Captivating tale of a man's double life

Monday October 12 1998

Title: From Juliet to Julius: In Search of My True Gender Identity.

Author: Julius Kanganzi Kaggwa.

Publisher: Fountain Publishers, 1997

Price: Sh300


It is bizarre, infuriating, revulsive, impulsive, repugnant, compulsive, ambivalent, and yet very entertaining reading. That is From Juliet to Julius.

It is an extraordinarily stranger than fiction autobiography of a man who lived as a female for 24 years when he could bear it no more and owned-up to his true gender.

Julius Kaggwa was born a healthy baby in December 1969 into a "very religious family" in Uganda.

However, Julius' sex could not be established "a few weeks after birth" and his mother decided to seek advice from ancestral spirits.

The spirits' verdict was: "This child is meant to be a girl to stand in the shoes of its late grandmother. She demands to come back to us in this child otherwise it dies."

Growing up as a girl, when he was actually a boy, had its stock of problems. His mother stressed that he had to be "very careful not to undress in front of other children" as this was "indecent".

To ensure his gender was not exposed, his mother kept transferring him from one school to another during his primary school days. His early life was therefore one of loneliness, hiding and moving.

Matters were not made any better when he had to grow up under single parenthood. His father, owing to a domestic problem relating to fidelity or lack of it, deserted home for a larger part of his life.

He, therefore, grew up a fatherless "girl" who had to live with a step-father who was harsh to his mother, "shouted at her" and consequently made her cry. This caused little `Juliet' much anguish and agony.

As she grew up, even her mother became less and less part of `her' life. In his own words, "since mother was rarely home, there was no one to stop us from going out to enjoy a few hours of the thing".

She soon slipped into bad company such as Babu's, leading to drug-taking and other misbehaviour (save for sexual engagements as her gender had to be kept a strict secret).

She smoked, drunk alcohol, witnessed and enjoyed physical fights and actually witnessed murders.

This was at the height of the anarchy occasioned by Idi Amin's tragic and retrogressive rule of Uganda. The situation was so bad that during "the lawless days, such incidences (as murder) were common place and everything was possible. Maybe Babu dumped his (dead) friend's body somewhere."

During this period, he was torn between two worlds. "On the one hand, the man (him) wanted to be tough" while on the other, her imposed gender required him to "behave like a good and obedient girl."

By the time primary school examination results came out, she was so spoilt that she did not bother to find out what `she' had scored.

Her mother took the trouble and they were good. Luckily, she had passed and thus secured a place at "the best exclusively girls' school in the country (Uganda) - Gayaza High School."

Her four year life there was a nightmare as it was that "of pretence, concealment, fear and uncertainty." She feigned all sorts of things, including monthly periods and dating boys (not for sex though) in order to convince others she was a girl. She was virtually an imposter.

At Gayaza he had more trouble with regard to his feelings towards his fellow students - girls. "I found the girls attractive and very often felt strong sexual sensations that I could not understand.

"These sensations surged through me whenever I saw the girls dressing up or preparing for a bath, with nothing but a towel around their waists or when they spread their legs out to apply lotions on them. But I could not betray my inner passion and longing for them.

There was a lot of confusion in my mind between what I really was and what I was "sup posed" to be."

"Overwhelmed by a terrible loneliness," she confessed salvation in Christ just to be away from the majority of her probing colleagues, who were not themselves saved.

"I was a devout pentecostal and an adept liar as well.... To be honest (salvation) actually served as a way of escape." "

Anyhow, she finally graduated from Gayaza (exclusive school for girls) High School and up to date is the only holder of the incredulous distinction of a Gayaza Old Boy!.

Out of Gayaza, life was an uphill task. Her mother, father and benefactor (Vincent) were infected with Aids (and all later died) leaving him a helpless high school student at Makerere High School where his game of concealment continued. While there, he "often had erections and wet dreams."

It was not until 1994 when Juliet turned Julius, from skirts to trousers, after successful counseling. In 1996, he got married and the headline of the next day's The New Vision was "Old Gayaza girl weds fellow woman".

For all those 24 years of pretence, he took traditional medicines in a bid to change into a female. However this was all in vain.

Although gender is the main theme in the book, parental guidance, single parenthood, the role of ancestral spirits, religious (especially Christians) hypocrisy, premarital sex, HIV/Aids among others are extensively explored.

As to whether or not the autobiography is a popular or literary piece, it is a matter of literary evaluation by scholars of literature. Whether popular or literary, the book is definitely rich, informative, and refreshing reading.

The honesty of the author (may be because he is a Born Again Christian) is so extreme that sometimes it borders on self indictment and denigration.

There is a great time-shift in the book. It therefore calls upon the reader to read it closely in order to connect time and events in sequence. The author lives and works in Kampala now. the book is available at Prestige Bookshop, Nairobi.