IN a few weeks’ time, the festive season will be upon us and for many families, it’s a time to meet and catch up on almost everything that would have happened throughout the course of the year. For some college and university students, holidays such as the festive season brings some sort of relief and therapy away from the hectic academic schedule.
By Michael Gwarisa
However, the same cannot be said for the Transgender and Intersex community in Zimbabwe who in most cases have to think twice and deeply before buying that bus or plane ticket back home. For the Trans group and the entire LGBTIQ community in Zimbabwe, things totally change the moment one comes out or identifies with any of the groups in the letters. LGBTIQ stands for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Intersex and Queer and in Zimbabwe, the entire community literally stays in the shadows for fear of being victimised, arrested or even worse.
In Zimbabwe, due to strong cultural and religious beliefs, the LBGTIQ community is frowned upon and stigma is at its highest. It gets worse when one’s parents find out that their child is attracted to the opposite sex or identifies as another sex that he or she was not assigned at birth.
The same quandary befell Tichaona, a young Transgender man based in Harare whose relations with his mother soured the moment she discovered that her child who was born female was identifying as male and was dating another female. Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual and Tichaona is already undergoing his transition medically.
I remember back then, I was still in college. Because my mom had found out that I am transgender after my brother told her, she had developed an attitude towards my choice. She did not approve of my decision and choices and above all, she feared the backlash from community. Because of that, I dreaded to go home even for semester breaks or even during festive holidays,” said Tichaona.
He vividly remembers how he so much wanted to commit suicide owing to a myriad of factors chief among them being the rejection and disapproval from her family and mother and the general stigma at the hands of community.
“At some point, I once thought it was better to die. I had really planned it. However, I remembered I still had some money on me that I was supposed to use towards my tuition so instead of killing myself, I started renting a room and stayed alone. That’s to some extent gave me some form of comfort especially knowing that I was no longer under any obligation to visit anyone or go home during school breaks.”
Tichaona story in not peculiar to him alone as many Trans people go through worse circumstances in their lives. To majority of people outside the Trans community especially heterosexual groups, being Trans is a sign of confusion and mental illness that at times might evoke the intervention of powerful prophets, Voodoo Priests and Sangomas.
Lady Dee, a Trans woman shared her heart-breaking and harrowing story of how she suffered maltreatment at the hands of her step mother after she realised her true identity. Just like most Trans people,Lady Dee had to pack her backs and abandon the only place she had known to be her home since her childhood.
“I grew up in the Ghetto and I have always been feminine growing up. When other boys wanted toys to play with, I was conformable with dolls. I was like that even in school and at home. My grandmother would always scold me saying I was weak like a girl. This somehow perpetuated stigma against me in the family as my siblings would always take turns to insult me.
“Back in 2013, there was a story that once came out in the media following the raiding of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) Head Quarters and I was among the people who were arrested that day. It was my first time there and unfortunately, I was caught in the cross fire. We spent a night at Harare Central Police station but we were released without any charge. However, when the police officers were making follow-ups at home, that’s how my parents found out that I was transgender and from that day onwards, everything totally changed,” said Lady Dee.
She recalls how her stepmother would play homophobic and transphobic songs on the radio whenever she was around. Even her relatives started giving her a cold shoulder after the media article.
“You know growing up, I had my little bothers and they had their own room. We called that room “The Danger Zone” just because it stank badly because of the consistent bedwetting by my brothers. Guess what, even with that smell, my relatives especially male guests would prefer enduring the bad urine smell than for them to share a room with me. Probably they thought Trans or gay people don’t have preferences and boundaries. We do have boundaries and we do not sleep with anyone just because they have two legs.”
“Things got worse, I was no longer getting food at home, and my parents no longer wanted me at home. That is when I moved out, I was not chased from home but they made life so hard for me to the extent that I realised I was no longer wanted. I started staying with friends and all my relatives cut contact with me. I recently resumed communication with my family relatives after an eight years hiatus.”
Some who fail to take the pressure associated with transphobia and LGBTIQ related stigma may end up committing suicide like Tinashe from Mbare, who downed rat poison after his father had publicly rejected her as his son at an apostolic shrine. It took swift medical intervention for her to survive. Mental health challenges are very high in the Transgender community and if not addressed early, may have fatal consequences such as suicide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), transgender people, and other gender minorities, comprise roughly 0.3–0.5% (25 million) of the global population.
The WHO adds that transgender people often experience disproportionately high levels of mental health conditions. They note that cissexism, discrimination, violence, and barriers to healthcare can all contribute to the increased chance of mental health concerns. Research suggests that transgender individuals are almost four times as likely as cisgender people to experience a mental health condition. Cisgender describes a person whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.
Art, the Mental Health Focul person with Trans Smart, an organisation that advocates for the health rights of the transgender community and other minority groups said it was difficult for the trans community to get mental health support services in Zimbabwe
“Firstly let me say it is not easy for a member of the LGBTIQ person to look for and get mental health support in terms of counseling, advice or even to look for information because of the stigma that is there. In the clinics where they go to look for help, they are stigmatised from the entrance, the nurses and everyone. Even if they are in need of counseling, it has always been an issue and at Trans Smart, we had to take it upon ourselves to intervene and offer counseling services,” said Art.
Meanwhile, Ms Gumisai Bonzo, the Executive Director for Trans Smart said there was need to demystify misconceptions around the Trans community so as to ensure them openly and freely access health services.
“The trans community has been left out in so many issues. Because of their identity most of them struggle to access services at Banks, Healthcare facilities, the airport or border posts or even to exercise basic rights such as voting, because they do not identify with what will be on their Identity documents.
“We are lobbying that at least they get gender markers that are in line with their identity. We are just hoping that as the trans and intersex community to sensitise the RG’s office in relation to gender markers so that our members can be able to go and register to vote,” said Ms Bonzo.
The names used in this article are not their real names but pseudo names for the purposes of protecting their identity.