By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com November 28 2012 7:04 PM ET
Cleo K., a transgender woman living in Uganda, penned an open letter asking her members of Parliament to reject the country's "Anti-Homosexuality Bill," which would criminalize LGBT Ugandans and subject some to the death penalty.
Activists around the world are rallying in opposition to Uganda's so-called "kill the gays" bill, which would proscribe long imprisonment and even death for some LGBT Ugandans, including those who are HIV-positive, and friends and family who refuse to turn in "known homosexuals" to the authorities. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told reporters last month that Parliament would pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a "Christmas gift" to Ugandans who she says are "demanding it." On Friday, a parliamentary committee moved the bill forward, and as of Tuesday, the bill appears at the top of the parliamentary Orders Papers' "Notice of Business to Follow," after second and third readings of other bills.
While western activists rally against the draconian legislation, Americans have heard precious little from LGBT people living in Uganda. This morning, a transgender Ugandan woman, going by the name Cleo K., posted an open letter to members of parliament on her Facebook account, asking the legislators for tolerance and tepid acceptance of variant sexual orientations and gender identities.
Read her entire poignant message, in which she delineates sexual orientation from gender identity and chronicles her own family's long journey to accepting her, on the next page.
I greet you all in your distinguished capacities. I have never even for a second thought that I would ever have to write a letter to parliament, that my words would even have to be read by a people as you. I find myself, though, at a point in my life, where fate — if you believe in it — has bestowed upon me this duty to speak for the many voiceless out there, who like myself, find themselves at a point where your decision will determine if they will get to take another breath in this country, as free citizens or not. I pray then, that my words may not be in vain, but that they may appeal to that humanity that I know lies at the core of each of you.
I go by the alias of Cleo. I am a 26-year-old transgendered person. With my ambitious persona and insatiable thirst for knowledge, I’ve managed to see myself through school to the post-graduate level. I am a public worker, a scientist and a researcher to be specific, and earn an honest living from that. I am a Pentecostal Christian, loving God, though with my liberalist and realist values, I respect other people’s sentiments, however divergent they are from my own.
I was born a biologically male child to two very loving parents, Batooro by decent. Despite the love and care that they bestowed upon me, my childhood was tainted with a lot of misery. Being a transgender person, with my atypical behavior, and dress code that seemed to clash terribly with the stereotypical gender requirements of my society, I was faced with a lot of rejection from friends and family alike.
My family and friends have — with time and a lot of patience and struggle — come to understand my situation and not to judge me. A few months ago, when I made a monumental decision to fully transition into a girl, they have shown me so much affection and support, especially psychologically. For me, I consider this [one of] the biggest successes in my life; That my family and friends, despite our divergent values and their earlier negative sentiments, have finally managed, through a very strenuous process — that I should say, was not without wounds and tears — to understand and accept me, as a person, as their child, as their friend, as their sibling. Because that is the basic essence of what brings us together.
Being a transgendered person is not about who I am attracted to sexually. It's about what gender I identify with. Being a trans girl means that I was born biologically male, but with the physiology and psychology of a girl. At puberty I experienced a male, but largely female, pubertal development that left me very confused and rejected in all my social circles, for I was the black sheep. My parents did not know whether to protect me from boys or girls, but finally it so happened that I was brought up in a girls’ hostel up to the age of 15.
Growing up a transgender person meant that I had to deal with my teenage burdens alone with not a soul to tell — not my parents or peers or siblings — to disclose my darkest secrets. To cry myself to sleep every night, wishing I was dead, to battle with depression and suicidal tendencies — that’s all I remember in my teenage life.
I wonder then, why people say it was my choice to be this way. Why would anyone choose a life as lonely as this, a life of misery, pain, rejection, abuse and depression? And though I made it, many haven’t, because their self-esteem, their confidence, and their vitality, fails them in light of all the negativities that surround them. It’s hardly the disgustingly abusive world that the media paints of us, for if there is any abuse sustained even then by any party, it’s by us.
I ask myself, how one can judge me, before one even knows me. I understand this though, because for so long I was hated by people before they even knew me.
Being transgender, like being gay or a lesbian, is not a choice. What is rather a choice is accepting it for a fact. What is a choice is if you — at some point in life —decide to not live a masked life, under the guise of a straight, or asexual person like I did, and restrain yourself, from everything that you know you are from the core of your being.
It is very hard living your life through other people’s eyes; trying hard to make them happy while you restrain yourself of who you are, or even demonize your actual being because of their negativities. It's a strange reality that I can loosely liken to solitude in a crowd, for even though there were so many people around me, none of them knew me for who I was — for I deliberately concealed a part of me that I considered a flaw to my being.
At some point though, I realized, just like everyone does in life, that I could not live entirely on other people’s perceptions of who I was, battling to make other people happy at my own life’s expense. For we all have but one life to live. I came to the realization that I alone knew better who I was, and that I had a rare opportunity to let people know who I was, and not let them tell me who I was. It had been a sad existence of existing, but not quite living, of living a lie, trying to convince myself —and ultimately others — what I was, what I wasn’t, and I was determined to end that cycle.
As a transgender person, I envision a utopia of gender neutrality, where all the genders in all their entireties are able to coexist together, and live in utter harmony and mutual respect of one another. So that, if not to accept, they might tolerate each other, just like we have tried to do as people of different tribes, colors, religions, value systems and races; it’s the measure of our maturity as a civilization.
I believe then, that in the same regard that all diversities — racial, tribal, religious, sexual, and gender alike — instead of being criminalized and demonized, should be celebrated and empowered, so that rather than to condemn a sect of a few people to social redundancy, all the human resource that Uganda boasts of can be fully tapped.
Let’s not then condemn ourselves, so that when people in the future look back at us, they will do so, just like we do at our ancestors, and exclaim how inhuman and selfish they were to disregard the existence of a few people because of their color and race. Gender diversity and sexual orientation is no premise to crucify someone, just because you do not agree with how someone dresses, what they act like, or who they sleep with.
What then, I ask myself, are we teaching the future generations? Morality even at the expense of life? Morality in the eyes of a few self-righteous people? That all people aren’t the same, if they are different? That it is okay to be selfish?
But being transgender — as much as it is my gender identity — does not holistically define who I am.
As people, like facets of a gem, we are complex in our ambitions and aspirations. We are unique in our personalities, talents, and value systems. It is these things in their entirety, but none of them in unison of others that defines us. The binary reductionist paradigm of looking at life as being either black or white — rather than as a continuum of several shades — fails to address the issues of life as it is. I am only different because I am transgender, but other than that, I am human, with red blood coursing through my veins just like you, with family and friends that care for me deeply, with personal sentiments and feeling like you do. I cry and laugh like you do, but I cannot be reduced and labeled as transgender, as an item on a supermarket stall, because that’s not all I am. As a person, I am more than that.
Being transgender and having been rejected most of my life has taught serenity in the storm. It has taught perseverance, even when the storm wails on. It has taught me to respect other people despite their differences, and has taught me to be patient. It has taught me that life is not about being perfect, because in our flaws, in all our insecurities and in our inadequacies, we all have something to offer on the table. And that we are meant, as humans, to shine together, but not in solitude. And that we must help our brothers and sisters to shine, but not to trample upon them. To exist and live together, that is what humanity was meant for. For no man or woman is an island. For alone we burn out, and fail, but together we flourish.
Finally, we must not forget our ultimate calling and obligation. For by virtue of our humanity, we ought to love others like we love ourselves, and treat them with the same delicacy and sensitivity that we wish be accorded us.
I pray then, that in your deliberations, by the power vested in you, you may not forget our concerns — as humans, as Ugandans, as your brothers, sisters, mother and fathers.