A Night With Transgender Sex Workers in Windhoek [analysis]

THE shadowy figure moves gracefully towards the right front door of my parked car. I look up and see the person smiling and staring down at me. “I am glad you made it. This is going to be the best night of your life,” a voice, which I recognise as belonging to Mama Africa, tells me.

At 41 years, Nikodemus Aoxamub, who is better known as Mama Africa, is a transgender sex worker. Transgender, according to Wikipedia, is the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex.

Mama Africa leads me to a room where three other transgender sex workers – Brandy, Rachel and Queen – are preparing for a night’s work, and Mama Africa dashes into the bathroom to finish applying make-up. “Come here, let me show you something,” Mama Africa says, calling me from behind the bathroom door.

I walk in and start capturing Mama Africa’s routine. After the make-up – red lipstick and all – Mama Africa transforms into a ‘woman’ and completes the transformation by putting on an African attire and purple glitter high heels.

Raised in a family of 12, Mama Africa started engaging in the sex-for-money trade at the tender age of 10 to fend for siblings and an unemployed single mother.

“When my dad died during the liberation struggle, my mom could not provide for us because she was unemployed, so I performed sex for money to help her and my siblings,” Mama Africa explains, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Then we leave for the city centre, and end up at Kalahari Sands Hotel where Mama Africa instructs our driver to turn right into the Checkers parking lot. After getting out of the vehicle, Mama Africa and friends lead me down a dark alley. We eventually emerge at the back of the building where other ladies stand, facing the road – their source of livelihood.

Standing there, I observe and admire their choice of clothing. Brandy whispers a warning that the streets can be dangerous and that I should not flash my camera at clients, since they prefer to keep their nocturnal indulgences a top secret.

Rachel also reveals that a great number of foreign tourists come to the hot spot for sexual services.

We wait for about 15 minutes before love-lorn clients start pulling up the road – one after another. It is a busy night. Mama Africa and Rachel walk to the edge of the road to a parked client’s car where they negotiate their price before climbing into the car and driving off. They return about 30 or 40 minutes later.

Mama Africa claims they charge anything from N$1 000 to N$5 000, but admits that when they need money urgently, this could be as little as N$650 per session, and services include up to 10 clients per day. He says they condition their bodies and take energy to get along because “. . . our work can be done in the morning, afternoon and at night”.

Queen (22), a bachelors’ degree in human resources student, says he gets clients on the internet, and services about three per day.

“I always make sure I get, at least, three because I need to pay rent and transport to school,” Queen says.

Mama Africa says their work is difficult because it is hard to please clients, depending on what they want … but most of them always want a ‘buffet’, an anal intercourse, massage, oral sex and striptease combo.

Brandy says clients react differently when they realise they picked up a man.

“The uninitiated think we are women but when they realise the truth they decide whether to continue or not … in most cases they go for it because most of them enjoy having sex with a transgender.”

He, however, says sometimes they are forced to dupe clients to avoid assaults by steering them away from the private parts and performing oral sex until they are satisfied and won’t ask for a full sexual act. Or they dim the lights and have anal sex while pretending to be a woman.

Brandy, however, says he has never had to defend himself since most of his clients know he is biologically a man, but has witnessed some of his friends being abused and others killed, while Mama Africa says he has been raped and abused.

“On one or more occasions, clients abused me because they had no idea I was a man. I could not even report them to the police because they laugh at us when we report a case of abuse or rape. I was once raped by 14 men with each of them taking turns,” he says, fighting back tears.

Mama Africa says police once arrested him after they found condoms in his bag, and placed him in a shared male cell where other inmates raped him. Although he says he screamed, police officers on duty allegedly ignored him and encouraged the inmates to continue.

“When my assailants had finished, police officers applauded them, saying I deserved to be raped as I was living a sinful life,” he further claims. “I feared that I might have contracted an STD or HIV because those men did not use protection. I could not open a case because the police said I was wrong to dress like a woman.”

They blame the police for confiscating condoms from them as a way of forcing them off the streets. “When they see us, they search our bags for condoms and arrest us,” says Mama Africa. “So you must be ready to run.”

Windhoek City Police Chief Abraham Kanime said he has not heard of such cases in the country. “I know for sure that the only time sex workers are searched is when they have been arrested for soliciting and not for carrying condoms.”

Kanime also said the search procedures only become complicated when officers cannot tell if a sex worker is male or female.

“You sometimes find those ‘moffies’ who dress like women. That’s when the situation becomes a bit difficult. However, they are all handled fairly when it comes to the law,” he said.

But Mama Africa insists that police commanders know about condom seizures but they do nothing and some sex workers end up having unprotected sex.

Queen and Brandy say, after experiencing police harassment and violent crimes, they resort to surfing social networks such as Facebook, Gay Romeo and many other cyber sites for clients.

“Protection is my priority. So when I heard about it, I started looking for clients on social networks where I know I will not be arrested or have my condoms taken away,” Queen says.

Mama Africa, who still gets clients on the streets, says sex workers hide condoms under their padded bras and between their legs, under wigs, in bushes and dustbins.

“It is really difficult to live the life of a transgender sex worker. We constantly face harassment. Most people do not understand that,” explains Rachel, adding: “We do this so-called ‘dirty work’ and live this ‘sinful life’ to survive and to provide for ourselves and our families.”

“We live in fear everyday. In fear of stigma and rejection by society and in fear of our families finding out what we do,” Mama Africa puts in. “I lived on the streets for a long time with nowhere else to stay. This is what gave me a home and made me who I am today.”

Kanime, however, said Government is working on a new law to replace the existing Street and Traffic Regulation.

“The new regulation will be broader. Meaning this will allow the police to arrest those picking up prostitutes from the streets,” he explained.

Police will shut down private places where sex workers conduct business. “We know their hot spots and once this new law is passed, we will go out to shut those places down,” he stated.

Source : The Namibian