A Case of The Third Sex

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(You’ll probably need a cuppa coffe o sumthn coz this is quite long!)

In Kenya, and generally most parts of the world, we only know of two sexes: male and female. There is no ifs and no buts. BUT, there are people who identify with something different other than male or female. Now, I am no guru in this nor am I an expert. But I will give my five cents (adjusted for inflation) worth. I have had the privilege of meeting and interacting with intersex people and I somehow have some idea about their issues. I also did a post highlighting these factors earlier on but this one is specifically to address some issues I felt I needed to talk about.

Before anything else, lets get some of the definitions clear. According to Wikipedia,

Intersex in humans refers to intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male. This is usually understood to be congenital, involving chromosomal, morphologic, genital and/or gonadal anomalies, such as diversion from typical XX-female or XY-male presentations, e.g., sex reversal (XY-female, XX-male), genital ambiguity, sex developmental differences. An intersex individual may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes. Intersexuality as a term was adopted by medicine during the 20th century, and applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female. Intersex was initially adopted by intersex activists who criticize traditional medical approaches to sex assignment and seek to be heard in the construction of new approaches.

Thus, from the above we see that basically intersex persons are persons born with atypical or ambiguous genitalia. So that we can be at par, lets break that down further. Atypical means: “Not usual in a normal condition; opposite of typical”. Intersex conditions are varied. But one thing is clear, the gender marker, here (because of the way we are socially brought up and taught) is the genitalia. Now if the genitalia does not look like the usual male or female one, then its atypical. Ambiguous means: “Open to multiple interpretations; Vague and unclear”. If the genitalia does not resemble that of either male or female and looks like either, or, both, none, mixed, varied…..you get my drift? Its ambiguous. Its not clear. Its vague.

The above basically points out the onset of intersex condition. Such children born intersex face a plethora of difficulties, some of which I will cite here in no order or form.

Can you imagine a kid who is born with genitalia that resembles more of male than of female but under further scrutiny it is discovered that the kid passes urine through an opening under that which is supposed to be the penis? Parents freak out and wonder what to do. The doctor prescribes that an operation be performed on it immediately because “we don’t want it to be a social pariah”. The kid is assigned a female identity and the small penis is trimmed down to look like a clitoris and the what would have been the scrotum is opened up to look like a vagina. They cannot create a vaginal canal since the kid is too young. The said kid grows up and begins to socialize. In due course, it begins displaying more male characteristics than female. But since the parents want “a perfect family” and don’t want any embarrassment (considering intersex persons are viewed as a curse in many societies), they don’t disclose to anyone about the kid’s intersex condition and brush off the kids behaviour as wanja kihii (in Kikuyu) or tom boyish behaviour, a “phase that will pass”. As the kid grows, she indeed develops breasts because she had some estrogen in her body but is now even more of a ‘boy’ than ever. She even knows (inside) that she is different but cannot pin point what the issue is. And the parents still don’t disclose this to her. When she grows older she learns of her intersex condition and reprimands her parents for deciding her fate for her. She tells them that she has never felt as being a girl and she wants to be who she really is, a boy. Now, by this time, she already has gotten an Identity Card that shows a female name. But even looking at her, she looks a whole lot like a boy than a girl, her mannerisms, speech, character, and even her likings and desires are inclined towards male than female. One could deduce that she is just tom boy but she knows this isn’t so. She knows she is and has always been a boy. What would you do? How would you help her/him?

This is but an example of what goes on in the intersex community. Just a drop in the vast ocean. I liken this short story to that of Richard Muasya. He is an intersex inmate at Kamiti Prison who seeks special recognition of the fact that he is neither male nor female, despite the fact that he identifies as male. I understand when some people say that its not a big issue and that KHRC and others could concentrate on more pressing matters but I beg to differ, albeit not entirely. There are many issues that need tackling and that are being tackled. Not all of us do the same thing. We each have something we go for, we do, we fight for, we want to achieve. This is a human rights issue and Muasya is but one of the many intersex people we have in Kenya. He is brave enough to come forward and say outright that  gender binary is and has always made intersex people be discriminated against and ostracised by society simply because “they don’t fit in”. While people can say that he identifies as a man and thus should not complain, he indeed complains because, far from the fact that he was jailed for a crime (funny, one of the charges was rape. It was dropped since he could’t possibly rape anyone due to his intersex condition) he has faced other problems in life (see link).

Such are the kinds of issues faced by such people. Consider one who has a proper functioning penis and testes. Because at first it didn’t look like a penis and the testes were un-descended, it was decided that its a she. Only later to discover, as the above story, that she can not only impregnate a woman, but is also menstruating! Furthermore, her true identity is he. Thus, this man, is forced to live a life of female-hood and worse, endure the pain of menses like women! Imagine that! Again, since he was raised as a girl, all his documents including identification ones, have a female name and bear an “F”. Considering he looks nothing like a woman (this is an assumption based on what I’ve read/heard) it is very difficult to convince people he is the she indicated in his ID card.

This is why such a case is important. It is imperative that the government considers such persons and make a ruling such as that of India which recognises the unique identities of intersex and transsexual individuals. By having an “O” for Other, it paves way for covering issues surrounding ambiguous and/or unique gender identities.

I shall find out more and share. I am very passionate about these matters and it pains me to know that society still regards them as social misfits, freaks of nature, taboos to be killed at birth and many other gross violations of their human right.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are mine alone and I have made references through links. As mentioned earlier, I am not an expert and therefore these views should not be taken as expert/professional opinions.


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