Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview: “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”

I did another interview with UP Nairobi - Nairobi's Urban Perspective. Check it out.

“Man, I Feel Like a Woman”

Who knew putting on a line of lipstick and confidently walking down the street could be an act of liberation? Or that slipping on a pair of kitten heels or feeling the soft fabric of a simple frock on your skin, could be a slice of heaven? This month, Wanjeri Gakuru talks to a transgender on why she is hell-bent on having the world see her as a woman—the person she really is.

Lindsay*, is a striking, cocoa-skinned lady in her midtwenties. She comes across as a bubbly, fun-loving, typical Nairobi girl. But there’s nothing typical about  Lindsay. “I began my transition in late 2009. So far, I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and undergone a bilateral orchidectomy (removal of testes) to eliminate production of testosterone,” says the confident finance assistant at a local NGO.

You see, Lindsay is a transwoman (a male-to-female transsexual or transgender person). In the past three years, she has continued to make greater strides towards womanhood, going so far as changing the name on her identification cards. “The next step is definitely the main surgery, that is, the gende raffirming surgery. I’m not sure when that will happen. It costs quite a tidy amount so I have to keep saving,” Lindsay says. In keeping with this month’s theme on women, we sought Lindsay’s take on the gift of womanhood.

When were you first aware of your feminine feelings?
I usually say that I knew there was something amiss from when I was as young as six or seven years old. But I knew clearly what “it” was called when I discovered the Internet in 2000.

How did your family and friends take it?
I told my mom and aunties about seven years ago. My mom took it well. She assured me that we would go through this together. My aunties didn’t all take it well at the beginning and, in fact, one of them was really against all of it. When I finally began living as my true self, she slowly came to terms with reality and nowadays is more at ease.
As for my friends, well, I had to tell them eventually, but most of them came to learn of it when an interview about me was published in 2010. It was anonymous, but most of my former schoolmates somehow put two and two together.

Has their reaction, good or bad, changed over the years?
At first, most of my schoolmates had very hateful words to say. I remember one of them taking my picture from my Facebook profile and posting it on to his wall, and then tagging most of the schoolmates we had in common. But somewhere along the lines, some good comments started popping up.
A few months later, I met this particular schoolmate and he told me he was sorry for what he did, and he only did it because it was new to him and it took him by surprise. And that was [just] the first reaction that came to him at the time.

What gave you the courage to take the first step towards becoming a woman?
I always tell people that we don’t “become” women (or men in  the case of transmen), but  hey are the gender they are, only that the outside shows something different. I just felt that I couldn’t continue living a lie anymore, and I was done with it. Life as a male was miserable and I couldn’t consider a fruitful life.

Why is it important for the world to see you as a woman?
Because I am. I am myself and that’s what I want the world to see, to see me. The real me. When I lived as male, I put on a “mask” every morning. I told myself, “Time to be a man, time to man up”  every morning. It wasn’t easy, despite having acting capabilities. I still failed severely, often revealing my hidden identity and creating confusion in those around me. I hated it. That’s why it is important for me to be me.

As you stand now, nearly at the end of your transition, how has your understanding of femininity evolved?
Initially, femininity to me was very laden with patriarchal ways of thinking: Women had certain roles and responsibilities in society, and men had the same. But now that I am myself, I am able to define what femininity means to me. It doesn’t mean that to be feminine I have to wear dresses, or put on make up, or be naive or anything. Heck, I don’t need to prove my femininity to anyone. Femininity is a whole lot of things, but it is mostly understanding yourself as you are and embracing it fully as a woman, or just as feminine.

Do you ever worry that people can notice that you are transgender?
Yes, all the time! It is a constant mental battle I have daily, telling myself that I am okay, that even if they know, so what? But I worry about it all the time, despite being told constantly that people can’t notice at all.

What’s the best thing about being a woman?
Ha ha ha! I’m not sure how to answer that, but I can tell you that the best thing about being myself is that I can actually be myself! It is a thrilling feeling I have every day, being able to walk out of the house and people treat me as a woman and not a man, as I used to be treated. That’s a feeling I doubt I will ever get used to.

Are you dating? How’s that experience been for you?
Yes, I am. In the beginning it was difficult. I used to have boyfriends even before I began transitioning, but it never felt right. I’ve never identified as gay, and so the thought that someone would see me as such wasn’t something I liked. I was so scared that I ruined several relationships by saying things I didn’t mean to the people I was in a relationship with. Two good relationships were broken like that. But I met someone special, and he’s been good to me ever since. It was difficult at first, seeing that he was straight and I was still living as male. But we took it real slow and we are still going strong. One of the things I find interesting nowadays is that when I go out and meet guys and they happen to learn about my history, most of them are accepting and say, “I still like you the way you are.”

Who do you see when you look into a mirror?
I see me. The me I always wanted to see all those years. The me I deserve to be.
*Not her real name.

Hope you liked it. I did!


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