Kenya's transgender warrior: from suicide bid to celebrity

Tue Apr 7, 2015 8:03pm EDT
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By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 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 (12 miles) 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 percent 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.   Continued...