Still in the Dark: The plight of the Transgender Community in Zimbabwe

ALL of our blood when it comes out, it comes out, it’s the same colour. I haven’t seen any blood different yet than the colour of mine. This a statement by prominent American human rights activist , the Late Ann Atwater while campaigning for the ending of racial segregation in American schools.

This statement is still as apt and relevant when it comes to the stigma and discrimination faced by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexual, and Queer (LGBTIQ) in Zimbabwe and all over the world.

The Transgender community has been at a harsh receiving end of life just for being different. To some sections of the society, this group of people is as confusing as can be but if you get to speak to them, they are as human as can be.

From dehumanizing incidents at police road blocks and in the neighborhoods, this community often find live not worth living but through some surprising courage springing out of them, they soldier on.

Theirs is a life where one has to think thrice about going to a bank, going to an airport, as well as answering to nature’s calls in the public.

Common denominators inside this community of transgenders include being parasuicidal meaning having attempted suicides more than once, being ostracized from family and friends as well as communities they live in, as well as being taunted. They also grew up in a family full of boys or girls, or by a single parent or step parent.

Revelations by TransSmart Executive Director Ms Gumisai Bhonzo at a Health Communicators Forum organised workshop are that having persons some traditional leaders acknowledge having transgender persons in their settings. She said in their field work they learnt transgenders are referred to colloquially as ‘jengavarume’ or ‘jengavakadzi’.

Following the mantra, Leaving No One behind, the TransSmart boss feels it is wishful thinking to eliminate HIV, as well as achieving the drooled-for herd immunity against COVID-19 while ignoring the LGBTIQ community

“We dont have a database to quantify the number of people in the trans or intersex community but what we have seen from our field work is there are about 200 in Harare, 300 and something in Bulawayo and so on,” she said. ” Also what would happen was that when we left the places, we would be notified many would want to know about us.”

According to psychiatry.org, this community experience what psychiatrists term gender dysphoria. “The term transgender refers to a person whose sex assigned are birth (ie the sex assigned by a physician at birth usually based on external genitalia) does not match their gender identity (ie one’s psychological sense of their gender). Some people who are transgender will experience gender dysphoria which refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Though gender dysphoria often begins at childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later,” reads the website.

When identifying transgender persons, to easily grasp this concept, when one was at birth assigned the male sex and later on in their lives, they transition or realise they are females, these are the transwomen. If at birth the sex assigned to them was female and as they grow they want to be identified as male, these are referred to as the transmen. As a pronoun, they want to be referred to as They or Them.

It was quite courageous of this trans community meeting with journalists sharing their lived experience having endured unfavourable coverage from other sections of the media some of which plunged them into suicide ideations.

Growing up in Harare’s oldest high density suburb for transwoman Rudo* has not been easy. Playing with dolls, dressing and feeling comfortable in her mother’s dress and stilettos, she was viewed as beyond odd. She now sits like a woman, has a womanish gait and a nonverbal cues like a woman.

At one time, some youth leaders from Zanu PF according to Rudo sat her down in the bid to understand her in a debasing manner.

Rudo who wants didn’t see eye to eye with her grandmother had to put the message across by attempting suicide. She downed a rat poisoned drink at her grandmother’s home but fortunately threw it up and got medical attention.

Also sharing her experiences in a separate interview was Fiona* who grew up in Highfield being taunted as Malaika following the pageant because of her mannerisms.

“I tried committing suicide six times. I had to leave home to fend for myself,” she said.

Meet Eugene* a transmale whose assigned sex at birth was female. With a mask, showing off beard, one could easily greet him as a Chibaba until it is removed. Zooming into his face, his eyes give him away as well as his cheeks. But with a bulging tummy, beard, broad shoulders, gait, that is a man. He first discovered his current sexual identity in his early 20s. Cast out from his family, he spent six months without speaking with his mother.

*Names have been altered to protect this community from further stigma and discrimination

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