Is it possible to be uncomfortable with one’s gender? Well, according to transgenders and the intersex, it is very possible. We caught up with two individuals who share on being uncomfortable with their assigned gender and how they finally came out of it.
Letoya Johnstone is no ordinary girl. Upon a closer look, you will realise she is flat chested, probably more than most girls and she has a slight moustache and budding sideburns.
Her build is tall and athletic and if one feels she could pass for a man, it’s because she is. Except that Letoya does not identify with her male birth-assigned gender. She is transgender and chooses to identify with her female self.
A transgender individual is a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex and for Letoya, the correlation between her birth-assigned gender and identity has always been missing.
“Growing up, I preferred fetching water instead of grazing cows. I loved playing with my doll Helen and whenever we played house, I wanted to be mama. I didn’t think it was strange until people started pointing out that my attraction to girlish things was unsettling,” she recalls.
As friends and family grew worried, Letoya tried to conform to her male gender. As a teenager, she dated girls but when people weren’t looking, she would slip back into her female tendencies.
“It was only after high school that Letoya truly learnt to embrace herself. “I used to attend an MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) clinic following a rape incident. One day as I was talking to a psychologist, I asked her if I was crazy. She replied that I was alright, vibrant and amazing. It was then I accepted myself and never looked back,” Letoya says.
“I can’t say that when I look in the mirror I’m comfortable with what I see. I want to transition – fully transform into a woman through surgery and hormone replacement therapy – as I can’t even walk down the street without being abused. I don’t know if people are open or even ready to the idea of me changing my sexuality. It’s too much to think about,” she says.
While being transgender has its downside, it has its upsides.Letoya has been identified by international brands such as Lancôme to test their products in Kenya. Black Opal also approached her.
To Letoya, it simply means the world is becoming more open-minded towards the LGBTQ community. The fashion stylist and model trainer strongly believes that the opportunity wouldn’t have come if she weren’t living openly as a transgender. “I know one day I’m going to die. But when I do, it will be in my own skin.”
When Ryan Muiruri was born, his mother was torn in a dilemma on whether to give him a boy’s or a girl’s name.
Ryan is an intersex; a person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Ryan, has an ambiguous genitalia – a rare condition in which external genitals don’t appear to be clearly either male or female.
His mother decided to give him a girl’s name – Ruth Wangui – but as time went on, his physique didn’t fit that of a girl child. They changed his name to Ryan Muiruri.
“I tried as much as possible to act as a normal girl but I developed masculine features rather than feminine,” explains the 27-year-old.
As such, he experienced rejection but even more bruising was the battle that was taking place in his inner self. As a child, he thought he was normal and never understood why other people, apart from his mother, treated him differently.
Due to the ambiguity in his gender, he was considered a bad omen and his father wanted nothing to do with him or his mother.
Attempts have been made on his life and to top it up, he too has tried to commit suicide several times. Ironically, it is the cheating of death that made him realise he has a purpose on earth.
“I dropped out of school in form two as stigma was too high and I couldn’t withstand it. I support others who are like me to reach their goals,” he explains.
Ryan started the Intersex Persons Society of Kenya with an aim to educate, create awareness about intersex in Kenya and reach out to victims. The organisation offers counselling to parents with intersex children to enable them to embrace their children.
“I have been harassed by police officers for personification as the name on my identity card contrasts the person that I am. My ID and birth certificates say I am Ruth Wangui but now I am Ryan Muiruri. I have tried to change my identity card and my efforts are yet to bear fruit,” he notes.
He reveals that through nominated senator Isaac Mwaura, they are pushing for a bill that will see intersex individuals considered as a third gender in the country. He says there is need for the government to come up with a law to protect them, as he has been stripped before.
Compiled by: Henry Kahara, Esther Kiragu and Esther Akello.