Monthly Archives: March 2021

A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure: Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng

If you do not know who Dr T is I suggest that you follow her on Twitter @drtlaleng. Doctor Tlaleng Mofokeng was appointed as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health is a South African medical doctor and a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights activist. 

First published in 2019 A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure this book caused a huge stir on social media and within most book clubs in the country. This book is rated 16 and as such, this review is too. 

The guide is divided into three parts. The first being sexual health, secondly sexual pleasure and lastly sexual rights which are all interrelated. 

We start off with an introduction by Dr T who explains that she wrote the guide to help the reader ‘navigate different aspects of sexual and reproductive health, pleasure and rights.’ 

In the first section, which is the longest, Dr T speaks on a wide range of topics surrounding Sexual Health which are broadly divided into four subcategories of Physiology, Menstrual Health, Medical Conditions and Pregnancy. 

This first section is an immensely important section which could very likely be easily used in educating both high school learners as well as older people who are uncertain about any sexual health concerns. Dr T moves from talking about the clitoris, to the use of menstrual cups and abortions. A generous amount of time is spent talking about sex and the different occurrences that it can be disrupted through allergies to latex, diabetes and even cancer. One topic which is often left out when talking about that is not left out in this book is abstinence as a sexual choice. 

When speaking on abortions Dr. T says, “the issue, however, is if one considers the policing of women’s bodies and the entitlement that individual partners, families, communities, societies, and systems have on the ability of women to be fertile and the exertion that external forces place on women, it is clear that the decision to have children or not and how to space pregnancies remains a far-fetched idea for many women.”

Moving onto the second section we delve right into sexual pleasure and if all you want to know is about the big O then head onto page 180. I wouldn’t suggest that though because there is an immensely important topic of Consent that is discussed right before. If I could copy and paste this whole section for you I would, but copyright is important so I will just share this little bit here in relation to people in a relationship, “You have to talk about the fact that when I say I want to have sex I may not say it out loud or I might start touching you or rubbing your ear. Whatever that detail is, it cannot just be assumed that when you touched her vagina and it was wet, it meant she wanted to have sex. It does not work that way.”

We move onto the last section which is the shortest but by no means less impactful where we are asked to explore sexual rights. From advocating for them to making a powerful argument that sex work is real work our talks of sex seems to be rounding up to bring everything together. My personal favourite part of the discussion comes when the issue of health care workers and the importance of their approach towards sexual health rights will ultimately be the driving force behind change in the attitude that we have when we speak about issues surrounding sex in its entirety. 

This is definitely a book to buy for keeps or even to pass on to your nieces, nephews, non binary friends and foes once you are done digesting it. For more on Dr. Tlaleng visit https://drtlaleng.com/ .

This book review was first published at http://kcsbookclub.co.za/2020/09/24/dr-t-a-guide-to-sexual-health-and-pleasure-book-reviewed/

Miss Behave – Malebo Sephodi

I first read Miss Behave in 2017 when I was 27 and was running a book club with some friends. At the time I had been calling myself a feminist for years and finding it increasingly difficult to marry my spiritual life that often-dictated patriarchy as the one true way while holding on to gender norms for dear life.

The book starts with the Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” This is the premise of the whole book. The book follows instances of Malebo Sephodi’s life where she had to “behave badly”.

On my first read in 2017 I related with almost every single aspect that she wrote about. Reading it now after a few years has left me feeling as if though I am reading about a past life. I no longer struggle with certain concepts that were raised in the book whereas on my first read I was sending screenshots of almost every line to my friends and professing how much I related and felt seen by someone that I had never even met.

The most joyous moment that I had with this book years ago was having our book club meeting and Malebo graciously joined us. The discussion was robust and engaging and I wanted to live in her pocket so that I could at the very least have some of the crumbs of her knowledge fall into my being. This desire was only seconded in joy by the fact that my closest friend who had vehemently apposed being called a feminist finally seceded to the notion that being called a feminist, an African feminist was not a bad thing.

The book goes between many different stories and parts of Malebo’s life and each chapter is just as engaging as the last. At times you may find yourself slightly lost but I think that there is beauty in that too. The way that she draws you in and gives you these misbehaving stories are vivid. Malebo talks about being in the biker community where black woman are not necessarily supposed to be in and take up space. There is talk about certain issues of being the black women in corporate South Africa or in white spaces where you are considered the “better black” or a black woman who isn’t like other black people. These are conversation that I have had on countless occasions with both close friends and acquaintances.

Since my first read of that book I have grown into some parts of my feminism that I never knew that I could. Speaking about intersectionality and not being afraid to outrightly reject “white feminism” is one if the biggest differences that I have seen. The most important thing that I have learned since reading this book that I can now reflect on is that I no longer wait for knowledge to fall into my being. I actively work towards social justice issues and do the necessary readings to fully grasp concepts. I have also realised that lived experiences, although highly important, cannot be the hill that we die on. With lived experiences comes a need to ground ourselves and see the reality that surrounds our experiences.

Midway through the book there is a conversation surrounding black bodies and one that I particularly resonate with is Malebo’s experience with her “saggy breasts”. In a world which prizes perkiness her navigation through acceptance is one that will resonate with many readers. She takes us through the #RUReferenceList where political protests within universities were pivoted through an old school form of protest of going topless in order to protest.

Towards the end of the book self-care takes a centre stage in the book. Malebo highlights the importance of taking care of yourself as a form of misbehaviour. She says, “this means rejecting all notions that keep us afraid of being our true selves.” There are a few points she makes with regards to self care which, if you never read the book I feel that you should note down. The following in particular:

  • Take care of your health
  • Meditate more often
  • Occasionally log out of social media
  • Support local art
  • Read books that you want to read and
  • Manage your finances

This book has had a profound impact on my life in a short period of time in encouraging me to debate issues, unpack and learn more. I am excited to pick it up in 5 years’ time and again reflect on how my views have changed and possibly being sharpened more.

I want to share an extract from you that was one of my favourite parts and leave you with the final word that you should definitely pick this book up.

“I am flawed and not perfect and get the theory incorrect because I am still unlearning internalised oppression. I still struggle with deep-seated beliefs about ender norms and have to constantly check myself. I don’t get it rights all that time but I am walking in the right direction. I used to be hard on myself because I desperately wanted my feminism to be accepted by other feminists. This is when I learned the importance of the different threads that run through different strands of feminism. Sometimes I don’t feminist up to the standards of others but I continue to identify as an African Feminist. It is important that we offer critique among one another though – so we may continually check our blind spots.”

This Book review originally appeared in http://kcsbookclub.co.za/2020/08/24/book-review-miss-behave-by-malebo-sephodi/

Sliding into the DM’s

When Olivia and I first interacted in the middle of 2015 I didn’t think that we would be chatting daily. You see, I mistakenly tagged her on my natural hair page @Hulis_Hair (previously AfroHealthSA) and she corrected me but then still went on to follow the page. Soon after that she followed my personal account and I followed right back.

Weeks later she sent me a direct message and asked if she could do a post about me on her website at the time (kayiniafrika.com). Of course, I said yes because I thought it was amazing that this girl all the way in Tanzania thought that I was cool enough to feature.

As we chatted through emails I found out that she seemed to be a nice human being. My gut also told me that she was genuine. After going back and forth between emails and DM’s Olivia mentioned her desire to come to South Africa. I took a leap and gave her my number and asked her to send me a message if she didn’t think I was being too weird. In some parts I kind of  expected her to just say thank you and never make use of my number, but I soon found out that she was actually happy to have it.

We were talking every day for most of the day on WhatsApp about our normal lives with voice notes and video calls in-between. Very soon after that came the tagging on Instagram when we saw a funny picture or a lovely quote. We discovered that we had a similar sense of humour and it became effortless to talk about all things under the sun. We went from being acquaintances on social media to becoming great friends online.

As we continued to talk Olivia would bring up South Africa more and more. We played around with ideas of what I thought of certain places and arranged a few logistics. I must say though, my first and then recurring thought was that she was absolutely brave! Who visits a country where the only point of reference is a stranger that they met online? What if I was a serial killer who preys on Instagram girls?

After many mails about accommodation and transport details she was booked and ready for her travels to South Africa. We had arranged that I was to meet her on the day after her arrival in October 2015 when she had finished a hot air balloon sunrise experience. I drove to the venue at the approximate time that she had advised me to arrive and I waited in my car. I sent up a prayer hoping that this wasn’t an elaborate plan to try and kidnap me and sell me on the black market.

What followed was a day at the Harties Zoo, the dam and then a drive to Sandton to find her accommodation. After a bit of a mishap and location changes we managed to check her in and went for supper and drinks where we met up with a few of my closest friends. Olivia then spent a few more days in the area and managed to make friends everywhere she went with such ease and grace that I was in awe.

Since then we have been involved in each other’s lives. The highs and the lows, heartbreak and heartfelt laughs.

My experience with online friends has always turned out for the best, but this was my first life changing one. Seeing bravery in a young black woman who wants to explore the world on her terms. Her visit here afforded me a strong friendship and an even better prayer warrior who intercedes for me.

Then in 2019 my best friend and I had the opportunity to visit Olivia in Tanzania for an extended Christmas visit. A story that I will tell another day.

Plant mom

Plants have been a part of my life since the moment I was born. I can never remember a time where there were no plants in the family house, in the garden and everywhere in-between.

It is actually a fitting time to tell the story that when my parents moved in together in their first home they had no furniture and only carboard to sit on. However, there were pot plants in the 2 bedroom house. Plants that were cherished as they filled up their first home.

Perhaps this also has to do with the fact that my dad is a horticulturist and caring for plants is in his blood. So much so that he often took me to work with him as a toddler to try and get me into the swing of things. This turned out terribly when one day I played in a field filled with blossoming flowers and fainted. This led to the discovery that I was allergic to pollen.

You would not think that someone who suffers from hay fever would be a plant person or that Jacaranda season in Pretoria is her favourite time of the year. Unfortunately, the plant bug bit and I am now 34 plants in while living on the fourth floor of a city flat with a sunroom.

I will be using the site to share the ups and downs about my plant life while drawing some knowledge from my dad. I hope that you enjoy the journey with me.

Quick lesson for today though. Plants die and that is okay. Do not beat yourself up about it. I will delve into that completely the next time I post about plants though.

Happy planting 🙂

A termination.

I have always seen the quotes where we are consistently told that 6 months could change our lives. I think that is part of why I am still in utter shock that 12 days could change my life.

12 February 2021

At the crack of dawn, I was already preparing for my visit to the radiologist. I tried to repeat a mantra in my head that it would be okay. As much as my self-diagnosed disease was bad, there were treatments for all of them. Regardless of how brutal they may be.

By the time that I had filled in the forms with the receptionist, I had calmed down. The fact that the specialist was running late just gave me extra time to prepare for what they had to say about my health. I laughed while the radiologist examined my kidneys first after I told a joke about me not being pregnant. She had started at my kidneys because my symptoms were erratic and she wanted to make sure that she got a good reading on everything.

You see, my period had stopped for the past 3 months as a result of me switching contraceptive methods. This however did not negate the fact that I was experiencing abdominal pains that shook me to the core when they decided to strike ever so often especially while lying down.

Within five minutes of my laying down to hear my diagnosis of some sort of medical condition the radiologist giggled and announced that I was pregnant.

Let’s backtrack for a second here to early 2017 when I first found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. I had recently broken up with my first boyfriend and was having a great time with a guy that I met in the lift who lived in my building. After seeing each other for a while in 2016 he wanted to change our relationship status from, “just kicking it” to something more serious. I was not ready and as a result, we broke things off. This was only for him to come back a few months later and tell me that he was fine with our previous arrangement.

We then carried on with that. I was still at the very beginning of articles at the law firm I was working at and I knew that I did not want to be pregnant right then. We would use condoms at every single encounter because my path towards being an admitted attorney would not be deterred.

After missing a period, I joked with him about being pregnant and I didn’t realise then, but his laugh was almost nervous. My stress levels at the time were through the roof and it wasn’t shocking to me that my period was late/missing. I went to a friend’s house on a whim with a pregnancy test and told her that I was shockingly nervous to take it, but that it should be fine.

I sat in the bathroom with her while her boyfriend watched a soccer match in their living room. We waited and joked, spoke about hair and how we both needed a drink.

Checked the pregnancy test and there were two very very distinct lines which marked a positive result.

But how? I logically know that any contraceptive method is not 100 percent safe, but how was it possible that I was in the 2 percent failure rate? I returned to my place and called the culprit over for a visit where I asked in sincere amazement as to how this had happened.

His explanation started with telling me that I was refusing to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t understand. Then he explained to me that he had thought that if I were pregnant/had his child then I would want to date him because I don’t seem to be the type of woman that would want to be a single mother.

My head spun and I did not understand what exactly was happening. I asked him how that would be possible because we used protection. I did not know the word for it then, but I have since learned that what he had done was stealthing. The deliberate tampering of condoms with a sexual partner without them being aware.

Although I could not put my finger on it and identify that this was an assault at the time, I was felt violated and convicted in my decision that I was not keeping the fetus.

12 February 2021

And so as I lay on the bed on a Friday morning before work in 2021 and the radiologist told me that I was pregnant I could not fathom what she was saying. A hand waved through the screen and the fetus would not keep still enough for her to measure. Ironically I was wearing my favorite dress that came from the maternity section.

I was on the pill for this very reason not to fall pregnant. I took a pregnancy test at the end of every month just to make sure that I was on the right path. Here was this person telling me that she thought I was 3 months into the one thing that I swore I would never want to do.

During my lunch break, after already calling my primary partner to tell him the news I called to make an appointment at a women’s clinic for a termination. Since I was unsure of how far along I was, I needed to have a sonar and check-up before the procedure. As a result, I was then booked for the 23rd of February 2021.

That night was the first of almost two weeks that I cried myself to sleep.

12 February 2021

Two. That is the number of times that I have cried painfully in front of my partner. Where I could feel his distress and panic as to the fact that he couldn’t do anything to put the pieces back together. That I just needed to fall apart and his only role was to hold me physically as my mind worked itself up into a state.

16 February 2021

By the night of the 14th of February, I hadn’t slept with worry. Mostly because I had done some preliminary calculations and it seemed that I was 16 weeks pregnant. 20 weeks is the maximum for termination, so what if I was wrong? I woke up and frantically called every gynecologist near me. The third one that answered told me that they had a free opening in the next hour. I got dressed and called an Uber straight there.

After all the basic tests, the gynae told me that I was 15 weeks and one day pregnant. I doubt that I will ever forget that number.

In my head, as the gynae was telling me about how I had missed the first set of blood tests and check-ups all I could think of is that I still had time to terminate. I nodded and agreed when he told me that I should be back in 4 weeks to do a gender scan and to do some blood tests. An appointment that I am yet to cancel.

As much as I had been riddled with anxiety and uncertainty for the past few days, the confirmation from the doctor that I was still within limits of terminating a pregnancy that I knew nothing of for the past 4 months made me feel better.

I finally got some sleep that night.  

19 February 2021

I had to reschedule my appointment at the women’s clinic since a pre-assessment was no longer necessary. A surgical procedure with anesthesia was moved up to the 19th of February. I spent most of the day at the clinic wishing that I had brought a jersey even though it was hot outside.

20 February 2021

Grief and relief. What a strange combination to be faced with.

The five stages of grief, in no particular order or time frame apparently, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Relief on the other hand is defined as a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.

The first person that I told about the pregnancy was my best friend. My message was clearly laced in denial. It read, “Not me being pregnant Jessica.” I laugh now but what a millennial response to have in such a situation.

Within these days I had moved from debilitating anxiety to relief that this was not happening to me. My body still carried the trauma of the emotions that I was processing. Right at the start, I had already tried to start easing my mind to the fact that it may be too late for a termination. That I had to go through with this. Not necessarily that I had to keep the baby that would be born, but the fact that I would have to carry the fetus to term.

Although I know that I made the right decision for me, one that I will never regret or feel bad about, there is no stopping the feeling of loss. Grief is about processing a loss. Logic, pre-determined plans, and goals are irrelevant when you are going through extreme circumstances.

23 February 2021

I finally said out loud and acknowledged that I had gone through a loss and moving straight to acceptance was not a possibility.

I booked an appointment with a clinical psychologist. All that I did was cry while trying to explain what was wrong. My therapist didn’t tire of letting me cry or gather my thoughts.

Before the end of that day, the receptionist had already sent me a form to fill out which would ensure that I got treatment for acute stress disorder accompanied by recent trauma. Loss, no matter how justified, is still a loss. We cry over the end of terrible relationships because they still happened and there were real feelings there, good or bad. I cry over the fact that my life was almost changed forever and that I was able to avert it.

Having a marginally good credit score enabled me to access money in a rush, having access to a safe and legal termination, having access to a mental health provider, and being afforded time off from work without jumping through hoops. These are things that I am grateful for the most today as a type this.

My life is still changed as a sit with a newly inserted IUD, but this is the choice that I have made.

All that has happened will never fall into a list of regrets. I do however need to deal with the emotions of an exceptionally stressful week that still leaves me tearful.

Choosing me

16 July 2016 was the day that I started working at my previous firm.

Before this, I had been wholeheartedly job hunting for articles for about 4 months with not a single interview.

One day I received a call for an interview in Pretoria East and so I drove from Rustenburg with a prayer in my heart all the way. Your girl nailed the interview and started working 3 weeks later. The 16th of July 2016.

My first day was a blur of information and when lunchtime came I headed out to sit in my car. I took the opportunity to call my mom and told her everything.

I ate.

I didn’t spend the full hour outside and then came back in.

The moment I walked in, the candidate attorney who was training me scolded me for taking lunch. Her words were, “ you don’t get lunch.” I found it strange but I let it be. The following day I needed to go to the pharmacy at lunch and headed on out. While driving I received a call from the office asking where I was. I confusingly checked my time again just to make sure it was 12 o’clock and proudly said, “it is my lunch time. I am going to the pharmacy.”

My supervisor, who was the one who had called, then informed me that I need to tell her if I was going off the property during lunch. I was confused but I realised very quickly that lunch time was clearly not my own. I made peace with this and got into the habit if not taking lunch. I ate at my desk and carried on working. The culture was clearly entrenched in the company that certain employees were not afforded as many rights as previously thought.

Fast forward to the two candidates who were training me leaving the company. I took over the work of two people. This was court visits, drafting and general admin. It was clear to my co-workers that I was overwhelmed but as common practice with interns and even more so in the legal fraternity I was here for my articles ad there was nothing that I could do about it. Candidate attorneys are after all easily replaceable.

After a few months of roughing it out alone it was clear that this was indeed the work of two people and another candidate was thankfully hired. She has since become like a sister to me, but that is a story for another day.

We worked 7 am – 8 pm on most days during high volume period. Our work was still never done. The two year passed in more of a blur with the additional stress of board exams, evening classes and Masters. I was constantly stressed and the worst was still to come.

The Law Society (Legal Practitioners Council) has conveniently never reviewed how much abuse candidate attorneys go through in their time of articles. I constantly say that the most unfair practises and rules are within the legal fraternity. The affidavit that you work towards in order to be admitted as an attorney of the High Court comes at a high price. Usually just your sanity, but probably your liver too.

After my favourite co-worker finished her articles the firm did not offer her place to stay. This left me alone, again. At this point though, the department had downsized and the two support staff that we had were either moved to other departments or left the company. In the legal department it was me, my supervisor and my boss.  Down from six to three.

My supervisor was tasked with the call center management and then I was tasked with the management of the legal aspects of all our clients. This technically meant that it was just me in the legal department doing all of the ground work. My supervisor then went on maternity leave.

I began working from 7am up until 10 and even 11pm for over 3 months. It makes me emotional at times that for months I never saw a sunset or sunrise because of my schedule. I would be in absolute awe when I was able to experience these little joys.

In the space of one month during the excessive stress from work, I lost both my maternal grandmother and my youngest niece.

I broke.

For two days I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t even reach for the alcohol that I had been using as a coping mechanism. I had gained an excess of 10kgs because I genuinely had no time to cook or care for myself.

Luckily the two days that I disappeared from work were right before the weekend and so in theory I was able to rest for 4 days.

When I finally returned to the office I was summoned to the bosses office. After explaining what had happened, I was offered therapy. The offer was not to reduce my stress or work load but rather to attempt to fix the broken, well oiled machine who was desperate for her affidavit.

I still took the offer though and went to therapy. My therapist immediately advised me after the first session that she was going to book me off work and send me to a wellness clinic because I was on the thinnest line towards burn out. I declined.

Remember how I said that the law society has crazy rules? Well, as a candidate you cannot be absent from work for over 30 days. You guessed it, no falling pregnant, no admission to mental health institutions and all of that apparently unnecessary absenteeism that humans are susceptible to. I was then placed on various medication for stress, anxiety and depression. I pushed on until I wrote my last board exam with the firm, because that was my exit strategy.

I didn’t pass the exam. The moment that I found out, I made the decision to quit my job. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was one exam pass away from admission but I just could not reconcile staying at this firm until 2020 where I could rewrite.

And so I quit. I made the decision to choose myself.

This is something that I never do. I am a finisher. I have a high work ethic and drive. In this instance, I just could not carry on.

In the process of me serving my notice the department I was in hired 3 people to replace me. I trained all of them and I throw up a little prayer for them every time I think about it.

31 October 2019 was my last day.

It has been over a year since leaving that work space and I genuinely am happier than I have been in years.

Sometimes the beginning of a beautiful story of loving your life is between making difficult decisions that may be frowned on by others.