger at zoeyblack.com, a platform to broaden the narrative of transgender stories and contribute to advocacy for human rights.
The Soweto Uprising was 41 years ago. What does it mean to be young today? Is youth day relevant today?
As a young trans womxn, affirming and celebrating young people and the impact they have on our society is so important, particularly those in the LGBTQIA+ community. I think that with the evolution of our understanding about gender and sexuality comes a new vocabulary and way of thinking about and engaging with the world, and young people lay the foundations for these ideas. They’re often at the forefront of new and exciting possibilities, and that’s incredibly exciting.
Compared to what life was like for your mother as a young woman, what do you think about being a young woman today?
It’s difficult to speak to the experiences of my mother. She was 16 at the time of the uprisings and I can imagine what a scary and also liberating time that must have been for her. I had similar experiences during the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements, which played such a big part in the zeitgeist of my politics. If this is anything like what my mother experienced in ’76, I can only imagine how deeply that must’ve impacted her.
For me, today, being a young, visible transgender womxn of colour is often very difficult. I try to live as openly and as freely as myself, but that gets interrupted by a society that so often discriminates against me because of my gender or race, or both. And because of that, I’ve focused a lot of my energy in zoeyblack.com, to make trans lives and narratives more accessible to people who might not otherwise have exposure to such identities or experiences.
That said, I think things are changing. In my experience, younger people are far more accepting of identities that are different from their own. And knowing that this new generation is bringing tolerance, understanding and empathy to our society is a sign that we are moving forward. And that puts a smile on my face.
How do your age and gender affect you in your work/industry and day-to-day life?
I’ve been fortunate to work in an organisation that is extremely progressive in its thinking and its way of engaging with people. arepp:Theatre for Life uses theatre to teach problem-solving life skills to school-going youth, and everything is framed in a rights-based context. So the advocacy for children’s rights and the development and affirmation of self is inherent in its mandate. I’ve been working here for the last six years and it’s been amazing to be able to be myself around people who affirm my gender identity.
Being young at arepp:Theatre for Life has worked for me in so many ways. As the work is focused on young people, it’s really helpful being able to identify with so many of the issues and struggles they may be dealing with.
I’ve been really lucky in that sense. There are so many transgender and gender non-confirming people who live and work in spaces that don’t support or affirm their identity. And that can be incredibly isolating. I think there is a lot of work to be done about these issues so that all people, no matter their gender identity, are accepted and included in their work and social spaces.
What was the defining moment that drew you to theatre/drama? Do you consider this your primary passion?
I was always in love with the performing arts and often performed in school plays and reviews in primary school. There was something incredibly liberating about playing characters – that excited me. And so in high school, I began taking drama as a formal subject. And that just opened up the door to all sorts of theatre magic. I went on to study theatre and performance at the University of Cape Town, which turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Studying theatre was hard. When the rest of the university was going back home or to res after the day’s classes, the theatre students were up and rehearsing until 12 at night. And you’d be back at class at 8am, doing it all over again the next day, and on the weekend, and public holidays. Theatre taught me the value of discipline, of committing yourself to something, of doing a thing over and over and over again until you get it right, and then doing it again.
Part of acting and performing is getting to know and understand people. Who they are. How they think. Their loves. Their losses. Their joys. And playing characters allowed me the ability to self-reflect and understand my own life and experiences.
Do you feel like it’s our time as young women? Or are we still waiting?
I think it’s always been our time. Womxn have been influencing and shaping our society since forever. We may have been in the background, but we were there, doing the most. And we are here, still, doing the most. But I think the visibility of womxn and womxn’s issues are more in the spotlight now. And they deserve to be.
If we’re talking about trying to create an equal society for all people, then we have to focus on dismantling the patriarchal structures that dictate how womxn live their lives. And part of this includes reflecting on how we think about and understand gender, sexuality and identity. I’m so glad that young womxn are leading the way forward on this. It is, like for my mother in ’76, a scary and also liberating time to be alive.