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Meet South Africa’s oldest transgender woman



Elise Bishop, an author and former credit manager, is the oldest transgender woman on record in South Africa. Elise had her gender reassignment surgery in the 1970s and according to You, she spent seven weeks on the front page of a Sunday newspaper after making LGBTQI+ history.

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ELISE BISHOP: SA’S OLDEST TRANSGENDER WOMAN 

Elise Bishop was born Pierre van der Merwe in June 1952 in Graaf-Reinet, a small town in the Eastern Cape. As a young child, Pierre experimented with women’s clothing and would strut around in his mother’s petticoat. 

After completing high school, a young Pierre was set to join the army and met another recruit while on the train to Pretoria. After connecting, Pierre met the recruit’s friend who told him about gender reassignment surgery at the HF Verwoerd Hospital, now known as the Steve Biko Academic Hospital. 

After the surgery in 1975, Bishop officially changed her name to Elise. 

NAVIGATING LIFE AS A TRANSGENDER WOMAN 

Speaking to You, Elise said the “modern terminology” sounds stranger to her. “I’m a sex change, finish and klaar. That’s what I was and still am.” 

“I’m a plain Jane, not a drama queen. I don’t want a mansion, just a cosy home for a mother hen like me.”

“I was and still am 100% a woman and will be all my life,” said the 70-year-old woman. 

Elise, who now lives in Strand, a seaside town just outside of Cape Town, has detailed her experiences as a transgender woman in a book titled, Twee Lewens. The book was originally written in Afrikaans and is now being translated to English.

ALSO READ: ‘Better kissing another man’: Neil Patrick Harris on first gay sex scene

GENDER REASSIGNMENT SURGERY IN SOUTH AFRICA

According to Spotlight, the mother of a 17-year-old transgender teenager said there was little to no support for the trans youth in the public healthcare system. 

“It is very expensive. Discovery Health has a plot programme to support and affirm trans members but it remains limited and the barriers to entry are financially excessive with a lifetime limit of R200 000 in partial payment benefits,” she explained. 

Dr Simone Pickstone-Taylor, a local psychiatrist, said very few transgender men youth have parents who can afford to pay for top surgery.



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