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Denis Wamalwa: I've undergone 39 medical procedures to affirm gender

Denis Wamalwa during an interview with Spice FM on Monday, June 13, 2023. [Standard, file]

A man has shared his journey of overcoming challenges while growing up as intersex.

Denis Wamalwa, in an interview with Spice FM on Monday, 12th June 2023, revealed that he has undergone 39 major surgeries to affirm his gender.

His story began at the tender age of four (4) when he started noticing something rather peculiar about his father's behaviour regarding his visits to the washroom.

"My father would always insist on accompanying me whenever I needed to use the restroom. He would teach me how to properly urinate because I was experiencing an issue where my urine would flow backward," said Wamalwa.

An intersex person is someone who is born with a combination of both male and female biological characteristics, which can include chromosome patterns, gonads, or genitals.

As an energetic and cheerful child, Wamalwa enjoyed swimming with friends and realised that his male genitalia differed from his peers.

At the age of seven (7), he became aware that something was restricting his sexual organs, and his parents cautioned him against swimming naked in public.

The women in his neighbourhood also noticed his appearance and would remark, "This is a beautiful boy; he should have been born a girl."

Wamalwa was born with an additional chromosome, resulting in a 47XXY chromosomal pattern (a genetic condition where there's an extra X chromosome present in a male's genetic code), which leaned towards a female biological inclination.

When he turned nine (9), he was meant to undergo traditional circumcision, but his father, concerned about his well-being, decided against subjecting him to the ordeal.

Wamalwa shares, "Through the intervention of my father and brother, I was taken out from the village because they feared that I could have developed complications in the process of circumcision."

His brother took him to the city, where he was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital for his first operation. Due to his intersex condition, he was born with an ovary and a testicle but lacked a uterus.

Wamalwa felt confused about the numerous surgeries he was undergoing without understanding the reasons behind them.

He reflects, "I was never told why I was having countless surgeries, and nobody was explaining. Maybe the doctors and my brother thought they were protecting me because I was young."

During his hospital stays, his brother would send him out of the room whenever the doctor arrived to discuss his progress.

It was during one of these instances that he overheard the doctor suggesting that it might be easier to align his sex with that of a female. However, his brother opposed the idea, questioning how he would explain the situation to people in their hometown who saw him leave with a 9-year-old boy about to be circumcised and return with a girl.

Instead, the doctor informed Wamalwa that he should prepare for gender affirmation surgery, emphasising that it would not be a simple process.

"I have undergone 39 major surgeries, meaning in every session I was in the theatre room for more than 2 hours," says Wamalwa.

While the intersex condition itself does not cause physical pain, Wamalwa experienced psychological trauma during his youth due to discrimination based on his physical appearance.

He recalls instances when his curvaceous body led public transport conductors to address him as "madam" and request payment for his fare.

To address the hormonal imbalance caused by his condition, Wamalwa had to undergo testosterone treatment, which helped regulate his hormones.

Despite the challenges he faced, Wamalwa persevered with his education, finding solace in books and successfully completing his studies.

Wamalwa has defied the odds and become the first intersex person in the country to hold a state office. He currently serves as a commissioner with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, making significant strides for inclusivity and representation.

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