Kenya: Doctors were not so compassionate. They warned her she would be
arrested if she attempted suicide again.
“I told the doctors if they could not give me what I needed, what did
they expect me to do?”
Audrey needed hormones and she needed treatment too – quickly. She had
even attempted to develop a method that would allow her to configure
her immune system to fight against her male hormones, thinking that
would allow her female side to grow. She just did not know how to
execute her theory.
So Audrey told doctors her history and struggles with Gender Identity
Disorder (GID). It was the first time she was opening up after a long
while. The doctors recommended she be referred to Mathari Mental
Hospital.” GID is categorised as mental disease by World Health
Organisation,” she reveals.
With the help of a generous donation of Sh1,000 from her aunt, who had
watched Audrey deteriorate over a period of time, she left for Mathari
with her sister Ann Wanjiru.
They arrived at Mathari and saw a female doctor, who was good. She
seemed to understand what Audrey was going through. She asked Audrey:”
Is this about transsexual disorder?” Audrey answered yes.
She asked Audrey about depression, her emotional battles and her
medical history. Audrey poured her heart out about the demons she had
been fighting and her journey. She gave Audrey a follow-up date. It
was the first time that Audrey learnt she was classified as suffering
“It was ironic but at Mathari, I got help. They saved my life.”
The doctor put her on anti-depressants and arranged for follow-up
treatment that would hopefully lead to a gender operation. The next
phase of her treatment had begun. “The problem with the drugs was that
they turned me into a zombie.”
She found herself referred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where a
team of doctors ranging from a gynecologist, psychiatrist, urologists
and psychologists started to work on her in preparation for her new
She would need an operation that essentially would remove her penis
and testicles and insert a vagina. In addition, she could not receive
a uterus, so she would never bear children.
Everything was going well. She was already taking estrogen and her
voice and body was changing. Her most exciting moment was standing in
front of the mirror and watching her breast mature.
“I felt fulfilled.”
Her operation was scheduled for March 2009. Audrey was already active
within the transgender movement in Kenya and was working closely with
transgender Kenya initiative that had been formed to address the needs
of those silently dealing with GID.
“Somebody suggested that we should do a documentary on my operation
and we needed permission to film in KNH. Zawadi Nyong’o, a consultant
in the social justice movement, suggested she could get permission
from her father, Prof Anyang Nyong’o who was Health minister to film
in Kenyatta hospital.”
Says Audrey: “Apparently, the minister called the director of KNH and
told him he was aware that a gender change operation was scheduled for
the following day and advised him against allowing the operation to
proceed. I arrived the following morning ready for my operation and my
urologist informed me the operation had been cancelled.”
Audrey was in utter disbelief. Her dream had suddenly short-circuited
into shocking disappointed. The journey towards becoming fully a
complete woman had come to an abrupt halt.
She has written countless letters to the Health minister before he
left office to understand why he issued instructions for the operation
to be cancelled with no response. But his instructions opened a new
battlefront for GID victims, the war to have the right to an
In addition, Audrey’s experience accidentally revealed the complexity
of GID treatment with stunning clarity.
She says the medical board brought a new dimension to the issue. She
learnt to her dismay that according to the medical code of ethics
chapter two, gender re-assignment on demand was not permitted.
That a specialist team must be constituted to evaluate each
applicant’s situation to reach a decision if an operation was needed,
a condition she believes she met. Her attempt to pierce the veil of
the medical board in the last four years has been met with soporific
Audrey now combined the battle for her operation with the fight to
have other GID victims have the right to sex change if they wanted.
“They took me in circles. First, I was told by the medical board I
needed my parents consent because they might sue the hospital. But I
was over 18, why would an adult need permission?”
“It was very painful.”
Just one operation away from fulfilling her dream of becoming complete
as a woman, Audrey now took on the fight not just for herself but for
others: “I have received countless offers from people wishing to raise
money for me to go and have a gender change operation in Thailand or
“What about the others who want the same? Kenya has very good doctors
who can perform the same operation locally. If I don’t do this, no one
will ever be able to have this surgery here.”
Audrey has had meetings with the medical board, the preliminary
inquiry committee and Kenyatta hospital to have the issue resolved.
Their attitude has remained tepid. Despite being bounced around, she
is still fighting to date.
“Gender change operation is part of my treatment. It’s the last piece
of my treatment as recommended by doctors who saw me. It’s my right.”
She has been told that she cannot have the surgery until guidelines
have been developed between the medical board and the Attorney
General’s office to guide future sex change operations.
This is despite the fact that KNH has conducted sex change operations
in the past, the most famous being that of Faith Mueni in 1989.
Looking into the future, Audrey is optimistic she will get her
surgery. She is determined to fight and soldier on. Marriage is not in
the horizon and she prefers to focus on what she needs to do to get
the surgery in Kenya.
Still, her mental state has been anguished and her dreams almost
disintegrated. Everyday, she wakes up to deal with her thread of pain.
But she says will not capitulate in her quest. Her parents, she says,
have accepted her. And though they are abroad, she gets a chance to
Skype with them.
“Sometimes when my mum looks at the screen, she will look at my hair
and ask me, is that a weave or your natural hair?”
Two of her siblings are abroad, but she has the company of her two
other siblings in Kenya, including her sister Wanjiru who has been a
source of comfort in her journey.
Moreover, she would like to go back to medical research as a career
when the battle has been won. Does she get hit on? A lot. She was
reduced to wearing a fake wedding band to ward off men who made passes
at her. Most times she will say she is married to keep them at bay.
She has weaved her hair, done manicure, pedicure and has expanded her
wardrobe. “I only have two dresses in my wardrobe,” She confesses.
What’s more, her attraction is ironically towards women. Yes, she has
been in love before with a woman. “But whoever I am attracted to has
nothing to do with my sexual intuition.”
Until the surgery is done, her national ID and passport refer to her
as male. It can get complicated for her sometimes dealing with the
ambiguities of her status. On a recent visit to Amsterdam, the
immigration officer scrutinised her passport, stamped it and looked
“He looked at me and told me; madam, do you know that they made an
error on your passport? I did not understand.”
He went on: “Your sex reads male. You need to make sure they change it
as soon as you arrive back in Kenya.” Audrey recalls.
During the preparation for the 2010 referendum on the new
Constitution, Audrey had gone to drop an envelope with her views on
transgender issues to the committee offices at a city office.
Unfortunately on her way out, she forgot her ID with security
She returned the following day to find a stern officer who would not
return the ID because it had the name Andrew. She was not Andrew,
unless she gave the officer a fake ID. It was a plateful of drama
until a legal officer at the office she had visited who knew her
Audrey had her identity card changed via a deep poll dropping the name
Andrew to read Mbugua Ithibu. She did another deed poll and inserted
the name Audrey which is shown on her passport but not on her ID. Her
gender, however, remains male.
The unemployed medical biotechnology graduate has become the poster
child of the transgender movement in Kenya.
Audrey gets offended by being referred to as a man but her battled and
journey towards the identity she has struggled with will end only when
she gets her day in the operating theatre at KNH. Stubbornly she
Even so, she believes her fight will open the floodgates for other GID
victims who remain silent.
“They are scared to come out. Being denied surgery amounts to
discrimination. Our society is still ignorant and intolerant to GID
victims.” She says: “I have a tough exterior. Some people may think
they can put me down. But I am a fighter. GID does not get the
objectivity it deserves.”