A refugee’s transphobic encounter in Sweden

I fled Tanzania owing to continued harassment and threats, so when I was attacked recently at an African party in Sweden, the horrific memories of my days of incessant torture back home raced through my head.  I felt vulnerable and scared. Once again  I was in that place where I am constantly running to escape pain, humiliation and violence.

My name is Mo, I am a 26-year-old trans woman from DarSalam. I came to Sweden early 2017.  I am currently in the asylum process, awaiting my interview with migration authorities. In Tanzania, I was well known because I couldn’t just pretend to be who I am not. This visibility also came with a fair share of problems for me. I was publicly beaten up, shouted at and published in a local tabloid. The police were always on my case, beating, harassing and threatening to have me sent to prison for a long time. I remember one time when we were coming from a party with my friends in our dresses, the police who had followed our hideout arrested us and beat us badly for  ‘pretending to be women’.They made us remove our make up by cleaning our faces with mud,  those with nail polish were given stones to remove it. We were then placed in detention for almost a week. There we were made to perform what they called ‘manly tasks’, each morning they made us jump, and perform many knuckle push-ups while screaming ‘I am a man’. After this humiliation, we swore they would never wear dresses again, but we secretly and carefully continued.

My family does not condone my gender identity, they see it as an embarrassment to the tribe. They even once tried to arrange a woman for me to get married. Fortunately for me, the other family pulled out of negotiations raising concerns about my being ‘gay.  Even here in Sweden, my sister is constantly telling me to find a woman to date and not embarrass her in the  Tanzanian community here. I have not told her that I am a transwoman, she only thinks I am gay. I can’t  even wear my feminine clothing or even makeup at home. I have to take all my stuff in a bag and apply makeup on the train when going back home I have to make sure I remove all nail polish or makeup. The good thing is that in public here people usually mind their own business.

I am a chef, so people hire me to cook African cuisine at parties or events and even for individuals.  So when a friend invited me to an African party in Östersund a small town to assist I jumped on the opportunity.  During the party people didn’t mind that i was wearing makeup, however, all hell broke lose when one man saw me dancing with the DJ. He started shouting  ‘who invited a homosexual here before pouring a glass of alcohol on me.  People ignored him but they also did not intervene to stop him. After a while I went outside to use the bathroom unbeknown to me, this man had followed.  The moment I saw him I sensed danger so I rushed towards the door. He punched, kicked and cursed as he dragged me out of the toilet to a nearby road. I cried for help but most people were still inside the building they couldn’t  hear. He dragged me on the rough road to a few metres, I could see some people staring, but they did not come to my rescue. I managed to flee from the scene and immediately called the police who arrived in no time.

The man was arrested and whisked away before he could flee. I was taken to the hospital and discharged the following day. I went back to Stockholm and waited to hear from police, they later informed me that if I  wanted to be compensated for my injuries I should engage a lawyer. I wasn’t sure how I could get a lawyer since  I am just an asylums seeker and I was also scared that once migration hears that I am now involved in police cases they would think I am a problem and deport me.

I did not engage a lawyer, I told the police I could not afford one, they later notified me that the man placed in jail for a month and released. I am not sure if anything else will happen to him. This experience really traumatised me, I still feel insecure being in certain spaces now. It scares me to think that even in Europe,  I can easily find myself in similar situations like those back home where i would leave the house without knowing if I would make it back again.

the injuries Mo sustained during a transphobic attack in Östersund, Sweden.


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