At the age of 19, soon after completing her advanced level studies, she moved to Harare the city of dreams. Her name is Ashley, and this is how her transition diary started.
I didn’t always consider myself as male although I often identified as gay. Apart from the terms gays and lesbian, I didn’t know anything about the word Transgender. Having grown up in rural Zimbabwe, it was also taboo to talked about the issue of homosexuality unless you had something negative to say. It is not surprising that at 19 I had not met any other gay people, let alone joined any groups or events organised for the LGBTI community. Moving to capital came with a new lease of life and some freedom. Away from my prying siblings and parents, I had my own room, laptop and mobile phone. I remember how I began to secretly re-design my own clothes, steal my aunt’s makeup and jewellery and model in front of the mirror. During that period I also learnt more about using mobile apps and social media and I immediately opened a pseudo-Facebook account with my female name and would update my profile with images of me in my feminine clothing and makeup. I looked completely different and felt more comfortable, alive and free. I began chatting with men who were attracted to me. The few moments I was online, I could be my true myself, expressing my feelings and thoughts freely away from the gazing eyes of family and society.
With time, the desire grew and I was curious to meet some of the people I flirted with online. I had been chatting with one guy for months and i really wanted to meet him. He was also putting pressure on me and I was slowly giving in. The day i went into a shop bought a wig and some makeup, I felt liberated and more determined to meet this man. After a couple of selfies in my new gear, i gained more confidence and even this man some. Although ready i knew it was a huge risk, something so strong kept on pushing me to meet him. I didnt worry so much about my appearance because My body had always been so feminine and so was my voice. As we continued meeting, the desire to get intimate took over and i was getting worried each day. A part of me wanted to tell him about the kind of woman I was, but i also didn’t want to jinx it. After a few months, i realised i was in too deep and so was he, i could tell him my secret and loose him or keep my secret and my pants on. He began pressuring me to have sex, as I was a virgin i wasn’t ready to engage in sex with him so for fear of outing myself, i cut all ties with him and just went silent. It was the most painful decision I ever had to make. I wanted to continue dating and meeting other men without being intimate, so i continued flirting, going on dates in public places with the men to avoid being in compromising situations.
Each time I left home, I would wear my skinny jeans inside baggy jeans and hide my wig and makeup in my backpack. I would use a nearby bushy area to change into my female clothes and apply makeup such that no one would recognise me. I began to hate myself for living a double life, I felt like a crook because my family didn’t know my secret, my male friends were aware and the men i was dating also where in the dark. I was scared and angry most of the time, i wanted to disappear in my guilt and to go where no one knew me and start over again.
They say things have a funny way of coming out.
One day my cousin sneaked into my room whilst i was bathing, he wanted to use my laptop, unfortunately, i had forgotten to close my photos folder. He saw all my photos as i stepped into the room i could sense that something was wrong, he was holding my laptop obviously waiting for an explanation. I quickly composed myself and lied that the photos were part of a theatre performance project. He wouldn’t have any of it, he quickly called in my uncle and brother. They confiscated my phone and laptop and backpack. I felt naked and exposed as they accessed all my social media accounts, files and photos, weave and make up hidden in my backpack. They were seething with anger, cursed and accused me of being a Satanist and practising witchcraft. They teamed up and beat me up badly, had i not managed to escape maybe i would be dead by now. I left that house with my bloody clothes i went to a friends house, lied that I had been mugged and borrowed some money.That same day i left for my rural home.
Bad news travels fast, by the time I got home to my parents my uncle had already called them and narrated everything. My parents acted as if they weren’t aware, the following day they told me i was to be taken to a traditional healer for cleansing because I was mentally ill and a strange demonic spirit was bent on destroying my life.
I secretly left my rural home before the demon cleansing ceremony. It’s been two years since i set foot in that village. I moved back to the city, where i found myself homeless. I teamed up with some female sex workers who understood my plight and they assisted me with clothing and the hooks of the trade. It’s not easy being a sex worker, let alone being transgender sometimes I get violated by men if I reveal my biological gender, at times they decide to keep it a secret, police also take advantage of us on the streets and sometimes they also demand sex for free. Most of my female friends know i am transwoman. We may have arguments but we protect each other on these streets . Currently, i am self-administering myself with female hormone tablets i get from female friends, this helps to maintain my feminine appearance. I dream of going back home again someday, or even just talking to my parents.
“My wish is to transition fully and undergo surgery and have my body in sync with how I feel inside, I feel my body dysphoria limits me to perform to my maximum in life maybe that way i will be respected as a human being,” she said.
By Tanaka Musa: Queerstion Southern Africa co-Editor and activist based in Zimbabwe