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This post is dedicated to the MTV Staying Alive Campaign.
We all know what HIV stands for so I’m not even going there…to the definitions. And we also all know that HIV leads to AIDS.
But what may not know is the high prevalence of HIV infections in transgender/transsexual women. In my work, I have been able to interact with one of the most marginalised and forgotten/unknown groups of people in Kenya. The transgender community.
Most people only know of “MSM”. MSM stands for “Men who have Sex with Men”. Sometimes its put as “MSM and Trans”, here to console the plight and noise of transgender women. But most of the times its just MSM. Now to make the argument make sense, consider this:
The MSM claim:
The MSM fighters go on by saying that “They are men…as in…they have anal sex right? So they ARE men. Right? They (some) have a penis right? So they ARE men!” ← Is this right?
The Trans claim:
What does it mean to be transgender? It means you were born/assigned the wrong gender at birth. Thus, if you identify as a man, you should be treated as one. If you identify as a woman, you should be treated as one. Calling transgender women “MSM” is a direct spat in the face. Its an insult to them. Fine, you find some people saying that ‘MSM is a behavioural term’ but really, is it? When you say its “Men….” even before you continue you’re already calling trans women what they are not; men! True or false?
The transgender community, because of the above issues, is facing a plethora of HIV issues. Recent studies suggest HIV prevalence rates of up to 42% among transgender people in India . A multi-centric study from the same year in Argentina puts the transgender prevalence rate at 35%. In essence, what is happening is that the women either don’t go to HIV matters because of stigma, or feel insulted when asked to go to MSM HIV meetings/initiatives. This is the cause of the very high rates. I feel that it is mostly stigma. Why? Because of their situation, most feel embarrassed or uneasy to go for check ups to regular hospitals where when they are asked about things like if they have infections in their vaginas they cant answer (here I am referring to pre-op transgender individuals) or when they go to clinics specifically for MSMs, they feel out of place since ‘technically’ its for men.
I have no idea what the initiatives here are for transgender women but I do know that there is a lot of work going around for MSMs. It is very unfortunate that the people driving these initiative ‘forget’ that there indeed exists a transgender community and even so female transgender sex workers who are at an even greater risk of contracting HIV. It also disturbs me to know that, with all the progress that Kenya has made in combating HIV prevalence and spread among MSMs, the transgender and intersex community still continues to be ignored. Even more mind boggling is that when they source for funds, they mention that “their MSM initiative also caters for transgender identified individuals”. Through my consultations, I have come to learn that there is more to it than meets the eye. Basically, they do not want anything to do with MSM initiative because to them, it is already an insult and thus not viewed as being helpful to them.
All in all, I sincerely hope that with time the transgender community gets what it deserves. They should rise up and claim their stake. Transgender individuals have more issues to deal with than most people think. Its not just an MSM issue.
*Over and Out*