So, the Kenyan state, and almost the entire nation, is going insane over Audrey Mbugua’s court case against the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) and the Attorney General’s Office. Interesting. Indeed, Audrey Mbugua is not new to gender identity controversies and the corridors of justice. She has been in the Kenyan news for a while now. A few years back she was suing the then Minister for Health, Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o because the biggest government hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital denied her request for gender re-assignment surgery. No one would do it. It was not right, they argued. The doctors hands were tied, as they say. Tied by what/who exactly? Please ask me another. I do not know. Audrey, being Audrey, is back. With more viciousness. She is more annoying now, as the ‘national’ mood shows. She is that person that is distressing the state. But she is getting all the attention. Anyway.
Audrey has revealed her previous name. She was born Andrew. She sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) as Andrew Mbugua in 2001. But she is not Andrew. Not anymore. She is Audrey. A woman. A transwoman. So, why is it so difficult for the concerned authorities to change her papers to reflect the person that she is now? I will tell you why. But in a bit. Audrey is not employable. Audrey does not exist as a Kenyan. She is not registered with the Registrar of Births. Because I mean, Audrey came to be. She became. She was not born at the same time as Andrew. Or may be she actually was, only known by something else then. But then, Andrew does not exist either. He stopped existing when Audrey came to be. It is called transitioning. One ceases, another begins. Sometimes they exist separately at a given historical moment in one’s life.
Sometimes they co-exist as one. So, when Andrew became Audrey Kenya lost it. It is sickening. It is disgusting according to the ‘God-this’ Nazis. But then one wonders, where did Audrey come from? In a country where sexual diversity and all things SOGI are discredited by arguments around what is ‘African’, ‘natural’ and often ‘religious’/moral, it is so ironic that we don’t marvel at the many dynamics and gymnastics of ‘nature’. Instead, as a country, we are so caught up in our own hypocrisy to ever be bothered with stepping out of our own prejudices, even for a second, before we can get euphoric about others’ identities.
You see what shocks me most is that we refuse to engage with our own sex/sexual/sexuality inconsistencies. We refuse to think of sexuality as a continuum. We refuse to engage with what the sexual and bodily practices we ourselves engage in might mean in another’s life. But why am I posing this as something new. That’s how heteropatriarchal normativity works. People have to be put in place lest they destabilize the order of things. We must have binaries for patriarchal power to validate itself and to work with minimum interference. Men have to be men and women must remain women.And when one is born with ambiguous genitalia/intersex in the midst of the parents whispers, the doctors have to ‘correct’ that. I mean how dare you be both? What are you gonna be once you grow up? Man or woman? So, one has to be either, albeit without their consent. Now if we are so biased against intersex persons, tell me how we can even begin to imagine gender transitioning! How dare a man desire to be a woman? And vice versa? “That’s not a man”, “Some men should get balls”, “This Andrew man is such an embarrassment”. All these are comments I have seen being thrown around on that noisy place called the internet. But strangely I do understand these kinds of reactions. I can smell misogyny even before it knocks the door. Women are hated. Audrey is giving certain masculinities a bad name by rejecting them.
Most men, as tokens of heteropatriarchy, do believe that being male-bodied and being a man are the greatest honour that ‘nature’ -in collusion with all systems of patriarchy- has put in place. At least they are men. They can be poor or whatever but they are men. They are better than poor women. And Audrey rejects that? She is putting masculinities on the spot. How dare she? Oh how fragile! And these systems need to stay in place for oppression to work effectively.
So, people, I mean human beings, those creations of nature, can only be one or the other. Human beings, the entire freaking human race, can only be millions and millions of men and women. Really? Is that even possible? May be I just don’t know much but I know for sure this is by no means possible. I mean how? In my mind, no one and absolutely no one is born a man or woman. If you think I am lying ask Simone de Beauvoir. (You see, it really helps to read. Just try). Because people are born male, female, both and neither/nor. That is at a biological level which is often flawed anyway. Thanks to Medicine’s prejudice.
But let’s go the Medical way for a minute. There are way too many medical theories about why people are transgender. These differ depending on the lens that we choose to use. So now, as I suspect was the case with Audrey before the transition from Male to Female (MTF), psychologists may not agree with biologists for instance on one’s bodily geography and their psyche. And I have heard the name Audrey being mentioned in the same sentence with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and she seems to comfortably use the term ‘diagnosis’. That pathologization makes me really uncomfortable but well may be that’s one strategy if you live in a country called Kenya and you have to feign some form of mental illness to live in your skin. I mean you must be mad to think ‘God is a fool’. And that marks one of the problems with medicine but also sets a perfect analogy of transgender and/or transsexual persons. So, for the sake of all these Kenyans trolling on the internet (#KOT, for instance) and mainstream media (Have you ever listened to Maina Kageni and Daniel “King’ang’i” Ndambuki bully people on Classic 105?), I will use this rather unfortunate analogy. Let’s say, for the sake of illustration, that the biologist represents your male body and that’s all there is to declare you a man.
The psychologist, on the other hand, reads your mind and thought patterns that are incongruent with your male body and that do not agree with your being a man. Your psyche screams, ‘woman’ not ‘man’; even though you are male-bodied. The result is DISAGREEMENT; between your internal and your external self. The biological cannot in essence reflect your psychological. Now that is what it means to be transgender. Got it? I know I oversimplified it. It is rather complex.
So now, Audrey Mbugua is MTF and is no longer a man; she is a woman. A transwoman. Because somehow she has managed to reconcile her physical expression with her real gender identity. She is a woman. Oh, before people start asking me silly questions about her body, let me say one thing. I don’t know.
Whether she has had gender reassignment surgery/ other medical procedures or not, that is not what we should be focusing on. When people ask me about my genitalia I have learnt to ask them about theirs before I can answer. It makes them uncomfortable and that settles it. I know so many Transpersons who are not even on hormonal treatment (yet)…flip, this shit is expensive!! Some medics have speculated (yes, I said speculate) that fluctuations or imbalances in hormones or the use of certain medications during pregnancy may cause intersex or transgender ‘conditions’. Other research indicates that there are links between transgender identity and brain structure. Biologists tell us that sex is a complicated matter, much more complex than what we may have been taught in school. Well, if you went to school in Kenya, you know these things were never (to be) unpacked. They were given. Shoot! I have imbibed a lot of bullcrap in the name of education but well, I have had to unlearn and re-learn (more like teach myself) various other truths.
So in Biology (which I eventually had to quit because Mr. Kariuki couldn’t stand me), we were taught that a person who has XX chromosomes is generally considered female, while a person with XY chromosomes is generally considered male. Great, that was a settled case. But only for a while. Only for the time I hadn’t started teaching myself. So, in my home-based self-taught biology classes, I learnt that there are also people who have XXY, XYY, and other variations of chromosomes for which genetic differences may or may not be visibly apparent or known to the person. On further reading and stumbling upon bits and pieces of isolated information, I also realised that there are some people who are born with XY chromosomes, but are unable to respond to testosterone (that thing has the potential to mess up your mind in a month….or at least that’s what the transmen in my life tell me) and therefore develop bodies with a vagina and breasts, rather than a penis and testes. Anyway, let’s just say that a variation in gender is by all means part of the natural order and there are more varieties than we generally realize.
So, now back to Audrey and Kenya and you have so much crap to sail through before you can successfully, or at least bearably, walk around the streets with a repulsive body without all the self-appointed Deputy Gods stoning you with cursing eyes.
Let’s see how I make it through Tom Mboya today.
By Neo Musangi © 2013