'You don’t come out once, you come out every day'

25 April 2019

In the third of a new series of guest blogs from citizen journalists in southern Africa, Daphne Jena talks to Bee Chihera about her ongoing transformation.

Image of Bee Chihera transwoman Zimbabwe

Bee Chihera, a transwoman and human rights activist, has a lot of positive energy and makes everyone around her feel comfortable. Though I’ve known her for a few years, it was only when I took the time to interview her about her transformation that I realised just how much she’d been through.

Bee identifies as heterosexual, but the road has not been easy. Despite the hardships she goes through she’s always in a good mood. “The struggle has been difficult. It’s been tough but I keep going.”

Bee knew she was in the wrong body from a very young age: “From the time I was six years old I have felt and known that I didn’t want to be a boy,” she says. For her, it wasn’t a surprising discovery because she’d always known she was different.

However, Bee didn’t know what to do about how she felt, so she kept her secret, until she had no choice. “I was outted by someone who found out that I was different. They told my uncles and my parents - it made things hard for me.”

As she speaks you can’t immediately tell from her demeanour that she’s relaying some very painful accounts of her life. Her voice remains strong and convincing. These traits are what has made her one of the most outspoken trans people in Zimbabwe.

“My transformation journey has been too long. When it started, I didn’t know what to do about it. Coming out is a continuous process. When I decided to come out, I did so as a gay person. It was hard being in gay spaces because at first my experiences were different from what other gay people were experiencing and sharing. I felt like I was in the wrong place again. I went back to my vacuum,” she explains.

There were times when Bee couldn’t understand the way that people spoke, the slang they used, which made it difficult for her to join in conversations. She felt like she was back in school and that she was expected to behave like a boy, but she couldn’t do it.  

Her family thought she was demon-possessed. Her grandmother was the only one who understood and supported her: “My grandmother is my pillar of strength. She’s taken the time to know me better. I can’t imagine life without her.” Despite her grandmother’s support, Bee faced a lot of discrimination from family and her community. She was expelled from family decisions.

“Transformation is hard, I’m still in the process of transforming because you don’t come out once, you come out every day.”

“At weddings and funerals people keep asking when I will marry or when I will have kids and I have to explain myself yet again.”

These kinds of questions have made family gatherings very uncomfortable. She’s faced similar problems at church where men and women sit separately. She doesn’t fit anywhere. Whether she chooses to sit on the men’s or on the women’s side she gets looks of disapproval. As a result, she’s stopped attending church altogether.

“The gay community doesn’t understand trans people and I have to deal with that, as well as be an activist… Sometimes when you think you’ve made it you still face challenges… Sometimes I even feel suicidal.”

Bee wishes society would treat her like any other person: “I think lack of information and understanding contributes to how society reacts to trans people. The myths and beliefs we harbour as a society create a false image in the minds of people. Education is key.”

Image: Key Correspondents

Author: Daphne Jena

Daphne Jena advocates passionately for women’s rights, with special interests in gender-based violence (GBV), child marriage, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). She is part of a vibrant network of citizen journalists and activists who influence health policy, programming and financing in Southern Africa. Her work centres on creating online content for alternative media.