Updated on May 16, 2016
Charting My Own Path
From a distance, he is just a man like any other. Blends in seamlessly with the community around him and gets along with most people.
“Most of my days involves interacting with people from different walks of life. So I learned people’s skills so as to navigate well with less issues”, he said.
Lani is a businessman. He runs small businesses to earn his living.
“I started being involved in business from a young age. It wasn’t the ideal picture of my career but I had limited options”, he added.
Lani happens to be a transman too living in one of very conventional countries. Despite Kenya being progressive and developed as compared to most African countries, trans people face challenges in all magnitudes as they try to live like the rest of the population.
Lani was born in the 70s. Information was limited in this eon as technology had not yet advanced to the level it is right now. He knew he was different early in his childhood. Having parents who were conservatives, and being a first-born child, he was required to conform to the norms and traditions imposed on him. As a child it was easier to get away with things, but puberty was a wake-up call. He struggled coming into terms with his identity for a long time.
“I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t like the way my body was developing. I knew I was a man, but my body didn’t reflect that. So for years I was in deep confusion as I had no information”, he recalled thoughtfully.
It was until his thirties that Lani learned about the term transgender. He read books about it and educated more about himself. Normally, in an African culture at the age of thirty, you are expected to have settled down with kids, or looking to commit yourself.
“My family, relatives and friends always wondered why I wasn’t married yet. After a couple of years, my younger siblings had settled down with kids, and I was still there. It wasn’t easy either to watch all your friends you’ve grown up with creating a family”, he said with a sad face.
For years, he felt left out and out of place. Friends became distant after being wedded. Deep inside he knew having a family of his own was just a dream. He understood his situation despite the world not getting it.
Despite going to college for a different course, Lani chose to venture into business. Being employed did not sit well with him mainly because of his identity. He did not want to be answerable to anyone either and to work according to his defined time. Being self-employed also gives him a great environment to focus less on his identity and live freely. Employment by either a company or an organization involves disclosing your identity; your name, gender, education background and so on. As a trans person, this can be pretty challenging as it brings the part that you don’t want the world to know about. Transitioning legally, that is, changing your name and gender in your document, takes time. Lani wanted to avoid all these.
Still that does not solve all his issues. He still needs to access other services like health services, banking services and so forth. Accessing trans health specific services has been a challenge as few doctors are educated on trans issues. In order to access this, Lani has, more than often, had to take the doctor through what it means to be transgender.
“It takes a lot of time before you find a doctor who will understand and agree to offer you the service. Others will say no afterwards”, Lani laments.
Additionally, the sources of support are often limited. In as much as family is who we turn to when we need a shoulder to lean on, it is quite different when you are a trans person. Lani doesn’t have family support. He has learned to find support from friends and allies and those he meets in organizations and meetings. He is a member of a transgender organization which offers support and services for people like him.
Lani wants to see a difference for younger trans people. He encourages them to seek support and transition as soon as they can to better their future chances. He encourages them to make use of the information that is at their disposal.
“I dream of a world where information is easily available for all trans people,” he said.