Dove Magazine

Kenya’s transgender warrior: from suicide bid to celebrity

Audrey Mbugua during a past interview. PHOTO | FILE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By KATY MIGIRO

Posted  Wednesday, April 8  2015 at  13:19

IN SUMMARY

  • Experts say up to 1 per cent of the world’s population are transgender – men and women who feel they have been born with the wrong body and the wrong gender.
  • After Mbugua’s 2008 suicide attempt, doctors diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and arranged for surgery to change her sex.
  • Kenya’s minister of medical services cancelled the operation at the last minute without explanation – an example of the confusion that has marred her quest to fully become a woman.
Audrey Mbugua will not say whether it was a razor blade, pills or carbon monoxide that she used to try to kill herself.

Born a male in Kenya and given the name Andrew, she felt trapped in the wrong body and started dressing in women’s clothes while at university, attracting ridicule and rejection. After graduation, Mbugua was jobless, penniless and alone.

“I thought the best way was to end it all,” she recalled six years later, sitting in her leafy garden in Kiambu, 20 km from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“I didn’t have any hope. I didn’t have friends I could talk to. My family had deserted me,” said the slim 31-year-old, who wears glasses and her hair long.

Experts say up to 1 per cent of the world’s population are transgender – men and women who feel they have been born with the wrong body and the wrong gender.

When Mbugua sought help to deal with her inner turmoil from a health worker, the woman took Mbugua’s hands and prayed for her to be freed from the devil’s clutches.

“She pulls open her drawer, takes out a Bible and starts to preach to me,” Mbugua laughed. “I don’t think she knew what I was going through, so to cover up, she said it’s the work of Satan.”

Transgender people are some of the most invisible in Africa where rigid gender stereotyping continues to stifle freedoms. Many are forced to hide their identity and live on the margins of their communities or risk being vilified as immoral and unchristian by the conservative majority.

Mbugua is a rare exception.

Since a test case in 2013 to compel Kenya’s examinations council to change the name on her school leaving certificate from Andrew to Audrey, Mbugua has become an unlikely celebrity, using interviews to promote transgender rights.

Surgery

After Mbugua’s 2008 suicide attempt, doctors diagnosed her with gender identity disorder and arranged for surgery to change her sex.

But Kenya’s minister of medical services cancelled the operation at the last minute without explanation – an example of the confusion that has marred her quest to fully become a woman.

Facing one hurdle after another, Mbugua decided she had to take up the mantle of campaigning for transgender rights to combat the ignorance and stigma blighting her life.

“It has to be done so that people are able to live lives that are full of dignity, where people are not hindered from being who they are,” Mbugua said

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