Disclaimer: Radio Workshop is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. The official record for Radio Workshop’s podcast stories is the audio.
Lesedi: I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe and you are listening to Radio Workshop.
Depression is a white man’s disease. That’s what many young Africans are told. When a young person says, “I’m struggling with mental health,” they might be told to pray it away. “Pray harder my child.” So, a lot of young people on the continent say there aren’t enough safe spaces for them to discuss their mental health.
UNICEF reports that issues like depression and anxiety are on the rise in Africa, and young people are unlikely to seek help. Young queer people are under even more pressure. Keeping their true identity secret is a reality they have to live, and it can be really toxic. It can take a serious toll unless they can find help.
That’s why the stories on this episode and the next caught our attention. Two audio essays about the importance of discovering allies and how their support can really carry you through. Also, a reminder that people do step up and sometimes they’re the ones we least expect.
We start in Zimbabwe with Ras – Ras That Guy.
Ras: I remember the day so well, but to be honest, it’s a day I’d rather forget. It was December 17th 2011 to be exact. Around 8:00 PM. It was cloudy and threatening to rain. I went to church for my wedding rehearsal. I was getting married to a really great guy. His name is Ricky. And even though Ricky was wonderful, I was having second thoughts.
I decided to get tipsy that night, but no one would’ve guessed I was drinking. The alcohol helped me. It helped me to manage my feelings and to keep the voice in my head quiet. Don’t do it. You’re making the wrong move.
The next day was my wedding day. It had rained all night, but that morning was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. The church was packed. My whole family, lots of friends. I stood in the back in my white dress and long white gloves. My hair was in a weave, and I had a fresh bouquet of flowers that matched the wedding decorations. That was burgundy and ivory.
My eldest brother played the piano, and when I heard “Here comes the bride, na na na na,” I took a deep breath and walked in slowly. It was my uncle who walked me down the aisle. Everyone was shouting, others ululating. I could hear everyone saying how beautiful I looked. I knew I was making my family proud, but my heart was racing.
They had no idea how terrified I was. I had a secret that was eating me up, but when the time came to exchange vows, I looked at my parents in the front row. My mother had tears in the eyes. She was holding my dad’s hand. He was totally expressionless. He has always been like that anyway. I reminded myself I was doing this for my mother.
This was her moment. So with a bold and confident voice, I promised Ricky a good life. I promised him forever.
After the wedding, Ricky and I moved in. We got along really well. He was kind and very considerate. I tried hard to be a good wife. I cooked. I cleaned the house. I wore skirts, doeks to cover my hair – very feminine. Ricky said he wanted me to feel free around him, but he was raised in the rural areas. I knew Ricky wanted a traditional wife, someone who knelt down when they served him food, but that wasn’t really me.
As the years went by, I dropped the act. I couldn’t wear skirts all the time. I remember I started wearing tracksuit bottoms, then I wore shorts, and then at some point I wore jeans. He would ask me, why are you dressed like that? I would probably lie and say I was doing the garden or I was exercising, but the truth was I hated wearing skirts. They made me feel very uncomfortable.
Intimacy made me uncomfortable too. I knew it was my duty as his wife, and I knew that’s what happens when you’re married. But it traumatized me so much, like every time. I always felt dirty. I also felt a lot of pain.
Don’t get me wrong. I, I liked so much being close to Ricky. Sometimes we’d take these long walks and just talk. It was easy to share things with him, but I just didn’t want to sleep with him.
For the first three years of our marriage, I wasn’t working. So I was home much of the time and I was drinking a lot. I didn’t have much money, so I would buy cheap alcohol. I’d start drinking around 2:00 PM and I would stop drinking around five or so. ‘Cause that’s when Ricky came home. I don’t know if he ever knew how drunk I was. He never said.
So my anxiety didn’t have anything to do with Ricky. I loved him. He was a good friend to me. I just wasn’t being myself. I was living with a secret that no one, like literally no one knew about, except my twin – Sindiswa.
Sindiswa: So, I think the first time I saw you drunk, we were around 20 something, 25, 26, around there.
Ras (scene): I’m sure you were super shocked.
Sindiswa: More than, more than shocked because when I, when I saw you, I asked, um, “Are you okay?”
You said, “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Are you drunk?”
“No, I’m not. I can still stand on my one feet,” you know.
From the, word go. I think it was a wrong move for you to, to get married. I think you were marrying him for convenience or to please mom and dad. Seeing you in a dress, ah it was something else.
Ras: Seeing me in a dress. Yeah. Let me just say, my mother was a kind person. She was the breadwinner at home. She did everything to make sure we had a good life. But my mother was very strict, and she raised us in the church. Every evening she told us a Bible story. Sometimes she would sing us a song and we’d have to listen carefully because in the morning she’d expect us to remember it. And she forced me to wear dresses. Even when I played soccer with the boys, my mother still made me wear a skirt on top of my sport pants.
I learned from a very young age that it’s safer to keep secrets.
I live two lives. On one hand, I was a leader in our church and a missionary. In my other life there was drinking, selling weed and girls. I had so many crushes. Yeah, I know. When I was 14, I got a kiss from a girl. Well, it wasn’t really a girl. It was my teacher, and she kissed me in the class backroom. She asked me not to tell anyone.
I never, I never spoke about it, but that was the start of me having secret relationships with women.
I always felt strange as a girl. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t a boy. I remember when all the girls my age got their period, they must have been around 13 or 14, but mine didn’t come, and I never told anyone. I would just put on a pad and pretend. My first period came when I was 21, so I always knew I was different.
So that’s why I got deep into church – to be normal. I married a man to be normal.
I didn’t tell Ricky about the women I had been with. I thought that I would leave all that to the past. Besides, I knew I could never come out. It’s against the law to be gay in Zimbabwe, but mainly I could never do that to my mom. She was so good to me. I knew something like this would ruin her life. It would really kill her.
We couldn’t have kids. For some reason I wasn’t getting pregnant. But everyone in my family expected a child. They even reminded me that Ricky paid a bride price. I had to give him a child. They suggested herbs and traditional medicines to help. Nothing helped. But Ricky did not pressure me at all. He knew the problems with my period. Actually, in my entire life I’ve only had my period four times. Yeah. I sometimes wondered if something was wrong, but I never got to check it out.
One day, Ricky and I had a talk. I suggested we visit the gynecologist and I was relieved that we were seeking a solution together. Honestly, I never wanted to have kids myself, but I wanted to give Ricky a child.
The nearest gynecologist was about 500 kilometers out of town. I remember Ricky drove.
Things felt so good between us. We sat next to each other in the gynae’s room. She read the test results back to us. Turns out I had a hormonal imbalance. Very high levels of testosterone, and I had very low levels of luteinizing hormone. That’s what triggers ovulation in women. So in short, that was it. No children for us.
I remember Ricky took my hand and squeezed it. He told me in front of the doctor that it was okay. Ricky is often very quiet, but on the drive back home, Ricky spoke a lot. He didn’t want me to feel bad. He told me that we would be fine, and if anyone had an issue with us not having kids, they needed to come and speak to him. He would handle it.
In a way. The test result didn’t surprise me. I knew, deep inside, my body was somehow different. It didn’t function like other women’s bodies. I was actually relieved I couldn’t fall pregnant, because truth be told, I hated my body. I couldn’t stand the sight of my breasts. I didn’t like my high pitched voice.
I needed time to figure out what was going on with me.
I’d never heard the word “transgender” before. I came across it online when I joined a Facebook group for LGBTI people. And that’s where I met Tinashe he’s one of the members of the group. From his pictures, you’d never tell that he lived many years of his life as a woman. Finally, everything clicked like, wow! It all made sense.
I was a man.
I decided then to transition. It started with my clothes. I changed how I dressed completely. Ricky didn’t like it at all. I started to dress sporty all the time, and I bought men’s clothes. I was also no longer the wife who just stayed at home. I got a job as a paramedic and I started playing volleyball.
It was a great feeling. Ricky would comment often about not liking my new style, but he really never told me to stop. We were still very close, but we didn’t have any kind of physical relationship anymore.
Ras (podcast): Hi everyone. This is Ras. Hashtag Ras that guy. I’m an ambulance technician. Some would say paramedic. I work in one of the biggest. [FADE OUT]
Ras: Ricky moved to another town to further his studies. A new world opened for me. I started to feel more like myself. I joined several queer groups. I was invited to attend a podcast workshop for transgender people. I was so excited to participate.
I decided to record my story for the Purple Royale Podcast. In the podcast I spoke about going for cervical cancer screening.
Ras (podcast): I went to the hospital. I thought I was early enough to be the first one there, but unfortunately there were four women already in the queue.
Ras: The stares, the whispering. It’s hard enough transitioning. Never mind the shame you feel when people respond so rudely. Even the nurses, people I work with…
Ras (podcast): They jokingly say they’ve always wanted to see if I am a hermaphrodite. If I’ve got double genitalia. In that moment, all my fears came – became reality. They made it so tragic for me.
Ras: At the workshop. I also heard what others had been through. Police harassment. Arrest at queer parties. Experiences of corrective rape. Trans men who had children and felt ashamed about their past. It became clear to me that being openly trans in Zimbabwe was not going to be easy.
The highlight of the workshop was meeting Tinashe in person. He helped me to take the next step: my first injection of testosterone. It’s like I was possessed. I just wanted testosterone. But it’s impossible to get it over the counter. So he helped me buy from the black market. $5 a vile. I barely had enough money, so I took my first hormonal therapy on the 1st of April, 2019. Nearly eight years had passed since I got married.
The changes happened really fast. In a few months, my voice started to break. My mother would ask me what was wrong with my voice, and I would lie say I had a cold. Of course Ricky noticed, but I lied to him too. I was afraid he would ask me to stop. So I injected myself in secret at home, but the truth always finds its way out.
It’s my niece who warned me. She overheard my brothers. They were talking about the podcast. My whole family learned about it when a cousin sent a link in a WhatsApp group. Everyone listened to it. Even my mother. The family called a meeting. The biggest family meeting ever. Thirty people were there. Everyone but Ricky.
Sindiswa: You know how it is when you’re made to sit in the center of the elderly people in our African society.
Ras: This is my twin sister again, Sindiswa. She’s the only one who knew. She knows everything about me.
Sindiswa: You know, it, it’s difficult to be exchanging words with, with, uh, elderly to tell them how you feel, what you want and what you are. You know, it’s you, you are trying to convince them and they think otherwise. So the meeting becomes pointless and, um, can I say emotional?
Ras (scene): Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Sindiswa: Because there’s, um, anger and they feel like you disrespect them. You’re disrespecting them. Yeah. Things like that.
Ras: I told the family the whole truth. They thought I was being selfish. They said I was, I was disgracing the family.
I remember my mother cried nonstop. It was the first time I’d ever seen her cry like that. That was my worst nightmare – breaking my mother’s heart. When my dad finally spoke, he only spoke about how it hurt him to see my mother cry.
I was told that if I don’t change, I’ll be disowned.
After everyone had spoken, they turned to Sindiswa. They thought if there was anyone who could talk sense into me, it would be my twin. But there’s a reason we call ourselves the Twin Towers.
Ras (scene): But I was worried about you and the decision you made to stand by me.
Sindiswa: And I was crying the whole moment during the meeting.
Ras (scene): I remember. Yeah, that was one moment for me. Um, when you said, “Being a twin is more than being a sibling.”
Sindiswa: Yeah. Yeah.
Ras (scene): “So I would do anything that it takes to keep my twin safe.”
Sindiswa: Because I, I think, um, they don’t understand how it is to be a twin.
Ras (scene): The bond is just so unbreakable.
Sindiswa: Yeah. So I had to make them understand. Oh, I was trying to make them understand, although they didn’t.
Ras (scene): And everyone was like, “How about Ricky?”
Sindiswa: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Ras (scene): “How is he going to take it?”
Ras: There was a hole in my heart. Everyone worried about Ricky. No one worried about me. I was told never to come back to our family home. My brother packed my things. He threw them out on the street. He also sent the podcast to Ricky. I never felt so alone as I did then.
Those were dark days. I was depressed. I drank a lot. I didn’t even think it’s possible to be that lonely.
Ricky finally came home. He was worried the podcast would reach his colleagues. He thought we would be in danger. He could get in trouble with the law just by knowing me. He could be accused of being aware of a crime and not reporting it. I kept the truth from him because I wanted to protect him, but he felt betrayed. And I understood why.
I expected him to say it was over, but instead he said he would have my back. He said he would call my family and he would support me 100%. He said that I’d been good to him. And that he knew I couldn’t help being who I am. I will admit I felt a little uncomfortable with how well he took it. I wondered if he might use everything against me someday, but he didn’t.
Some months later, I learnt Ricky was seeing someone else. Ricky told me he wants to marry this new woman and have a child. What he was asking for was fair. But still, it tore my heart to pieces. I realized how much I loved him. Consider what he’s done for me in a culture that wants nothing to do with transgender people.
People have been very unkind to me. They spread rumors about me. They said I was converting kids to become gay when I organized a queer workshop. They reported me for human trafficking. Then the police arrested my twin because they thought she was me. They beat her up even though she kept telling them she wasn’t me.
All this makes me very angry. That’s what happens in a small town when you’re different.
Things in my life haven’t been perfect, but I’ll never say my life was hard. I lived my truth when it was safe to do so. I’m working through my depression. I can’t yet afford professional help, but I’m surviving and I’m on good terms with my mother again.
As for my transition, I can celebrate a few wins. My gender marker on my school ID now reads male. That’s a great deal for me. I have a beard and everywhere I go, I pass as a man.
I’m studying psychology now. I want to help others like me. They need allies. We all need a Ricky.
Speaking of Ricky, we talk now and then. We are not divorced, but our marriage is over, even though it’s clear we care for each other.
I thought of keeping this podcast a secret. I contemplated on not telling Ricky. I was afraid he wouldn’t understand why I felt the need to open up – to tell it all. But I’m done with secrets. I can’t anymore. The hardest thing about my life has been secrets. They make my heart heavy. They are so toxic.
But I do have one last secret: I can’t share the names of the people who have stood by me. The people who I care about the most. Ricky is not Ricky. Sindiswa is not Sindiswa. I’ve made up those names to protect them. Even my name, well, my birth name, I don’t share with anyone.
You see, even though I want to fully be myself, I can’t in Zimbabwe. Forget the laws – people are also spiteful. They’ll shout, “Hey, sister!” in front of everyone, and insist that I respond. So I’m still careful where I go, what I say. In fact, I’m recording this podcast in South Africa just to be safe, because anyone recording me in Zimbabwe, they might turn me in. So, I simply go by Ras – Ras That Guy.
Lesedi: A big, big thanks to Ras for sharing his story. Ras calls this essay “A Moment Of Truth”. It took a lot of courage for him to let us into his life, and we did all we could to provide a safe space for Ras to tell his story as intimately as possible. As he mentioned, Ras traveled from Zimbabwe to South Africa to record this episode, but at the airport in Harare, he was asked to strip naked.
The officials wanted to verify the female gender marker on his ID. He’d heard that this might happen, but I mean, it didn’t make it any less humiliating.
All the more reason why we wanted to create a soft space for Ras’s a story to land. Ras found allyship quietly at home. On the next episode, Noks seeks allyship publicly in a place that’s not known for being safe.
Noks: I mean, coming out YouTube was a big move. Everyone would find out, and I knew they wouldn’t all accept me. I would lose a lot of people.
Lesedi: “A Moment of Truth” was written and produced by Ras That Guy, and myself, Lesedi Mogoathle. The episode is produced by Radio Workshop and the Children’s Radio Foundation.
Jo Jackson is our Managing Producer. Rob Rosenthal edited this podcast. Additional production assistance by Martha O’ Donovan and Naomi Grewan. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Sound Engineering by Mike Rahfaldt. Our studio technician is Simz Kula. A big thanks to Catherine Grenfell and Audio Militia in Johannesburg where we record this podcast.
This episode and the work of the Radio Workshop would not be possible without support from Pam and Bill Michaelcheck, The Other Foundation, the Theodore Jay Forman Charitable Trust, and the Emerging Markets Foundation.
Visit our website for more information and to support our work at radioworkshop.org. I’m Lesedi Mogoatlhe, stay safe everyone. Take care of yourselves. ‘Til next time.