“I am in a thick battle of my life, a struggle with nature, science and man so as to be recognized as a MAN.” This is the phrase James Karanja identifies with, a phrase that defines what he is going through. His life has been such- a struggle of gender disorder.
James Karanja was not always known by that name. He was born in 1991, in Nakuru town. When he was born, his parents could not establish his gender as he had ambiguous genitalia. Since he was born at home, there was no medical checkup, and his parents assigned him the name “Mary Waithera” and thus was bound to be socialized as a girl.
When he reached the school going age, James, at the moment Mary Waithera, was enrolled to a mixed primary school. He was later enrolled to a girl’s boarding school, being a “She” by then.
All through he struggled with the wrong gender which had been assigned to him. He had odd preferences and he felt out of place with all the women roles he was supposed to be accustomed to, like the dressing, kitchen roles like fetching water and firewood, ridding a bicycle which was one of his favorite activities but was a taboo in his 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 he brought in form one were still in his school box, and this brought a lot of curiosity among his peers. Because of his male resemblance, fellow students would tease him with such, and refer to him as “Mary Boy”. He would wake up at 3 am so he would shower before the rest of the students woke up, so they would not notice him as different.
Back at home, his 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 Karanja, and thus this came as a shocker to him.
Karanja now had to fend for himself, with both school fees and food for his family. With his now depressed mother to take care of, it was a challenge.
In Second term, in his last year in high school, he was suspended from school, with indictments that he was initiating lesbianism in school. These accusations came from the fact that he was always surrounded by girls in the school.
After high school, he thought it would be easy to assimilate with the 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 he was male or female, and he became afraid. On trying to get a job so he would sustain his family, employees would make propositions that he would bring a bad omen to their work places. He thus resulted in always hiding at home and staying on his own, feeling that everyone was an enemy. He could not fathom all this density, and he once thought of committing suicide.
26 years later, he found some light and his story has been aired on different media, and able to receive counselling. The transition from Mary Waithera to James Karanja has not been a walk in the park. But now Karanja has been able to accept and appreciate his own body and gender, and have others follow suit. The society will always have their own way of twisting facts, but Karanja now has been able to start his medical journey. Upon several medical checkups, doctors have discovered that Karanja’s testosterone count is higher than his estrogen count, he has a penis, and he has neither a uterus nor ovaries, although his testicles are somewhat suck in, and not clearly visible. This has indications of James being more of male than female.
With the help of The Gamafrica Foundation, Mary Waithera, has been able to be baptized as James Karanja, and acquired a national I.D and a change of his documents, and now can live like the male he is. He however requests help to his mother who is in a depressed state by now, as her condition is of concern to him.