Born a girl, grew up to be a boy. Now Sheila Makungu wants the government to change her documents to indicate that her sex is male.
Ms Makungu’s identity card, and her birth certificate, Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) and P1 indicate that she is female but when you meet her, she has a beard, a deep voice and will most likely be wearing men’s clothes.
Even the photo on her ID card will make you think someone mistakenly placed a man’s photo on a woman’s card, and that scares Sheila.
“When I go to an M-Pesa agent, I dread being asked for my ID,” she says. “Even the TSC (Teachers Service Commission) may reject me.
They may say I’m not the person they trained,” she says.
She had been raised as a girl since was born in September 1986. At her home village of Musala in Sabatia constituency of Vihiga County, she wore girls’ clothes and was socialised as a girl.
But in 2004, when she was a Form Three student at Keveye Girls in Vihiga, she discovered something was amiss with her body.
Ms Makungu shared her story with the Nation at a time when the government is seeking ways to officially recognise transgender people.
Since May 26 when Attorney-General Githu Muigai announced the formation of a taskforce to come up with institutional and administrative reforms with regard to transsexuals, a team of nine has been seeking ways of creating government policy for that category of people.
The taskforce has six months to come up with recommendations and it is chaired by Mr Mbage Ng’ang’a, the chairman of the Kenya Law Reform Commission.
Mr Ng’ang’a says the team has been holding meetings to analyse its scope, create terms of reference and identify the relevant stakeholders.
“The taskforce intends to meet with and collect views from various stakeholders including but not limited to: schools, correctional facilities, religious groups, registrar of persons, action groups, and affected persons across the country,” he told Nation.
Ms Makungu hopes that the work by Mr Ng’ang’a’s team will end her misery. “If you get somebody who is insensitive, he may take you to court and say you’ve stolen somebody’s certificates,” she says.
The day she confirmed that something was not right with her anatomy was when she went to see a doctor. “He said it seemed I was born two-in-one,” she recalls.
Around that time, she realised that something “looking like a male feature” developed on her private parts.
“The male feature brought the male hormones. But it’s not active. The female one is the one that is active,” she said, adding that her menstrual cycle is yet to start.
Ever since the eerie transformation happened, the 31-year-old has suffered moments of confusion, not knowing whether to wear female or male clothes. Her struggle began in secondary school.
DRESS UP QUICKLY
“I would wake up very early, at 4am, and make sure I’m the first one in the bathroom, shower and dress up quickly. Normal girls would just shower freely but I would look at my features and say no, it’s not okay for me to be seen,” she says.
After sitting her KCSE examination in 2003, she was admitted at St Aquinas College to train as a teacher. By then, her beard had grown but she was living at the women’s hostel.
“I used to shave every day at the very least. So, I used to wake up very early,” she says.
Between 2009 when she finished her studies and early this year, she taught at schools in her village. Despite her male features, she had to dress as a woman and it was not easy.
“Most people knew me as a woman but I would look at the pupils and see doubt written all over their faces,” she recalls.
“As I walked home or to work, I would realise at least five out of 10 people were questioning my appearance. Even old women would ask, ‘Is this a man or a woman?’ But those who know me would say, ‘This is a woman. She’s our teacher.’ They knew I was a teacher.”
She got tired of the probing eyes in the village and decided to move to Nairobi in February where she resolved to conduct herself as a man.
“I decided to leave home and come here in Nairobi and started living as a man,” she says.
In Nairobi, she got a rude shock. A man who had promised to give her a job as a teacher withdrew the offer as soon as she showed up.
“He said I’m not the person he wanted. And he just left me at Country Bus,” she recalls with a chuckle.
She then decided to live with her aunt, a sister of her father, in Rongai. Her aunt’s efforts to get her a job at a security company hit a wall because of the discrepancy in her name and physical appearance.
Now she is forced to earn a living as a casual worker, sometimes selling tomatoes on behalf of a trader at Kware market in Rongai where she gets a commission at the end of the day.
“Because of what I’ve gone through, I’ve realised it’s better to be a man,” she says.
In Rongai, she introduces herself as Shem and most people in the area know her so. Only three people, she says, know her actual name.
Ms Makungu has asked around and been informed that it is possible to fully switch to a man, but it will come at a cost. “Then my documents need to be changed because they read that I’m a woman,” she adds.
Now identifying with the male gender, her only fear is to use the men’s washroom. “I am asking for help so that I can change and live as other normal men. I live in fear,” she says.
A case like hers was taken to court in 2013 where parents of a baby born with both genitalia sued because a hospital had entered “?” in the space for gender. Justice Isaac Lenaola ordered that the process of registering the baby be done within 90 days.
“A child born as an intersex is no different from any other child,” the judge said in 2014.
He also ordered that the government collects data on intersex people and develop guidelines for medical examinations and corrective surgery, hence the formation of Mr Ng’ang’a’s taskforce.
Mr Ng’ang’a said once his group finishes its work, it may consider recommending the addition of “transsexual” as part of gender.