Living as an Intersex in Kenya

By Lillian Mutheu

Intersex is a gender, just like male and female. Talking to  Kwamboka Kibagendi, intersex program officer at Jinsiangu, she explains that intersex is a person whose body cannot be easily put into a category of either male or female. Being intersex is rather difficult to identify as male or female, due to  hormonal make up and gonads. Ambiguous genital is one of the intersex condition identified immediately at birth and some at puberty. 

“Jinsiangu is lobby group founded in the year 2011 to unite intersex individuals and more so fight for their recognition by both the Kenyan government and people at large. It is a word formed from two Swahili words, Jinsia and Yangu to form Jinsiangu which means my gender,” narrates Kwamboka. “We came up with this group to motivate intersex and people of unidentified genders, to give them a belonging.”

According to Kwamboka kibagendi, intersex individuals face a high risk of discrimination from the rest of the society. “As a society, we are generally used to two sexes; male and female when addressing gender. People do not recognize intersex. We can not identify intersex as either male or female. Intersex is not recognized as a gender by a majority of Kenyans. Even when filling a simple questionnaire, there will be a box to check male or female, but no intersex. We are a growing and developing country so there really is the need for the society to recognize the presence of intersex”

Many intersex individuals never know that they are intersex until they are adolescents. Talking to Dr. Muriah Kega, a sociologist, she explains, “being intersex is normal. It should not be seen as a condition, disability or inability. The problem is, many intersexes do not realize who they are, until they are teenagers. They are brought up by their parents as either make or female. On reaching puberty, the other side of gender starts to manifest. If one was brought up as a man, given the name John since childhood, they get to puberty and reproductive hormones are stimulated, they grow breasts. Same applies to the other gender, a person brought up as a female, Mary, starts growing a beard and breaking voice. 

This eventually exposes them to hate and discrimination. Most of them become a laughing stalk especially in school. Considering their age group, their association with fellow teenagers becomes difficult day by day. They end up stressed, depressed. They lose confidence and isolate themselves. Grown intersex adults face the same challenges. Most of them are harassed. It even becomes harder for them in the job market since they are unable to identify themselves as either particularly male or female.

“It is important to recognize Intersex as the third gender,” Kwamboka says.” The government of Kenya should recognize us and the society too. Intersex should be included in our daily lives. It should be normalized so that it is easier for these individuals to change their names and genders in identification cards and academic certificates once the opposite gender blooms and prevails especially in adolescence. We should teach the society to treat these people equally, just like we would for male and female. It was a great achievement that the Government of Kenya included intersex people during the general census 2019. At Jinsiangu, we fight for a Kenya that celebrates and respects diversity where all persons have bodily autonomy, freedom, justice and access to fundamental needs. Our mission is to ensure that the lives and wellbeing of ITGNC persons are enhanced through the establishment of safe spaces, through advocacy and research, through the provision of information, health services and psycho-social support, by fostering opportunities for holistic empowerment.”

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