I have been in a thick battle of my life, a struggle with nature, science, and society to be recognized as a male.
James Karanja has not always been my name. I was born in 1991, in Nakuru County. When I was born, my parents could not establish my sex as I had ambiguous genitalia. Since I was born at home, there was no medical checkup, and my parents assigned the name “Mary Waithera” and thus were bound to be socialized as a girl.
When I reached the school-going age, I was enrolled in a mixed primary school and was later enrolled in a girl’s boarding school, being a “She” by then.
All though I struggled with the wrong gender which had been assigned to me. I had odd preferences and felt out of place with all the women roles I was supposed to be accustomed to, like the dressing, kitchen roles like fetching water and firewood, riding a bicycle which was one of my favorite activities but was a taboo in my community to do as a girl, and was also fond of mechanical tasks like a male child would be.
In high school, the pressure was worse. The sanitary pads I brought in form one was still in my school box, and this brought a lot of curiosity among my peers. Because of my male resemblance, fellow students would tease me with such, and refer to me as “Mary Boy”. I used to wake up at 3 am so that I would shower before the rest of the students woke up, so they would not notice me as different.
Back at home, my mother was going through pressure too. The society would implicit the pressure by asking intimidating questions that left her disturbed. When your child is referred to as a curse, and a bad omen, it’s not the easiest time for a mother. She had much expectation of her girl to grow into a young lady but she turned masculine day by day. This raised eyebrows from relatives and the general society, with questions and rejection. She was not strong enough for this and she succumbed to the pressure and one day she just collapsed in the market. Upon medical checkup, she was found to have been mentally disturbed. She had not shared any of these concerns with me, and thus this came as a shocker to me.
I now had to fend for myself, with both school fees and food for my family. With now depressed mother to take care of, it was a challenge.
In the second term, in my last year in high school, I was suspended from school, with indictments that I was initiating lesbianism in school. These accusations came from the fact that I was always surrounded by girls in the school.
After high school, I thought it would be easy to assimilate with society at ease, but this was not the case. The society was not very friendly, with their judgmental looks and uncomfortable stares. Fellow young men would threaten to strip him to find out whether I was male or female, and I became afraid. On trying to get a job so that I would sustain my family, employees would make propositions that I would bring a bad omen to their workplaces. I thus resulted in always hiding at home and staying on his own, feeling that everyone was an enemy. I could not fathom all this density and I tried thrice to committing suicide.
26 years later, I found some light and my story was aired on different media. The transition from Mary Waithera to James Karanja has not been a walk in the park. But now as Karanja, I have been able to accept and appreciate my own body and gender, and have others follow suit. The society will always have their way of twisting facts. I have been able to resume my studies at the university and currently working for the intersex person’s society in Kenya.