07 March 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
CGAS staff with Jessica Lynn
From left: Ankia Bradfield, Sihle Salman, Jessica Lynn, Dr Nadine Lake, programme director, Gender Studies, and Dr Stephanie Cawood, director of CGAS after the talk.

For Jessica Lynn, a transgender activist, referencing the Butterfly to tell her journey, is the perfect metaphor to raise awareness of transgender issues. The Centre for Gender and Africa studies (CGAS) at the University of the Free State (UFS) hosted Lynn at a seminar titled, The Butterfly Project.

The CGAS invited Lynn in an effort to educate and inform students of her own experience as a parent living as a transgender woman. She is a global ambassador at the Kinsey Institute.

Coping mechanisms to escape reality

Born Jeffery Alan Butterworth in 1965, Lynn has become a world-renowned, dynamic and hard-hitting transgender activist. Lynn started her seminar off with: “Who here knows someone that is part of the transgender community?” It was evident that not many people know someone who is transgender. “In the United States only 16% of the population knows someone who is transgender,” she said.

“Everybody has their own story, just like I am only one of the 1.4 million transgender stories in the United States (US).” As a child of English immigrants to the US she was raised as a boy. “At a very young age I wanted to be girl,” she says, “but in 1969 it was not something that was spoken about..”

She started doing photography, painting and sports to stop the feelings she had to become a girl. She became obsessed with painting. “When I am painting that eagle I became that eagle in order to escape my reality.” She came out to her children as transgender during December 2009. She fully transitioned in 2010.

Lynn is the mother of three boys and was married to their biological mother. A botched Texas court restricted her access to her youngest child and to this day she has not been able to see her son.

Transgender discussions on rise in South Africa

“Transgender discussions have been less salient than conversations around homosexuality in South Africa,” said Dr Nadine Lake, programme director for Gender Studies at the UFS.  “But it is clear that raising awareness around transgender issues is starting to take more ground.”

Transgender identity and trans-body rights emerged during the #RhodesMustFall movement in 2015. “It was university students that were primarily driving the transformation agenda,” said Dr Lake.

The seminar on 20 February 2019 was an emotional, explosive and honest narrative of Jessica Lynn cocooning from Jeffrey Alan Butterworth to the phenomenal women she is today.


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