Challenge of finding identity in a different gender body

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – From an early age, Tšepo* had always felt and behaved differently from other boys. His mother ’Malimpho* was aware that her son preferred the company of girls from other boys’ and loved tailing after her in the kitchen instead of spending time with his father who is an outdoors character.

But like a loving mother, she embraced her son’s feminine side with the hope that he would soon outgrow it. Instead, his peculiar behaviour deepened with time. All Tšepo was interested in was playing with dolls and to dress up like girls. And ’Malimpho and her husband’s wheedling to inspire their young son to interact with other boys were in vain because the boy’s resolve to act like a girl remained unshakeable.

Although she was not necessarily concerned about his nature, the boy’s father on the other hand was greatly bothered as he felt his son was growing up into a milksop. Hoping to change him, Tšepo’s father pushed him harder to do manly chores and tried as hard as he could to alienate him from his female friends thinking they were twisting his mind. When time failed to correct her son’s untoward disposition like she had hoped, ’Malimpho blamed religion and at some point believed he had been bewitched.

But little did she know that her only son was gay and would grow up to be a male sex worker who would later sell himself to other men for money. “As much as I was ready to turn a blind eye to everything and my religion included, for the happiness of my son, his father could not handle the fact that our son would not be the kind of son he always wanted but a ‘daughter’ he never had. He therefore chose to shut him out of his life, forcing him to leave home to seek solace in the city,” ’Malimpho says.

But Tšepo was not even aware of his own sexuality until he became a teenager when he started getting attracted to other boys. “In my teen years, most of my peers dated girls while I did not look at girls like that, they were my buddies and I hang out a lot with them. I soon realised that I did not find them attractive.

“This continued throughout my high school years and around the time I left school, I realised I was instead attracted to other boys. Because I did not want anyone else to know I secretly admired boys from a distance. I was of course afraid to come out and face possible discrimination, abuse, abandonment and rejection. “As far as I can recall, I was never happy or content because of my sexuality. I felt trapped in the wrong body and everyday wished I would wake up one morning and find myself a girl.

“I felt like I was living a lie and wanted to let the whole world, my family included know about my sexual orientation. “Boy things bored me, their clothes, games and chores made me sick. I was more into cooking, cleaning and hanging out with girls. I was more comfortable and happy around girls because I felt they understood me. “Sometimes when I was alone at home, I would dress up in my mother’s clothes and wear both her make-up as well as jewellery.

“The torture of living a secret life weighed heavily on me until I finally decided to come out. I chose to free myself from all the pretences and lies, so I confided in my family and close friends,” he says. He adds: “For some reason, my mother did not seem surprised to hear that I preferred boys but my father was so furious that he cut me off completely and never talked to me again. I also lost some friends though a few have supported me through this difficult journey.”

As much as being rejected by his father broke his heart, coming out gave him immediate relief as he no longer had to live a lie. “Because we longer saw eye to eye with my father and some of my friends, I could not continue living in my neighbourhood anymore. The scorn I saw in my father’s eyes actually drove me out of his house though he did not necessarily say anything to me.

“The thing is both my parents raised me to be true to myself and stand up for what I believe in. I did that but lost a father in the process,” he emotionally notes. He was so devastated when his father rejected him that he failed his high school leaving examinations. “I immediately left home and came to Maseru to look for a job, I also wanted to give my father space to get used to the idea of having a gay son,” says.

He also wanted to be as far away as possible from the community that discriminated him for being different from them and choosing to live life the way he wanted to. But city life was not so kind to him either. The discrimination, prejudice and stigma that he had fled from pursued him, turning his life into a nightmare.

No matter how hard and long he searched for a job, no one was willing to hire him because employers could tell at first glance that he was gay. When there was nothing left for him to do, he turned to sex work so that he could have a roof over his head and put food on his table. “Sex work is not for the faint-hearted. It has its own challenges like any other job, but people’s perception towards it makes it even tougher to perform.

“People do not understand whether or not sex workers had any other choices except to ply their trade on the street. They do not know the desperation most of us face to survive. To some of us, to live on the streets is the only way to go. “We get judged all the time, especially by people who think better of themselves. These are people who can never take a minute of their time to be in the shoes of people like me. “They simply ignore our predicament because they have no idea where we come from.

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