Illustration by John Nyaga
By Maryanne W. Waweru
Lindsay, a 22-year-old transsexual raised as a man, shares her hopes and fears about her decision to live as a woman.
“Today, I’m living my life the way I was meant to,” Lindsay* begins.
Born male and named Leo*, Lindsay had lived all her life as a man. Then, in September last year, she began her journey to womanhood.
Recalling her feelings of being “trapped” in the wrong body she says, “I remember playing with dolls and other girlie toys. I hated boyish toys. I also remember secretly trying on some of my mother’s clothes, shoes and make up. I especially loved walking in her high heels. Emotionally, I felt like a girl,” recalls the finance assistant with a local NGO.
Perturbed by Leo’s behaviour, his mother gave him a serious tongue-lashing. “I felt sad because I couldn’t understand why she was angry with me, yet I was only behaving naturally,” Lindsay explains.
Afraid that she might have had too much “feminine” influence on him, Leo’s mother took him to a mixed boarding school in Standard Four.
“I associated with girls and enjoyed spending time with them. The boys teased me for being ‘one of the girls’ but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed girlie talk and games, and felt like one of them,” offers the 22-year-old.
Come puberty, Leo was a late bloomer. “While my peers were breaking their voices, developing broad shoulders and growing beards, I remained baby-faced, smooth-skinned and had a high-pitched voice. Worse still, I had a feminine gait. But when I was 13, I started getting attracted to boys,” she recalls.
Leo’s new feelings both scared and confused him, so he sought refuge in religion and became born-again. “I spent endless days and nights begging God to make me normal, but my feelings remained unchanged, and the stress sent me into a depression.”
After completing primary education, the Nairobi-bred Leo joined a boy’s boarding secondary school in Central Province where, thanks to his effeminacy, he was nicknamed ‘kasupuu’ (pretty girl) shortly after admission.
“I did not engage in aggressive sports and instead preferred interactive activities such as acting, dancing and singing. I joined the school choir and drama club, where I was always given female roles, which came to me naturally so I did not need to act,” Lindsay recalls of her secondary school days.
Leo’s attraction to boys never ceased, and Lindsay confesses to having engaged in relationships with one or two boys while in high school. When he mentioned this attraction to his mother, she dismissed it, saying that, as an only child of a single parent, he liked boys because he lacked a father figure. “But I knew this was not true because I was not gay,” Lindsay offers.
While in high school, Leo resolved to stop living as a man and began searching the Internet for information on his predicament.
“It is thanks to this research that I learnt that there were many other people like me. Better still, I learnt that I could do something about it, that I could actually become a woman. That’s when I decided to transition,” she explains.
But he could not find a way to tell his mother. “Every time I thought of telling my mum, my heart skipped several beats. I did not want to shock her or break her heart because we were very close. She is a conservative person and although she knew there was something unusual about me, she had not heard of transitioning.”
After completing high school, Leo wrote a four-page letter to his mother, placed it on her bed and left for his grandparents home in the village, where he spent an agonising two weeks.
“Waiting for her reaction made me extremely anxious,” Lindsay recalls.
But when Leo returned to Nairobi, her reaction surprised him: “You are my child. We will go through this together. But you have to complete college before you start transitioning.”
It was a great relief for Leo. “I was elated. Knowing that I had her support encouraged me and I could now move forward with confidence. As a result, I intensified my research on transsexuality and transitioning,” recalls Lindsay.
Finally, after completing a two-year course in July last year, Leo embarked on his journey to womanhood. He changed his name to Lindsay and began dressing up like a woman. “I shopped for dresses, shoes and make up. My mother and other male-to- female transsexuals (MTF) helped me.”
At the same time, Lindsay started taking anti-androgen pills to reduce the levels of testosterone in her body in preparation for a bilateral orchiectomy (removal of the testicles). The operation reduced the production of the male hormone, testosterone. Immediately thereafter, she began taking a daily does of estrogen pills, which she bought over the counter at Sh74 per dose, for four months, until December last year. The effects are already showing.
“My breasts are slowly growing and my nipples have become more sensitive. My skin is now smoother, and my facial hair has significantly decreased. I have also noticed that my waist is getting smaller while my hips are broader,” she says.
The change is not just physical. “I’m calmer and more at peace. I hear I will be moody and emotional but I have yet to feel that so I’ve developed a wait-and-see attitude.”
Lindsay has also experienced hot flushes and mood swings, the side-effects of the operation.
“Although hot flushes are not the best of feelings, having them reassures me of my femininity!” she says, adding that her libido has, however, declined.
Notably, Lindsay has just come out of a relationship with a man. And since the operation, it is now much easier to hide her remaining male genitalia. “I now worry less when wearing short skirts since I do not feel as uncomfortable as I used to,” she says.
Her greatest dilemma regarding relationships remains whether and when to tell her partner about her condition. “It worries me when I meet a man who wants to since I can’t hide my past from him. I’m scared of his possible reaction if he learns the truth.”
But she hopes a day will come when she will not have to agonise over breaking the news to a potential lover without him hitting the roof.
“I couldn’t be happier,” says Lindsay 10 months after she began transitioning.
But she needs a sex reassignment surgery (SRS) to complete her transition. SRS, also known as gender reassignment surgery (GRS) involves surgical alteration of the genitalia. Lindsay says she has not been able to undergo the operation because of the cost — between Sh600,000 and 800,000 — and local doctors’ reluctance to do it.
“A friend once tried to have it done locally but no doctor would do it, although it had been recommended by a psychiatrist, approved by her family and she could afford it.”
Lindsay, once an active church member who even sang in the choir, says she has not been there since she started living as a woman. Although she misses their company and fellowship, she believes most will condemn her, hence her decision to stay away. She hopes to join another church, where the members do not know about her past.
Despite such inconveniences, Lindsay is ecstatic. “It feels great to live as a woman.
It is not something people understand easily, but when I compare my life now with what it was like before I began transitioning, I must say I’m living a happy and fulfilling life,” she enthuses.
Any plans to have children? “I love children, but since I cannot have any of my own, I would be very happy to adopt.”
Lindsay says her mother, though still of coming to terms with her transition, remains her closest companion.
“For 21 years my mother was called ‘Mama Leo’, but this now has to change to ‘Mama Lindsay’.
“It is not easy for her and I understand. I’m just grateful that she supports me, giving me some of her clothes and offering me fashion tips.
She attends educative seminars and related functions with me. She is a great mum but I have to give her time and space to fully deal with the situation.”
Reactions from her extended family have been mixed. “Some have accepted my decision, some are trying to deal with it, yet others have rejected me outright. I’ve realised that even those who seem to be understanding feel uneasy when I’m around them. Others are angry and disappointed, saying I made the wrong move, that I’m too young, that I rushed into it, that this could have been somehow avoided, that I spat in God’s face.
Some have suggested that I be taken to a certain evangelist because I’m possessed by demons and need to be exorcised”.
Lindsay says she avoids friends who knew her as Leo for fear that they might not accept her.
“We live in a society that does not easily embrace new ideas, especially those that have to do with sexuality, and this is something I have to deal with. I fear that Leo’s friends will not accept me and my decision to transition.”
Author’s Note: This story was Published in the Daily Nation’s Living Magazine on 18 August 2010.