My mother was surprised I had male and female sexual organs

James Karanja [Photo: David Njaaga, Standard]

With broad shoulders and muscular arms, James Karanja looks like a typical young man with everything going for him.

But behind Karanja’s confidence is a sad story of a man who has struggled with an agonising identity crisis for as long as he can remember.

Karanja is an intersex, meaning his sex characteristics cannot be exclusively defined as male or female.

“My mother delivered me at home and she was surprised that I had male and female sexual organs. She was confused; she did not know whether I was a boy or a girl, so she took me to hospital,” he said.

It is at the hospital that doctors advised Karanja’s parents to let him grow and give him the chance to decide his gender when old enough.

His parents raised him as a girl, naming him Mary Waithera. However, giving birth to an intersex put pressure on his parents’ marriage and they soon separated.

“My father believed I was cursed, so he left,” Karanja said, adding that other relatives soon abandoned her,saying he was a sign of evil.

The community did not make things any easier. Karanja remembers a priest at his church refused to conduct his dedication and christening.

Now in his 20s, the third-year Political Science student at the University of Nairobi is yet to undergo the Christian rites.
In 2016, Karanja met Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba, who is also the founder of Gamafrica, a foundation that helps intersex children.

Muchomba says there is need for policy change for intersex individuals to change their documents. “I know of a student who scored B in Form Four  but was denied admission into university because the gender was unclear,” reveals Muchomba.

A group of Kenya’s intersex such as Karanja, along with MPs like Muchomba, has joined forces with the Task-force on Policy, Legal, Institutional and Administrative Reforms Regarding Intersex Persons to help the intersex