The Pearl of Africa–a YouTube series turned forthcoming documentary–chronicles the life of Cleo Kambugu, a trans woman and activist living in Nairobi with her fiancé, Nelson. Journalist Josephine Opar met the pair at their apartment and discussed the realities of being transgender in today’s east Africa.
By Josephine Opar at Okay Africa:
Cleo speaks on the “wrongness of gender having to be sexualized,” which led her to accept the label people around her agreed on when she was younger: gay. Cleo questioned that belief and says of her realization in her 20s: “I knew I wasn’t gay, but I didn’t know what I was. I didn’t have the language [and] even when I got the language, it was not affirming.“ The Ugandan trans community is growing says Cleo. “When the LGBTI community started in East Africa,” she says “people didn’t question the language in the beginning. A lot of detail and nuance is lost.”
People who can’t see past Cleo being transgender dismiss her as an “abomination”, or pull the “un-African” card on social media. “There are times I’m bashed on Facebook and I don’t have to say a single word…I like that I don’t have to be there defending myself all the time,” says Cleo of Nelson’s support and willingness to protect her. “The positive comments are good, the negative ones don’t really deter us, because we don’t really expect it to be smooth sailing,” Nelson adds.
Watch a 30 minute clip from ‘Pearl of Africa’ here, and donate to Cleo’s post-surgery healthcare via the same link. The full-length film is due for release in 2016.
This story was originally published on December 15th, 2015.