In this special interview, Our Rewrites Editor MCDONALD BAMUSI catches up with a 23-year-old Malawian transgender to discuss life of gay people in the country since government effected a moratorium on arrests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in 2012 and why he left Malawi to settle in another Sadc country: Excerpts:
Q: How are you? It’s been a long time since we last met/talked! How have you been?
A: To be honest, I cannot say I am good or I am bad because I have just lived for a while now. It’s been a traumatic journey [from here] and I think from the past trauma, I cannot say I am healed from it, but I cannot say I am suffering from it. So, all I can say is, yeah, I am living. I am not good or bad or struggling. I am just living right now.
Q: We have known each other for close to a decade now but I didn’t realise that you belong to the LGBTI community…
A: I would say, for the past years you did not know if I was part of that umbrella of LGBTI because it takes somebody to come out and for me, I see no reason to come out because only a few will do that, because if you are straight, you do not have to introduce yourself that ‘Hey guys, I am straight!’ So, why do I have to introduce myself to be LGBTI? It is something that’s food for thought. So, I feel like introducing myself and talking about myself to the people that I trust, otherwise I do not.
Q: How would you describe, in specific terms, your sexual orientation?
A: When we talk about my sexual orientation, I am a transgender man. I am 23-years-old. I am transgender. When we say transgender, I mean the gender I was born with at birth doesn’t define me. It is way different from how I feel in my heart. I am transgender.
Q: At what point in your life did you realise that you were transgender?
A: I realised that I am transgender when I was [old enough] because, to be honest, I have never been attracted to a man before, funny? But I have never. I have tried before to be in the so-called ‘straight relationship’ but I have never really had feelings for a man before.
Q: What was your initial reaction?
A: My initial reaction [was], I deserve to be in the world. I deserve to be loved by anybody else. I deserve to be treated like anybody else, and, no matter how bad, no matter how hard people are going to come for me, no matter how homophobic people are, no matter how ‘transphobic’ people are, I know that I deserve to be in this world and I deserve to be seen and I deserve better, yeah. I deserve to be part of this world.
Q: What was your peers’/family’s reaction?
A: To be honest, my peers’ reaction and my family’s reaction are not things that I am worried about because my family, my immediate family, accepts me and when it comes to my peers, I choose people that will accept me because there’s no point that I can be happy or I can be moving about with people that do not accept me. That’s so traumatic, that’s just not me.
So, when it comes to my peers’ reaction, it is just right, but when it comes to socialising, I feel like I am getting more antisocial than I was because the hate is just too much out there. The hate is just too much and the reaction that I get when I go out there, it is better when I am indoors and just do my own things, because when I go out there people act as if I am the devil himself because, I don’t know like, what do you lose, when you see a person who is homosexual? What do you lose?…I just don’t understand it. But, yeah, so far, that’s it, there’s too much hate out there. Too much hate.
Q: What choices has your sexual orientation affected in your life?
A: My sexual orientation has affected a lot of things in my life. For example, when it comes to my love life, right now I do not trust love anymore because most of the times I meet people who are like, not LGBTI per se, but people who [say] okay let’s try this thing out and because they see you are out there, they will come for you and it is really bad because people will come to you not necessarily to love you, but to give it a try and the problem is when people are giving it a try, they do not know that they are playing with somebody else’s feelings.
So, my sexual orientation has affected a big part of my love life in that I do not believe in love anymore. My career [too has been affected] because of past traumas. I cannot gather myself to believe in people because when you are at the workplace, you have to believe in people and the people, most times I meet people that hate me. They will misgender you all the time.
Q: How would you describe your life in Malawi as a transgender?
A: My life as a transgender in Malawi hasn’t been too good and hasn’t been too bad. It hasn’t been too bad because I am within a circle which understands me and I am a free-minded person in that if I see a person offending me or if I see that this environment doesn’t suit me, I walk away straight away.
But it hasn’t been too good because sometimes I want to go, for example, to socialise and I go to a pub. People will just beat me up mercilessly without any reason [yet] I did not harm them.
My sexual orientation has brought too much hate that people just want to harm me when I mean no harm. I would want to love somebody else but the [problems] will be there, they will stand on the way and they block my way to loving somebody else. That is really an issue in Malawi.
In Malawi, if you are LGBTI, you cannot love in peace, you cannot drink in peace, you cannot do anything in peace because the hate is just [too much] and a lot of people would come to you not necessarily because they have a problem with you, but because your sexual orientation is irritating them.
Q: I understand you are no longer in Malawi, what prompted you to leave the country?
A: What prompted me to leave the country is the hate that I always got. What prompted me to leave is the love that I want. I know there are a lot of girls in Malawi but their parents will [come and take them away]. I know there are a lot of companies in Malawi, there are a lot of people in Malawi but my work will get messed up because a lot of people get in my head and I get confused every time and what prompted me to move out of the country is the fact that I want to be myself.
For once, I want people to see me as me and not my sexual orientation because the problem in Malawi is that when people see you, they do not see you as a human being, they see you as gay.
Q: What do you think must change to make the LGBTI people live normal lives in Malawi?
A: First things first. I think a lot of things have to change for LGBTI people to be free in Malawi. I am an advocate yes, but I know it takes time to change policies. What do I mean by change the policies? I mean have policies that incorporate people in Malawi. A lot of people do not get incorporated. For example, when it comes to health, it only covers two genders which is the he-she-gender community being favoured. It is either you are male or female. What about transgender people? We have people who are surviving on hormones every single day, why doesn’t the government incorporate them in the national plan to say, okay, if a woman gets pregnant, they get free cover, right, they go to the hospital and they will get everything they need there. What about if they say, okay, for transgender people, we are giving out free hormones, what will the government lose? Nothing!
Another thing, apart from the government, the whole society has to realise that there are not only two genders in this world, right, so, people should change their mindset.
Q: In 2012, government effected a moratorium on arrests of LGBTI people. In your view, has this helped to reduce stigma and persecution targeted at the LGBTI community?
That moratorium was effected but I do not see its use. What do I mean? If you have a case, for example, I had a case before, if you go to police, they do not help. They sit on the case because of the mindset thing that I have talked about because the police themselves are human beings and they do not want to change their mindset and because they do not want to change, the stigma is still there. You have a problem, they will not help you.
For example, a lesbian or transgender person like me, right. I look like a man, a grown up man, my beard and everything and I go to the hospital, I tell them I am here for cervical cancer services, pa reception pompotu, they will go like hey, mwamuona mzibamboyo hey. The stigma is still there. Even if they put a billion moratoriums on the table, but what the government can do right now is civic education. We need civic education.
Q: What else do you expect government to do to improve your welfare?
A: I expect the government to change some policies, for example, the health policy that I talked about that there are not just two genders and they should put in place policies that incorporate transgender people. I am talking a lot about the transgender people, perhaps I can also talk about intersex people because [now that is out of the ultimatum to say that I am male or female]. So if they could put [in place a policy] to cater for transgender people or intersex people, it would work. The education sector should incorporate LGBTI people. For example, we have Life Skills, why can’t they put that gender agenda in the Life Skills Studies so that kids should know while they are still young that in the world there are people who are different from them and it is okay to meet a person who is different from them and it is okay to mingle with them.
Q: Any last remarks?
A: I would want the whole world, not just Malawi only, to know that LGBTI people exist and we are here and we are loving people, we are peaceful people. And, for other people it is funny to bully us, for other people it is funny to do bad things to us, for other people it is so exciting to be all over us asking us weird questions, why do you dress like this, how do you have sex in your bed, how do you do this, how do you do that every time?
As LGBTI people, we deserve better and when we say better we mean we deserve to enjoy all the human rights that are in the Constitution. All the human rights people are enjoying, we also get to enjoy them. We also get to enjoy the right to health, we also get to enjoy freedom of expression, we also get to enjoy every freedom that was listed there without being questioned.
Q: Thank you for granting me this interview. n