the imanni identity: the first transgender model in the african continent

I am Imanni Da Silva, I am originally from Angola and live between Luanda and London. I am an actress, model, writer, plastic artist and designer. I am a spokesperson to a Non governmental organisation that works for human rights and fights homophobia in Angola.


Words by Samuel Afadama, photography by Andreia Cardoso

I have Angolan background from both sides and my Grandmothers are descents from two different Angolan tribes, my paternal Grandfather was Portuguese and my maternal Grandfather from Spanish descent.

I was 5 when I started to relate to women´s ways and didn't take long until I started to feel attracted to the male figure. Then as a child I did not know the difference between right and wrong so had no idea that in the adult´s eyes it was not acceptable.

Transgender is a group representing people that live as the opposite gender they were born as such as cross dressers, transvestites and transsexuals although the definition of transsexual is simply someone who goes through a transition of the sex which your sexual organ is altered into the gender you identify yourself with.

the misconception is that we are mentally disturbed and unstable emotionally and seeing as a threat to many

The misconception is that we are mentally disturbed and unstable emotionally and seeing as a threat to many. Transsexualism is not a mental illness, although the conditions may cause great stress in our lives and family. We are normal human beings that simply need  understanding and orientation from those capable to help us achieve our main goal.

I have met people who are not transgender but are into the community simply because they do like the vibe and admire us as individuals. A lot of people see us almost like mythological figures which awakes a certain curiosity and fascination. I do understand where they coming from.

When I was 10 years old I decided I wanted to be the woman. I felt I was, but for the lack of information by the time I was 14 I forgot about it even though I never stopped feeling like a woman. I was lying to myself until in the mid 20s working in London as a female impersonator I started to feel depressed as there was a gap to be filled and it was stronger than me so I decided to start with hormone therapy and all the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.

I started with self medication which is not advisable because of the risks of how your body might react to it but that is how desperate I was to change my image and get rid of any male feature. Within two weeks I started to react positively and when I was sure I was on the right path I spoke to my doctor and she recommended me to the mental health clinic which took around 8 months to be seen and in one consultation I was diagnosed as transsexual, then I had to wait for another 6 months until I started my consultations with the psychiatrist at the gender clinic and luckily as I was already in hormones for two years and living as a women for 3 years which I had to prove with a formal letter from the company I was working for. It only took one year until they signed me up for surgery.

Regardless if it is MTF or FTM we are all on the same boat and we are susceptible to discrimination and prejudice in any society. In Angola as one of the most open minded countries in Africa, even though there is a strong, and quite visible, LGBT community it is something that can be hard at the beginning especially if people can tell but if you respect yourself and others and prove that you are capable of been useful to your society then it helps to change people´s minds. Being embraced as a transgender model and artist  in an African country is quite something and I couldn´t be more grateful.

I was never in denial because I always felt that way. Just took a while to admit my transsexuality for the lack of information. It was not a surprise to any one that I fancied boys because since I was little it was obvious I wasn´t like the others. But it was a shock to everybody when I announced I was going through the change as everybody thought simply that I was gay and took a long time until they got used to the new person with a new life, and name, etc.

I was very positive regarding my change because it was meant to be, so much so that things happened effortlessly and fast and I was excited. By the date of my surgery I was peaceful and hopeful. I was so calm that I was surprised with myself. When I woke up my first reaction was to cry and I told the nurse that “fear” and “impossible” had no longer a space on my vocabulary. In less then 24 hours I was up and walking slowly in the corridor and sharing a laugh with the nurses. After five days I started the dilation which helps the vagina to be kept open while it heals, that was painful and took a long time until I felt used to it. I spent 7 days at the hospital where I met other girls that went through the same surgery, we ended up as friends and it was the most incredible week of my life. I recovered at home on my own and surprisingly it was easier then I thought, You happen to develop minor infections which is normal and unavoidable, you just need to take good care of the stitches and try not to make much physical effort. Although I found myself at the supermarket two weeks later, my sister, brother-in-law and nieces helped me and supported me a lot.People get shocked when I say that I did not feel pain, just a little discomfort.

i promised to myself that i would no longer let myself be a victim

I was lucky to have it done in London for the time that I have been living in England but in Angola we do not have surgeons dedicated to sex reassignment surgery. People here have to travel to other places and pay they own costs. I am bombarded with messages on facebook with youngsters asking for advise and where to go and start. I always answer and share my experience.

I was never attracted to females, on the other hand I was always enchanted by the female figure as a grew up surrounded by strong minded and glamourous women.

Is not easy to someone like me when it comes to dating, I have met wonderful men and still do but it can be hard to find a guy who is strong enough to admit that you are the women of their dreams and able to face everything and everyone in the name of love. Besides I am a very strong individual, I get what I want, I have achieved many things and I have a lot of self respect but that also intimidates a lot of men. Fortunately I have discovered the essence of life and I am a happy person who loves life and feels complete. When I meet that special guy he will simply add more colour and energy into my life.

I have always desired men and always will. For me sex is more pleasurable and I feel as I was born this way considering how perfect it feels.

It's impossible not to be a victim sooner or later especially in my case because I was very camp and girly. I remember that in London once I was attacked in the middle of the street, they were arrested and we went to court and they ended up in jail. I promised to myself that I would no longer let myself be a victim and do according to the law everything in my power to make people respond for their cruelty against me or others.

The only way to become a parent biologically is to freeze your semen before undergo surgery and then go through an artificial insemination. It's not yet possible to get pregnant but I have heard that studies are been made on this matter.

My advice will be always to get as much information online and in case of the UK there is many organisations that support and guide. You only speak to your family when you feel ready to do so. In the UK you need prescription to by medication from a counter, in Angola is easier and can be bought at any pharmacy counter.

I would like to thank HEDONIST magazine for the opportunity and my wish is to carry on working and contributing for the development of my society and tell the world that hope should be the last thing to die. Be strong believe in yourself and the world will be in your hands.