Hands Off II Sex work Zimbabwe
Hands Off II Sex work Zimbabwe
I feel empowered. I choose when, where, how and with who
My birth name is Bradley but I found out about myself at a young age. I had a high voice, I played with dolls, I’d throw my mom’s shoes out the window into the garden when no one was looking and go get them and walk to the shops in them. I’d take a bed sheet outside and make a pretend house with it. If the other children played with me, I would have to be the Big Woman, the teacher, the boss. They would complain and say I was taking up too much space. I would get so cross when my mom introduced me to her friends as her son. I would think, ‘why can’t she just introduce me as her child?’ I remember asking my aunt what a ‘stabane’ (intersex or gay) is and when she told me I knew that wasn’t me. I was a girl. I was a girl in a boy’s body.
After school I started working at a furniture factory in a job my uncle got for me. My mother had told him I was weak and I needed to be made into a strong man. Working machines was hard. It was all men there. The same year I hid some dresses in the space above the geyser and at four in the morning I went and got them and got transport to Harare to participate in the Miss Jacaranda beauty pageant... and I won! I was on page five of The Gazette and that’s how my family found out about me. It took its toll on my mom but my dad supported me from then on. He told my mom, ‘we’ve always known this about
him’. He is still my support system today.
Being a transwoman is my identity and being able to be a transwoman sex worker is something I wouldn’t change for the world.
On top of the world
In 2012 I went to live in Johannesburg with my sister and that’s when I blossomed into the flamboyant person I am today. I took all my shyness and threw it in the back. I’d dress like a woman when I went to parties and it was an inexplicable feeling… I felt on top of the world. That was also where I started doing sex work. I met two transwomen sex workers and their life seemed so fabulous. I had no money, no job and I thought ‘why not just do this?’ My first client was amazing. My friend told him there was a new girl on the block and he said he wanted to try me out. I said ‘Try along, baba!’ He paid for the food, the room. It felt like a date. Dress code was how you got the message out there that you were open for business. You wear a short shorts, a crop top, heels and a long coat and when you see a man you open it up for him. Women have approached me but I don’t do women. I’m strictly ‘dick-ly’. Honestly, it felt like the world was at my fingertips. I was making good money. I couldn’t get a work permit so I had to come back to Bulawayo.
My worst nightmare
In 2016 I was at a gay-friendly bar and that’s where my worst nightmare happened. These two guys asked me to get in the car with them. I thought they were going to be clients. I got in and at 120kms per hour they threw me out of the car. They came back for me and took me to the graveyard and that’s where they raped me. They told me, ‘We are going to fix you’. After that I didn’t work for a long time. I was living with my dad. I didn’t go out for two or three months. I was healing and I was scared. I became suicidal. But I pulled myself together and started working again.
The workshops for the Hands Off programme taught me how to be safer. We learned to tell people where we are going and the number plates of the car we get into. I now know my rights when I’m arrested. When I’m violated, I know where to turn for help. I have access to medical, legal and counselling services. I can get tested for sexually transmitted diseases regularly at the PSI clinics. I actually feel safer and I can do my sex work confidently. Sex work for me is entrepreneurship. I own my own company. My body is my company. I choose when, where, how and with who and it teaches you bravery and independence. I feel empowered. But like any other work, sex work has a lot of advantages and also a lot of disadvantages. But we have support structures now. We are not alone.