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Born a girl, grew into a man: The moving story of a Kenyan transgender


"Congratulations! It's a baby girl!" must have been the exclamation in the labour-ward when I was born 48 years ago.  Evidently, all the women present must have determined my sex by looking at my reproductive organ which is female. I was my mother's second child and because the first born is a boy, the joy must have been immense. In my culture, the first children are named after their paternal grandparents. I imagine my father looking at me proudly and announcing: "We shall name her after my mother."

My growing up as a girl was dramatic; I hated house chores and broke most of the utensils when it was my duty to do the dishes. My mother thought I was deliberately sloppy so that she would exempt me from the duties; but I was genuinely as "clumsy" as any boy could be with kitchen utensils!

However, I was excellent in digging, chopping wood and ferrying heavy sacks of coffee to the factory. When I joined a girls' high school, I completely felt out of place. I couldn't share bathrooms with other girls and shied off while dressing in their presence.

Although my mother emphatically refuses to speak about my childhood, a neighbour disclosed to me that I was disorientated towards girl playthings such as dolls, cooking and cleaning toy-apparatus but embraced vehicles, machines, playing football or other boy-related games.

When I joined primary school, though dressed in female uniform, I never fitted among girls. During games, I would end up wrestling them down or being generally rough. My only sister was not my playmate either; I enjoyed the company of boys. I vividly remember one of my teacher's frequent reprimands because I always sat with my legs astride. "You must have a girl's decency!" she would say. My mother would later appreciate that this was an untameable behaviour and bought me a pair of shorts to wear inside of my dress.

I tried fruitlessly to behave like a girl by putting my legs together when I sat but I failed and gave up when I realised I was living a lie. Although I could feel some pain on my nipples, my chest was flat by the time I got my first menstrual cycle. Eventually, my voice broke and I spoke authoritatively and with time I sensed most girls would shy when I looked at them. Somehow, I earned respect from them especially for the way I lifted heavy desks with masculine-like strength.

The teachers believed in my authority hence made me a prefect throughout my high school life. This position gave me the privilege to bathe privately and at my own pace although as is typical with boys and rarely girls, I loathed bathing and would skip it many times. I always saved my pocket-money to buy some deodorants for those days I didn't want to take a bath. Feminine shoes were tight for my feet, which were very masculine, and I used to get blisters hence my feet would have a foul smell, sometimes forcing me to bath.

My worst moments were during my menstrual period because I couldn't handle the mess. I hated those days with such passion. My mother thought I was careless and reprimanded me severally for staining my dress or bedding. My friends in high school also wondered why I was so clumsy but were supportive and helped me manage. When I completed high school, I chose to be dressing in trousers although it was rare in our days to see a woman dressed like that, especially in the village. Surprisingly even the days I would be in a dress, children in the village would address me as "uncle". My voice was masculine and signs of beards were now showing; this made me restless.

There was no internet then or enough books at the local libraries to research on what was happening to me so I accepted my fate without a murmur. I was brought up in Christianity so I built a personal relationship with God when I joined high school. I reckoned that God would never have made a mistake; he had a purpose for me to be born  like this and he has always given me strength to face every day.

I didn't qualify to join Form 5 and 6 so I was enrolled in a teachers training college. It was at the college, that I realised I was sexually attracted to women and secretly admired their busts. Many times, I was tempted to touch my colleagues' breasts but I was scared they'd think I was a lesbian. In our days, it was very odd for a girl to hug a man but I was very comfortable hugging or sitting very close to men. To me, we were equals! During my teaching practice, I was embarrassed many times when a pupil would approach my desk and address me as "sir!" I couldn't stand the humiliation and I therefore rejected my posting and decided to do farming which was my favourite job even as a child.

I shared my dilemma with my parents but they couldn't see anything wrong with me. My father even suggested that I should see a psychiatrist! I started with a small orchard and would sell the produce in the local market. By good luck, a neighbouring school gave me a tender to supply vegetables and fruits. That marked the beginning of my success in farming and within one year, I had saved enough to buy a piece of land far away from home.

It was during one of my visits to the market that I made friends with a man who would change my destiny. It was a rainy day and I was on my menstrual period. I was dressed like in a shirt and blue jeans but I'd had a leak and I had badly stained them. "What did you sit on, gentleman," the man had questioned, taking off his overcoat to lend it to me.

I don't just cry easily - in fact my parents and teachers thought I was a difficult child because I never cried even after corporal punishment- but that day tears welled in my eyes and for the first time I poured out my heart to a stranger.

Though he remained agape throughout my story as we sat in a makeshift hotel in the market, he was sympathetic. He then told me he had heard a similar story told by his uncle who had heard it from a nurse working in Nairobi. The story ended with "but I think the man was helped!" This conversation would drive us to a crazy search for the uncle who lived in Mombasa who would in turn search for the nurse in a world without any communication technology. It took us almost two years of waiting in anticipation to connect with the nurse who took another six months to locate the doctor who had since started his personal clinic.

For starters, I had to have the uterus and the ovaries removed when the doctor diagnosed my case. He however warned me it was illegal to remove any part of the body without valid reasons. My issue was invalid because there wasn't much awareness about such issues then. So we faked an infection of the uterus to authenticate its removal. I had saved enough money and the surgery was done at a mission hospital. When I tried to explain what I had done, my three brothers rebuked me accusing me of wanting to be a man so that I could get a share of the ancestral land.

It was evident I wasn't interested in their land because I was doing well in my own land and I had even started keeping poultry and some dairy cows. I understood that it's only the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches and had to leave my family out of my plans.

I started buying male clothes and shoes without an iota of embarrassment. I also started carrying heavy things on my shoulders like other men because earlier I was using my back like a woman and would really strain. Finally, I was taking the shape I had been denied by nature for a long time. But I also lost my family forever.

The next hurdle was the change of names on identification which took me many years of journeys to and from the immigration offices. I was later assisted by a friend and my names were changed to suit my male gender. My greatest challenge as a transgender is that I have never had sex because my body is male so no man can approach me for love or sex. On the other hand, I can't ask a man to have sex with me because obviously they would think I am gay and I can't keep narrating my story.

It's only recently I was introduced to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community by my doctor who has remained my consultant since he removed my uterus. The closest I got to engaging in a romantic relationship is when I travelled to Switzerland for a LGBT workshop and a man who has sex with men (MSM) approached me. Nonetheless, he disappeared when I told him my sexual organ is female.

I have been humiliated several times in public cloakrooms when someone points at the gents' bathrooms just when I am entering the ladies'. I can't use the urinals in the gents'  so I just nod sheepishly and enter the ladies'. But I have met many transgender people in international meetings and am getting more comfortable each day. When I burn with sexual passion, I occasionally pleasure myself. I have accepted my fate as transgender and what I would tell people is that this is a medical issue and it has nothing to do with an individual's sexual orientation. While there are many people who have had surgeries for sexual orientation purposes, there are others with cases like mine which are purely medical hence stigma and discrimination is uncalled for.

Because of the extreme factors of my case, it's very difficult to get a sexual partner but I have plans for adopting children in order to expand my family.

It's indescribable what my parents' reaction would have been, had they known that the glamorous baby girl was indeed a boy guised in a girl's sex. I don't blame them for their joy when I was born neither am I sorry that I am a man by gender and a woman by sex. What makes me sad is the stigma that would pursue me like the plague, snatching my family's love and christening me an outcast in the society.

I knew I was a boy long before I became a teen. Had there been information like there is today, my family wouldn't be discriminating me or thinking that I am mad for accepting my gender roles, rather they would have supported me especially when I was battling with changing my names for my identification documents.

My other six siblings are heterosexual which perhaps has given my parents a greater reason to believe that I am an "ill-omened" child. Today, none of my family members as much as speaks to me and other people who know I was born a "girl" always look at me badly, oblivious of the fact that my situation is a serious chronic hormonal imbalance. This discrimination drove me from my childhood home and forced me to buy a piece of land where no one knows my background. The stigma surrounding transgender is so high that I prefer not to reveal my identity whenever I share my story.

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