It’s hard enough to survive as a gay or lesbian in Kenya. Living as a transperson in Kenya and trying to access medical care brings a different complexity.
In Kenya public hospitals deny medical care to transgender people, more about and government offices refuse to change their identification. Jenni and I spend an afternoon with one pioneering transwoman working with Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA) in Kenya. She practically earned an nursing degree while doing her own research on how to medically transition from male to female. Now, tadalafil she shares her knowledge with other transgender Kenyans. She requested to remain anonymous for her personal safety.
When did you first understand your gender identity?
I first came to know that I was transgender when I discovered the internet. This was back in 2000. The first thing I googled was “boy who feels like a girl” and that’s how I learned all about the words ‘gender identity disorder’, this ‘transgender’, ‘transsexual’, ‘gender reassignment surgery’, and ‘hormone replacement therapy’. I found out that I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through wasn’t new.
What has been your experience of the medical system while transitioning as a woman in Kenya?
The medical system in Kenya has no policies governing the treatment of transgender patients. When I first wanted to begin my transition process, I considered psychological therapy as is recommended in the WPATH Standards of Care. However, the cost of $100 was too high for me at that time and I could not afford it. So I googled and found a website that provided users with the proper dosing for hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I went to find these hormones and the hormone blockers at the local chemists [pharmacy]. Luckily, I was able to purchase them without a prescription.
Still because of the medical system being the way it is, I didn’t trust the public health centers to provide me with proper care and keep my information confidential. They would likely stigmatize me and not treat me just like any other patient. So, I went to a private endocrinologist to provide me with guidance on my HRT. I also went to a private general surgeon to undergo a bilateral orchidectomy. This was to ensure I had little or no testosterone in my body and therefore reduce the amount of estrogen I would need to take while further reducing the long term costs of transition.
What was the reaction of your community, neighbors, and family to your transition?
I told my mom about my transition about seven years ago. I wrote her a letter and she eventually told everyone in our immediate family. It took them a while to understand, but now they do. I am very lucky that no one in my immediate family has rejected me or done anything harmful to me.
When I started transitioning back in 2009, I didn’t move house. That meant that I lived in the same house I did when I was living as male. This made my neighbors get very confused about my gender as all of a sudden I looked different and presented differently. Two months later I looked very feminine and this made people talk. My friendly neighbors would tell me that people are talking about me and it didn’t sound good. So I had to find a place to move to quickly. On the day I was moving out, 5 months after I started transitioning, some of my neighbors and the men working in the garages nearby surrounded my moving truck. It was scary. I was packing things away, doing finishing packing and I could hear noises and shouts from downstairs. They couldn’t see me but I could hear them. My friend, who was helping me carry things downstairs to the truck kept telling me that he heard them say they want to strip me and “find out what I truly was”. Luckily one of my neighbors told them off, saying it was none of their business. I moved out well and there was no problem afterwards.
I am ever so thankful that I “pass” well, so much so that it is not even possible to believe I was raised as a boy and even looked very much like one just a few years ago. Because of this, I nowadays rarely have any issues with being “read” as a different gender.
When do you come out to others about your history living as a man? When do you feel unsafe about disclosing this?
I usually don’t tell people of my past. My medical history is my business. As I mentioned, people can’t tell that I was raised as a boy and so it’s rarely necessary to have to mention it. I only have to do so during special situations such as a visit to the doctor, or when I need some legal documents changed.
You wrote a honest blog about your transition. What has the reaction been to your online story?
Since my blog is anonymous, I do not ‘promote’ it personally. This means that only those who share it out get to read it and most of my readers come from the US.
However, I’ve done interviews with Daily Nation, a popular national newspaper and global voices online. The response from the newspaper was received quite well. If it wasn’t for that article, my old classmates wouldn’t have known about my transition.
What are some of the misconceptions about transpeople in Kenya?
The misconceptions are numerous, but the most widely known is that transpersons are either effeminate gay men in hiding or butch lesbians pretending to be men. This misconception is the most damaging to trans persons in Kenya. While I vehemently condemn discriminating against lesbian or gay people, it is also wrong for trans persons to be called gay or lesbian when they are not.
A lot of the times when transpeople are arrested by the police, they are told that they are male or female impersonators and get incarcerated for that. Society needs to understand that trans persons are not mentally ill. They are able contributors of society.