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Transgender in Zimbabwe Means Limbo or Exile

Transgender Zimbabweans are living in limbo because changing gender markers on official documents involves nearly impossible legal hurdles and insensitive verification processes, activists have said.

Since the gender category is not officially acknowledged in Zimbabwe, many are forced to identify as either male or female on official documents although they are not living as such.

According to Trans Research, Education and Training (TREAT), some 400 Zimbabweans are living openly as transgender.

However, those who have transitioned from either male of female remain without a gender category because the country's constitution is silent on the matter.

Transgender and human rights activist Ricky Nathanson says many who have gone through the full transition process do not even brother trying to change gender marks on national identification because of the process involved.

"I was born with male sexual organs and always felt female and made a conscious decision to live as a woman," said Nathanson in an interview with

"To change the gender marker in Zimbabwe is not possible and I did not even try it as this involves more legal woes that may also see me enduring insensitive gender verification processes."

Sweden-based Tatelicious Karigambe, one of the first Zimbabweans to openly identify as transgender, said the process for one to prove that they no longer have male or female organs is humiliating.

"The Registrar General (RG) wants you to prove your case which means being stripped in front of a government doctor; then he/she writes to the RG and certify that for sure the operation was done," said Karigambe.

"The major problem is that not everyone can afford to go for an operation because it's very expensive.


Melanie Nathan, African HRC: There are many factors which play into "living openly as transgender" that are extremely onerous for trans people in Zimbabwe. It should be noted that many trans people live according to their authentic gender - and as such are most often unable to identify as "openly trans," because of the transphobia and homophobia they experience as a result. One must not confuse living authentically with being openly trans. Trans people in Zimbabwe often experience violence and many have had to flee into exile, seeking asylum in foreign countries.

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