Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Audrey Mbugua Ithibu, an inspirational woman from Kenya, transgender activist, Secular Humanist, a role model for all African trans sisters, graduate of Maseno University in Medical Biotechnology, student in Computer Programming and a Post Graduate Student in Advanced Databases in a Kenyan University. Hello Audrey!
Second, we want to be able to access medical services relating to gender reassignment in a respectful and sensitive environment.
Third, an end to discrimination and other harmful practices, procedures and attitudes in Government departments that preclude enjoyment of the rights and fundamental freedoms of transgender people.
Fourth, we are using the media and other platforms to educate Kenyans about Gender Identity Disorders and transsexualism and how transgender people can be accommodated in the society and families.
Fifth, we are working to eradicate harmful terminologies and practices by human rights organizations. For example, we are sensitizing the society about the negative consequences of lumping transgender people into the gay and lesbian community. We respect the rights of gays and lesbians but we will not accept the practice of combining transsexuals with gays/lesbians and labelling us as the gay community.
The case is ongoing but there was a problem because the Kenya Christian Lawyers Fellowship wanted to be enjoined in the case so that they would oppose it because they feared "it might open doors for homosexuality and lesbianism". The Christian lawyers body came to its senses and withdrew. The other case is that the government of Kenya failed to register our organization i.e. Transgender Education and Advocacy (TEA). No reason was given to explain why they were not registering the organization.
Monika: In some articles, your battle was portrayed as a fight of a transgender atheist against the stereotypes of the Christian society and country? How fair is this opinion?
However there is this minority that thinks having a particular faith gives them the powers to interfere with the right of transsexuals to access justice. There is nothing like Kenyan Christian society, though there are Christians in Kenya.
Furthermore, I have had people helping transgender people in the name of God's love. I don't argue with them much since I enjoy dumping them in a trash bin in one corner of my mind.
Additionally the case exposed the State's underbelly... they knew nothing about who and what they were dealing with. But, I normally remind State officials that we are not each others enemies and we have come to respect one another (some). Through these cases, they were able to learn so much... they can now differentiate between transgender and gay/lesbian.
However, they have come to realize that the only way to hurt me is to refer me by the male pronoun. So some do it to hurt me... it’s like war games. You win some and lose some. But, I have developed a thicker skin and no amounts of insults can take me down. I am bullet proof.
Monika: What do you think about the present legal and social situation of transgender women in Kenya?
The government is not responsive to the needs of transgender people and some of our families are hostile because "we embarrass" them with our gender change.
Sexual exploitation is common. Poor and economically disadvantaged trans women are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence.
Worst is the fact that all these have seriously compromised our confidence and self esteem as trans women.
But, there is hope things will change. But, changes don't come with flowers.
But, we are confident our doctors are capable of offering all these procedures.
Monika: At the time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
But I quit that immoral life... if I couldn't have a role model then I could be someone's else role model. I owe that to the younger transgender community. And I guess we trans community have failed; we do not do a great job of taking care of our younger trans community. As a result they end up being preyed by wolves and they end up loosing their lives due to HIV/AIDS, suicides and violence.
The only thing am proud of is that I rediscovered myself before I made the mistake of deferring my studies in the university... but I should have gotten a better grade. I wasted time and effort thinking about nonsense (someone to love me i.e. read someone to validate me as a woman) but I came to my senses and discovered that I am special and don't need love from anyone to be a woman.
Another challenge are societal stereotypes... even among liberals and most human rights organizations including SOME gay and lesbian organizations. Some of these are the most bigoted people you will ever meet. If they realize you are transgender then they cut you short and demand that you shrink into a corner and be f***ed by men in the a**. They look at a trans woman and they think our role is to be used by men as sex toys.
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
That is why every time they go to a polling station they are like "ooh this person is from my tribe so I will vote for them" or "this candidate is rich so I will vote for them" and the worst "oooh this guy has tempers... he is the right person to protect us from other tribes".
I am thinking of forming a political party to be known as the Party of Common Sense (POCS). I believe what Kenya and Africa need in a hurry are common sense because we are destroying the fundamental pillars of our societies.
I think transgender women can make a difference in politics... we form the cream of the society with regard to intelligence and compassion. And most of all, we have had to develop a lot of tenacity and propensity for hard work to survive during our bleak existence.
Then I started my transition and I made the mistake of abiding to the social expectation of a woman should date a man. I gave it a shot but it was nonsense. I went back to dating women... but in 2013 I took an oath of chastity to protect the integrity of my body. At times it’s hard to say no but it has been manageable.
There are women that I meet and am like wow. I fall in love easily but I have come to appreciate that there is this rough edge to love. But, I consider myself heterosexual/straight in a special way. I am not lesbian, gay and neither am I bisexual.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
It hurts to know that most transgender people in Kenya have to be used sexually to get US$2 for a meal and they are at it again for money for lodging. It hurts and at times I end up crying alone in the house. Only fools can romanticize poverty... sleeping under a tree in the park is not fun.
So far our organization has been able to sponsor 4 transgender people to schools to learn skills for them to engage in a legitimate source of livelihood. It’s hard to convince donors that this is a legitimate problem that need to be addressed.
Second, I would encourage them to seek assistance from a mental health care provider... don't listen to these groups that keep arguing about (de)pathologization of gender dysphoria/gender identity disorders.
Third, seek help from your family and avoid negative peers (people who encourage errors rudeness and stupidity).
Fourth, get education... and if possible lots of education and have confidence. If you feel you don't have any faith or energy to hold on then ask for some from your God or from your source of motivation and encouragement.
Finally, if you have fallen to immoral behavior then change and forgive yourself. Everyone deserves a second and third chance. Even a fourth chance. And assist another person with gender dysphoria. Don't be ashamed to be seen or walking with a fellow trans person... if she can't "blend" and people keep staring then learn to ignore the stares. It is easier than we think.
Audrey: Thank you for having me. Well done and many thanks.