Conversations with trans women in Kenya

(This is an edited version of interviews published by ILGA)

Transgender is defined as the state of an individual’s self gender identity, whether it be man, woman, neither or both and this identity mainly does not match the gender assigned at birth. Kenya does not have a provision in law for a gender other than male or female. Furthermore, there are no provisions for changing the gender of an individual assigned at birth. Most names in Kenya are generally gendered and therefore changing a name to reflect an individual gender identity can be very difficult for instance, one may not change from Jane to John. There are also several societal and legal implications that affect every day lives of trans persons.

Audrey, a Kenyan based trans woman spoke about the challenges faced by trans individuals in Kenya

 Q. What are the various legal and societal challenges faced by you as a Trans person? What do you feel can be done to specifically to counter these challenges?

A. I have found myself getting flack from the gay and lesbian community locally who tag me as homophobic and I have even been the subject of abuse on some web forums. I have also received a death threat, as if that would scare me.

In my opinion, if you believe in God and the Bible then you ought to quit being a homosexual or accept that you are a sinner, well that is if you call yourself an honest and true believer.

Look at the legal aspect, the Kenyan government denies trans people the right to change names or photos in ID cards, birth certificates and academic certificates. Trans individuals are constantly arrested by police accused of being female or male impersonators or homosexuals. We are not distinguished separately from homosexuals.

Q. Do you feel that there is a strong a trans movement in Kenya?

A. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean.

Q. As a Trans person, what is your idea of an ideal Kenya?

A. An [ideal] Kenya [would be one] where cisgender people, i.e. homosexuals and heterosexuals, do not interfere with the rights of transgender people.

Q. Anything else you feel is important to mention?

A. There is a serious need to keep trans issues trans and not make them gay issues. Then gays and lesbians and their organizations need to stop “gaynizing” and lumping trans people into their organizations and issues. We need a thick wall separating trans and gay. We should not mix the two as if they are related.

Maria is a trans woman living and working in Nairobi

Q. What are the various legal and societal challenges faced by you as a trans person? What do you feel can be done to specifically to counter these challenges?

A. I began transitioning in 2009 and the past two years have been the most fulfilling of all years in my life. The biggest issue is ignorance and not just from general society, but also from within the LGBTI community.

I believe that if the trans community knew better about what it means to be trans and how one can live a fulfilled life with this knowledge, and then there is a higher chance for the greater society to break their ignorance.

Secondly, the trans issue is a medical issue. Currently, being a transsexual means you ’suffer’ from gender dysphoria (or gender identity disorder, GID). Getting any form of medical support in terms of psychological welfare or even other support such as access to hormones, to endocrinologists and even corrective surgery is more like a façade. There are currently no laws whatsoever governing gender dysphoria and even transsexualism in terms of transition. Those who have been able to go through transition and are probably still transitioning have had to do it without support.

There is a marked lack of expertise from the medical fraternity on trans issues in Kenya. The issue of stigma and discrimination is a main reason why trans people do not bother going to medical institutions to seek assistance with their condition (not disorder). They do not want to undergo discrimination or ridicule from medical staff. There have also been times when practitioners question their patient’s decision to transition rather than treat them or tend to their medical needs. These are just but a few of the challenges faced by trans Kenyans.

Q. Is there a trans movement in Kenya? What kind of work do they do?

A. There is a trans movement in Kenya. There is only one trans specific organization (that also deals with intersex issues) namely Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA). It was founded in 2008 by two trans activists to address trans specific issues and carving their own space under the LGBTI’ umbrella movement. TEA mainly educates and advocates for trans related causes. They publish articles and stories on mainstream media, hold support group meetings for members, hold workshops for different aspects of society such as medical practitioners, teachers, etc., perform outreach activities for dissemination of information and so forth.

Q. What is the way forward for the trans movement in Kenya?

A. The way forward is broad, but in my opinion the most basic thing to do is to do away myths and misunderstandings. There is a high need for a wider outreach to find trans individuals across Kenya. There is also a need so sensitize the society so as to better understand trans individuals and their issues.

Q. What would be an ideal Kenya for you?

A. My hope is that in the near future Kenya will have trans supportive laws that protect us in the medical sector, the Kenyan job market and in life in general. I also wish that more trans people come out and live their lives without fear and prejudice and that society learns tolerance and is more accepting of a diverse mix of people.

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