Thu, Jun 3, 2021 8:55 AM

Felix's journey of self-discovery

Felix Swanepoel and Jessie Mickell have been together just under a year and have been inseparable ever since. Photos: Aimee Jules

Jonty Dine

Felix Swanepoel has never felt comfortable in the body he was born in.

The 18-year-old doesn’t look down in the shower and is made to vomit whenever he catches a glimpse of his body in the mirror.

He despises the sound of his own voice, hides his chest, and longs for hair on his face.

Felix is transgender and has identified as a male for as long as he can remember.

“I always knew from a young age that I was trans, I just didn’t know how to express it.”

Despite great strides made in acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community, transgender people still face appalling discrimination in society.

Born in South Africa, Felix’s struggle with gender identity led to relentless bullying at school.

“You don’t look like a boy! What is in your pants? Let me see, freak!”

The abuse did not stop once Felix’s family moved to Auckland where he eventually came out to his parents as transgender at 17.

As a result, Felix has lost both family and friends.

“They knew me as a female, so it was really hard for them to adjust, people just kept saying ‘I don’t get it, you want to be a boy now?!”’

He would be bullied in a number of ways from the passive aggressive to outright cruel.

“They would refer to me as a girl, say ‘you don’t look enough like a boy’, and even ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore.’”

With his parents reacting unfavorably to his coming out, Felix left Auckland.

“I moved here to Nelson because it was just very hard for them to understand.”

It was here that things began to turn around for Felix.

He finished his schooling at Nayland College where he was embraced by his peers, landed a full-time job at T&G and met his girlfriend, Jessie Mickell.

While Nayland was supportive of Felix, youth would still harass the couple particularly on social media, questioning why Jessie was not with a ‘real boy.’

“I used to try tell them that he is a real boy, he is just working on it, but I gave up,” says Jessie.

After meeting through a mutual friend, the pair have been together for almost a year.

It was a long wait for their first date having met just prior to lockdown.

“We had just met before so there were a lot of Facetime sessions, we fell asleep on FaceTime every night for four months,” says Jessie.

Eventually, Felix got the courage to ask Jessie out officially.

“I didn’t take it seriously, but then asked me again and I went up for a long weekend.”

That would be the start of a blossoming romance.

“We like doing adventures to the beach, going on walks or just staying in, getting snacks and having a movie marathon.”

They may not have the same taste in movies, but Felix is more than happy to compromise.

“I love true crime and he puts up with it,” jokes Jessie.

She says Felix has shown incredible resilience during his journey.

“I love how positive he is and how he always makes me smile and laugh.”

Felix says Jessie always knows how to keep him calm in moments of high anxiety.

“She always helps me feel better and knows how to make me laugh, she is very supportive, caring and loving.”

The young lovers say they are much stronger together and can take on any further hurdles they may face.

“Nothing can break us apart.”,

The couple is still subjected to ‘looks’ from strangers while out in public.

“We get a lot of people trying to figure out if it’s two girls and why we are holding hands.”

Jessie says the ignorance can span generations.

“For some, they haven’t grown up with it so it’s like a new concept for them, people just need to understand it is really hard to be trans.”

The workplace has been another hotbed for discrimination.

When working at a butchery, colleagues and customers would intentionally ignore Felix’s preferred pronouns and insist on referring to him as female.

Even something as simple as using a public bathroom can be a daunting experience for Felix.

“I would get comments and looks walking into either, because I don’t have the right anatomy.”

Despite long flowing hair down to his hips, and being made to wear pink dresses, Felix recalls rejecting traditionally female norms as a child.

“I was always a bit of a tom boy, I dressed in boy clothes. I just hated my body, I threw up from it and I would get body aches.”

His relationship with both parents has become significantly strained however they are making slow progress.

“It is slightly better, now they are trying a bit harder it’s getting there.”

The couple say understanding comes from education and that it is ok to ask questions of trans people.

“Generally, we are happy to talk about it, you can ask about preferred pronouns and sexuality.”

Felix has recently begun hormone treatment and receives testosterone injections in his lower hip every fortnight.

His voice is already lower and facial hair is beginning to show.

“He can’t wait for his first shave, he has already bought all the razors,” laughs Jessie.

Felix is especially uncomfortable with his breasts and conceals them with binds which increases the chances of breast cancer.

In order to make the full transition to male, Felix is hoping to undergo surgery in the near future.

However, the costs for surgeries can range from $20,000 all the way up to $180k.

Jessie has created a GiveaLittle page to help raise funds for Felix’s treatments.

However, this has unfortunately been met with more derogatory comments.

“We just want people to think about how it may feel to be misgendered and that it’s not a choice, it’s a constant battle between happiness and acceptance.”

Felix says his dream is to one day look in the mirror and be happy with the person staring back.

To contribute to Felix’s journey please go to  https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/felixs-transition

This story was written for Nelson Magazine