April 30, 2015

A Tribe of their Own: Transgender Identities in the Media.

Bruce Jenner

Bruce Jenner nearly broke the internet this past week with her interview with Diane Sawyer.

She went public with her life-long gender identity struggle and revealed her ongoing plans of transitioning physically to a woman. An immediate outpouring of admiration and support for Jenner ensued. A #PaintYourNailsForBruce campaign was just one example of how people from across the world were showing their universal acceptance of her courage to be who she feels she was born to be.

I support anyone who challenges social norms. I admire anyone who risks ridicule and mockery to stand up for what’s important to them. I respect those who live true to their authentic selves. Having said that, I can’t help but feel this 20/20 Special was all of those things, plus an opportunity to gain sympathy and endorsements for Jenner (are we looking at the new face of CoverGirl?).

I’ve seen so much support from the LGBQT community and I wonder, “What has Bruce Jenner done for them?” Yes, she has shed light on a very taboo subject in our society, and no doubt set the stage for others to come forth with their own gender identity struggles. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been a pretty one-sided street.

Audrey Mbugua is halfway around the world and sharing her own story and the challenges faced by the transgender population in her native Kenya. She is an activist for the rights of the transgendered community and continues to be of benefit in raising awareness, fighting for equality and changing laws.

She was born a male and given the name Andrew. However, from an early age she felt as though she were trapped in the wrong body. She faced rejection and disproval from peers when she began dressing as a woman in college. A 2008 suicide attempt led to a slew of medical testing that led to a diagnosis of gender identity disorder.

After receiving her degree in biotechnology, Audrey found it difficult to obtain work. The discrepancy between her physical appearance and academic certificates that listed her male birth name drove potential employers to deny her a job. In 2012, she motioned to have her legal documents changed, which began gaining increased attention by the 2013 test case.

Audrey continues to be met with her own obstacles. Her sex change operation was cancelled by the minister of medical services without reason. Since medical proof of gender transition is required to change identifying documents, her 2012 request remains pending. 

Mbugua has become a warrior for promoting transgender rights. She is shedding light on the social stigma and treatment towards the transgendered population. Other transgendered citizens have turned to her for help in their own legal plights. She even founded an online community, TEA (Transgender Education and Advocacy), to connect and educate the transgendered tribe. 

She is resilient, however. Mbugua continues to pursue her surgery, even if it means going overseas. She is also pursuing a Masters degree while continuing her advocacy for equality and dignity for herself and others. Audrey acknowledges that she is beginning to notice the tides changing:

“Nowadays, I normally have a good night’s sleep because no one calls me that they have been arrested by city council or police on some trumped-up charges of cross-dressing or prostitution,” she said. “We have seen fundamental changes.”

My hope is that with increased media attention on the transgendered community, a universal understanding and acceptance of this community will grow. I hope to see Jenner not only speak out on his own transition, but also to become a crusader for those who may not have access to resources or support for their own transition.

To learn more about Audrey:


Author: Heather Kleiman

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr

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Heather Kleiman