This is cross-posted from Gender DynamiX, which is “the first African based organisation solely focussing on the transgender community.” They provide resources, information and support to trans folks, their partners, family, employers and the public. Justin met with the groups’ wonderful founders a few years ago in Cape Town. Here’s a glimpse of what life is like for transgender people and our advocates in other parts of the world:
I have gone through trauma my whole life because the whole community hated the fact that I acted like a girl. What they didn’t know was that it was not a choice I had made but something I was born with. I am God’s creation just like everybody else. I was beaten many times and even lost part of my hearing that way. The hardest thing was that I could not confide in anyone since in Zimbabwe it is taboo and illegal to be the way I was (transgender). My life and the life of my parents’ were at risk because people were threatening to burn down our house. That is when I decided to run away, in order to protect both myself and my family. I decided to come to South Africa, where I have met wonderful and caring people through Gender DynamiX. My life is just starting to make sense and I have a little bit of peace in my heart, something that I haven’t felt before.
My name is Tandi* and I am a 21 year old Zimbabwean. I was born a boy with a male organ and everyone thought my parents had had another son. It was while growing up that I started showing feminine interests and mannerisms. Everyone realised that I had looked and walked and done everything like a girl since childhood. My friends were girls. I played with dolls and wore feminine clothes. My first crush was on a boy in grade three. My mother was a teacher at my primary school. I would cry to get into the girls’ netball team. She would let me play and it felt right to be among other girls. When you are a child, people realise that there is something wrong but they don’t pay much attention to it and they do not bug you about it. So my childhood was a lot better because I was still young and my parents let me do most of the things I wanted to do.
My troubles all began when I started getting older. Everyone- my family, neighbours and the community, were on my case and asking me why I was acting like a girl. Some accused me of doing this intentionally and letting it happen. In church I couldn’t sit with the boys or the girls. In high school, they wrote bad things about me on notice boards and called me all sorts of names. I had to drop out because I was in a boarding school and the students were making my life difficult. They would force me to go into the bathroom with them to make sure I was a real man. I started going to a day school but even the teachers would pass all sorts of comments that always made me feel down. I could not concentrate and my mother tried to home school me but I failed my final exams. I was staying in the location and it became serious when the guys started beating me and some of them even tried to get me to bed. They tried to gang rape me and I managed to escape. I was beaten when I tried to go to the shops and lost part of my hearing due to the beatings. They even threatened to burn our house. For me that was the final straw.
I sat down with my parents and pleaded with them to try and raise money for my visa. I knew I had to get away, to remain alive and protect my parents as well. I was not living a life. I had never been involved in a relationship with anyone because I was so afraid of what would happen to me.
I came to South Africa. In Cosmopolitan magazine I read about Gender DynamiXand called them. They found me a shelter to stay at. Gender DynamiX has been my rock and I can feel that I am starting to live and I am free.
When I first came to South Africa it was hard for me because I was staying with a cousin in Johannesburg. Her landlady did not like people spending the whole day at her house, so I had to spend the day outside, looking for any jobs around the city to pass the time. This also made me spend the little money I had. Travelling to and fro looking for a job used up a large amount of the money I had, so it was really tough. Life in South Africa is generally cheaper than in Zimbabwe. The weather is quite a challenge for me because it is so cold here and I just had no clothes. I did not imagine that winter here could be so bad. I am getting around anyway and getting help from anonymous donors who are giving me clothes. The other challenge was in the township that I was staying in. The men could sometimes be mean and I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I could see by their look that they were not saying something nice. If they greet you and realise that you do not understand them they try to grab you or make fun of you.
Life was somehow starting to make some sense to me. Sometimes people would invite me to spend time with them, and even ask me to spend the night at their homes. This meant a lot to me. I realise that there are people who are willing to sacrifice everything to make someone happy. It makes me cry sometimes just to think that people in a foreign country, who know so little about me, are the ones who are willing to make me happy and get nothing for it. I can’t wait for Sunday’s, because I go to church and afterwards people take me out with them and have dinner and talk and dance and laugh. It makes a huge difference in my life and I cannot wait for the next Sunday. I am sure life will never cease to have its challenges though. One night we decided to go to a club for a girls’ night out. When I got to the door the bouncers would not let me into the club. I was hurt. I had to go back home and I felt bad because I think it took away the joy the other girls were supposed to have.
I have a journey I want to take and I realise that it is not going to be easy and a lot of people will judge me. I just have to hang in there. I know things will work out and I am proud to be the woman I am. It does not matter that I am waiting, but what matters is that I know what I want. I am so depressed sometimes that I cannot even breathe. I just feel I cannot take it anymore, but I know that nothing sweet comes easy. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep and I do not know what is bothering me. I have been seeing a wonderful therapist recently and he is really helping me to appreciate myself more. I can talk to him about anything. I finally realise there is actually light at the end of the tunnel.
To apply for refugee status is no easy task
Another issue I have been dealing with is sorting out my refugee status but it is not an easy road. When Liesl and I went the first time they told us they were not dealing with Zimbabweans that day. We then went to the Law clinic at UCT for advice and they gave me a letter so that I will not be in trouble if the police ask for my identification and status.
We then went back to Home Affairs at four o’clock in the morning on the actual day for Zimbabweans. We had to bribe muscle-men there to stay in the queue. There were separate queues for the first timers and for those who wanted to renew their status. There were also massive queues of other foreigners from different countries. Everything was just chaotic.
Men in the queues were fighting for positions and once someone smashed a bottle on a woman standing behind me and she was injured. They were throwing bricks at each other and we had to duck so as not to be hit. The security guard would just come and hit with his sjambok and it almost hit us in the face. We had to scream so he would know there were ladies since it was dark.
We waited for six hours and afterwards they just took three of the ladies who were in front of me and ten men. They then said that they had taken enough people for that day. After being outside in that harsh weather we had to go back home empty-handed again.
I wish whoever makes rules and regulations should be answerable for all the trauma and torture. It’s a pity that people in Zimbabwe feel that way towards God’s creation. What these people need to understand is that you can control many things in the world but there is one thing that you just cannot control and that is human feeling. It is a human right to do what is right from the heart. Human rights are beyond their control. And human rights should be obeyed whatever the circumstances. That is what happens if someone is gay, lesbian, intersexed, transgender or whatever. Something needs to be done to free these tortured souls and to allow us the chance to show what God proudly gave us. I am proudly in the process of becoming a real woman and I will not let anything stand in my way.
*Name changed for security reasons