Thirty five year-old Ugandan Cleopatra Kambugu has been transitioning over the last two decades.
Her journey to become the woman she is has been excruciating and traumatizing – finding hormonal drugs from hospitals was difficult and she was easily the target of sexual abuse while a student at Makerere University.
The agriculture/biology and human rights activist recently posted about government granting her the national ID reading F for female to specify her gender.
“It is not even a triumph against the government, it is a triumph for the government.
I think it’s amazing that Uganda is thinking about gender this way – this broadly. I think it’s important that our policies catch up with what the world actually does look like, which is; there are people who are born with a gender that they identify with and it is the same gender that appears on their IDs, that they were assigned at birth. But there might be some people whose gender they were assigned at birth isn’t the same gender that they identify with. And so how do you count these people, recognize these people? And this could even be a further extension of a conversation into people who are intersex. People who are born with genitalia that you can’t really define”, says the Human Rights activist.
Uganda’s LGBTQ community is shunned and like in the rest of Africa, but Cleopatra’s story is not about LGBTQ rights. She identifies as a heterosexual female.
“If you happen to be a transgendered person like I am, where you are a transgender woman and you identify as a woman but that doesn’t even align with what I look like on the passport, it is even harder. So how do we ensure that we have equal access for all genders irrespective… and all people in this country irrespective of what you may identify as, whatever tribe you might be, whatever religion, age? That is why I think the Equal Opportunities Commission was created in this country, and so this is a policy matter, it’s not a religious matter and should be handled in policy”, claims Cleopatra.
Uganda came under international criticism when it passed the antigay bill in 2014 – which proposed harsh punishment for same sex relations.
In Cleopatra’s case it is difficult to separate her story from that of LGBTQ struggles in Uganda.
Her struggle is about rebuilding the new normal transgender people strive for – to be recognized without being policed on how they look like or who they sleep with.