In recent months, a Kenyan task team has recommended that the Kenyan government recognises intersex and transgender individuals in their national census. This follows the government body, the Registrar of Societies of Kenya acknowledging the Intersex Society of Kenya as a society.
CNN: Portraits of Kenya's intersex community. Ryan Muiruri (left) and John Karanja (right),
are both intersex men and activists in Kenya, a country with a strong Christian population.
Human bodies are incredibly sophisticated systems that are also incredibly complex. This complexity is evident in the existence of intersex individuals, much like it is also evident in the variation of physical characteristics that have marked individuals’ ethnicities.
There exist more than thirty conditions that fit under the intersexuality. Emily Quinn, an intersex activist, says that the existence of intersexuality shows that:
“There’s actually a whole wide variety of possibilities when it comes to human biology. People think that biological sex is very binary, that it just has to do with your genitalia, but a lot has to go into your sex.”
Despite the step taken by the state to recognise intersex individuals, many intersex Kenyans report experiencing prejudice and stigma as a result of their sex make-up.
Kenyan intersex activist Ryan Muiruri further adds that “intersex people face a lot of challenges...the challenges they face first of all come from the family, when family does not recognise those children as normal children.”
Muiruri was initially raised as a female named Ruth before reaching puberty at age, when he began to display some masculine physical traits. These changes resulted in his facing constant bullying which caused him to attempt suicide three times. These culminated in his dropping out of school several times.
Daily Nation: Kenya moves to resolve intersex conundrums.
Following years of being prescribed hormone replacement therapy to make him display more feminine traits, in 2010 he made the decision to change his name to Ryan. However, this decision has led to his having trouble in obtaining legal documentation which would help him further integrate into society. In May 2018, immigration accused him of impersonation when he tried to apply for a passport under his new name.
The reason why that intersexuality is still a largely opaque condition is because of the secrecy that exists around it. Babies that are born with ambiguous genitalia are often subjected to surgeries that will make their bodies fit into the binary model of biological sex. In recent times, many activists and some medical doctors have argued that these surgeries are not medically necessary and exist purely for cosmetic reasons. Moreover, the individuals undergoing the surgery are often not at the age where they may be able to give informed consent to these procedures.
Although intersex Kenyans do face significant challenges, the recent moves towards giving them some institutional recognition are an important step in the right direction. Kenyan legislator, Isaac Mwaura has also asked parliament to recognise a third gender in order to end discrimination against individuals who identify as intersex. These recent milestones may seem minor when one considers the prejudice that intersex Kenyans are subjected to.
These milestones are important when one considers the impact that these different forms of institutional recognition will have on raising awareness around the intersexuality and the people who identify as intersex. It is only through awareness that intersex Kenyans will be increasingly recognised as human beings who are entitled to respect and protection against discrimination.