I remember vividly the feeling of hopelessness, pain and deep turmoil I felt that night. I was groaning in pain on my bed, choking on tears and trying my ultimate best to endure the pain alone and not awaken any of my family members. It was way past midnight and this wasn’t the first time I was going through all this emotional pain. In fact this had been happening for so long, so on this day I was convinced suicide was my way out. Since I hit puberty, had resented my body so much, the pain was choking me, Was I crazy for feeling this way? For feeling so stuck in a body that was supposed to be mine.
I can testify that It’s hard enough navigating life as a teenager going through puberty and raging hormones, but its way too hard and frightening when your body develops in a way that feels wrong and you are convinced that you are the only one going through this pain. I was too ashamed to share my ‘embarrassing’ secret with anyone.
My name is Chris*. I am a brother, a friend, a man of colour, a son, a pianist, a musician, a basketball fan, and so many other things. I am a 21-year-old transsexual man from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. My story is only a narration of what I experience as a transgender person, I know other persons like me who have to go through worse troubles just to be who they are.
I could never find the right words to clearly articulate how being trans gender and gender dysphoria feels like. The only way someone can understand it is if they have gone through it themselves. However the simplest way I can put it is to make someone imagine they one day wake up in a body of the opposite sex, expected to carry out roles of that gender and everyone in the society views and treats you as that gender. No matter how hard you try to explain that this isn’t you, this isn’t your real body no one takes you seriously or believes you. They all think you are crazy or demon possessed. Even then this small example is not enough to fully portray what I have to go through every day living in Zimbabwe where there is very little if any information available on trans issues.
I only became aware of the term transgender when I was 16 years old . I was happy to know that I wasn’t on my own, other kids my age around the world felt the same way I did. Knowing that I am not alone saved my life.
I come from an extremely religious household. Both my parents are pastors, can you imagine how hard it was for me to explain that I was trans to my parents. Obviously the reaction was not positive. I was told to pray it away because the devil was trying to use me and many other scary theories. I was forced to pray and taken for countless prayer sessions. On numerous occasions, pastors held prayers for me. Well, of course this did not change anything, because for me being trans person is real it’s not imagined.
These experiences are still alive in my memory and are a very delicate matter to me; the thought of the hell I went through still brings tears to my eyes.
For me personally dealing with family and relatives is always a hard thing. Family gatherings are a thing you do not want to deal with. Over time I’ve mastered the art of suddenly falling sick so I have to be excused from attending any of these events. This is not because I do not like my relatives or nosy aunties and uncles It’s because when you are trans people seem to think you are a playing ground where everyone can toss rude opinions and remarks about you right in your face. They criticise everything from the way you dress, walk, talk and so many other things. It’s really quite hard because words are a powerful weapon and the wounds that come from all the derogatory terms they call you can last forever .So for my own sanity I’ve learnt to avoid such events. Although it still saddens me that I cannot spend time with my relatives happily, it would have been so nice to fit in. It’s sad that people fail to look past the fact that you are different and see you for the human being you are.
Life as a Transgender person in a country like Zimbabwe where there is so much stigma and hate towards difference is a torrid task. What makes it worse for us transgender persons is the fact that generally people have no understanding of transgender issues and are quick to attack us. Thus, transphobia is rife. Most of the time we are mistaken for being homosexual and thus subjected to anti gay bigotry. Transgender persons face verbal and physical insults from strangers even as you walk through streets. Those who do not ‘pass well and fit into society’s gender binary, are more at risk of being violated in public places often without redress. The police may also arrest you under unscrupulous charges.
As a transgender student you are vulnerable to bullies who call you names and you can’t even fight back or report to authorities because their response will equally be as transphobic.
Sadly the illiteracy on trans issues is not only found in the general population but also within the LGB community. Some in the LBG community accuse trans people of “taking the easy way out ” by transitioning. This of course is not true at all. The absence of a strong standing organisation that focuses solely on the needs and cries of trans people affects our ability to organise or meet and share solely as trans persons, hence we are all isolated in different cities with no communication
Being a trans person in Zimbabwe means your legal documentations becomes your worst nightmare as they reflect a name and gender, which contrast with who you know you are. I have had to deal with my own share of drama regarding legal documentation. At this point, I dare not to even try to take my drivers license for fear of having to face transphobic comments and awkward moments when they look at my documents.
Accessing services such as restrooms, schools, public transport and hospitals is always a painful task. Most disheartening is the fact that as transgender persons we have no access to relevant healthcare support such as hormones or surgeries. This means you have no choice but leave your home country in order to gain access to a better life. For those of us who do not have the privilege of seeking trans related healthcare services country the pain is twofold; the transphobia from the society and the dysphoria from our own bodies.
I dream of undergoing surgery and accessing hormones to help me go through the right puberty and be the man I feel I am. I daydream about this each day. I’m trying all I can to reach my goal and find my happiness. My second dream is to spearhead a strong trans movement in Zimbabwe. This will help us as trans people to unite and we advocate for our rights as a team because we do exist, we are humans and our voices will be heard. I want to be able to make a difference for the trans people that will come after me, because no one deserves to leave in pain and misery.
Written by Chris* edited by Miles Tanhira.