I was born with ambiguous genitalia. That means I had characteristics of both sexes. The midwife told my mother that she could not tell whether I was a boy or a girl, so they decided to bring me up as a girl. According to Kikuyu customs, I should have been named after my paternal grandmother but my father refused because he said someone like me could not be associated with his family. He was ashamed of me.
When I was three months old, my mother realised I could not be a girl because my male organs were getting pronounced. She took me to the hospital and the doctors decided that I should be a girl. That it would be easier to turn me into a girl than a boy.
On the day of surgery, the nurse who brought the consent papers for my mother to sign asked my mother why she was allowing this to happen because I wasn’t born with a uterus like a girl could. And that I would probably resent that decision once I grew up. Luckily for me, mama listened. And the corrective surgery was halted.
I started realising that I was different when I was five. I overheard some of my relatives saying that I was abnormal. I always thought I was like other girls but clearly, I was not. And when playing with the other children, I found out just how different I was from the others. Besides that, the children started making fun of me and due to the shame and fear I felt, I started skipping school. The children would follow me to the toilet to take a peek inside my pants. I was traumatised.
I also didn’t like playing the games girls liked. I preferred to play with the boys, but boys did not want to play with a girl so I basically grew up alone without friends. Because of that, I started being naughty and got into drugs when I hit puberty. At one point I even ran away from home. I felt that I didn’t fit anywhere and quit school so that I didn’t have to deal with the taunts.
My first suicide attempt was in 2003 when I was in Standard 8. I got up at 2am and hang myself on a tree, but the tree fell. I tried two other times with the last attempt being in 2014 when I took pills.
Police beatings and near mob justice
I felt like a man, looked like a man but I wore dresses like a girl and was expected to act like a woman. Once, I was beaten up by police officers who accused me of impersonation.
I had gone to a bank to make a transaction but while I was waiting for the teller to serve me, police officers showed up and started beating me. My ID read Ruth Wangui, and I couldn’t convince them that I was that Ruth. A few months later I went to a public toilet near our hometown and a woman started screaming that there was a man in the toilets. A mob gathered and started beating me up, but some people who knew me came to my rescue and I escaped. In 2014, I attempted suicide for the last time then decided to embrace who I really was. A man.
Embracing my manliness
Back then, I thought I was the only one with the condition, but then I met James, who is also intersex, and since then I have met more than 200 people with my condition. That is how the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya (IPSK) was born. We had many challenges trying to get registered because people did not understand us, and confused us with the LGBT community.
Most intersex people cannot have children, but I did. I am a biological father of a boy. I am not married but it has not got in the way of my dating life. The women I meet now usually know about my condition beforehand because of my advocacy efforts. I haven’t had corrective surgery because having both organs makes more of an impact when imploring parents to let their intersex children to wait and until the children choose the gender they identify with.
I have not changed my identity card to read a masculine name because we still do not have a framework or guidelines of how to go about it in the law, and we are advocating for that. That has made many mobile money transactions very difficult. Last week in Mandera, and if I had not had an affidavit saying I was intersex and was the individual in my documents, I would have landed in problems. Getting a passport was a painful process.
SOMEDAY I HOPE TO GET CORRECTIVE SURGERY
JOSEPH OBOKO, 29.
The name on my ID is Elizabeth Oboko but now I identify as Joseph Oboko. I was raised as a girl, and according to our Kisii traditions, circumcised as one. My male organs developed well and I didn‘t develop breasts like a girl should when I hit puberty.
Unfortunately, my family didn‘t understand what I was going through and I was chased away from home because my condition was bringing shame to them.
I have lived in depression and sickness and it was not until this year when I learnt about Ryan that I realised there were other people like me. I tracked him down and when I met him my first request was to ask him where I could get corrective surgery to become normal. I lived in fear and shame, but now I am able to speak about being intersex boldly.
I hope to someday get corrective surgery and complete my college education which I couldn‘t due to stigma