International transgender rights groups are warning global coronavirus lockdown restrictions have led to trans people being denied healthcare. Many have had surgeries delayed, and some are struggling to access hormone therapy and counselling services.
Gender reassignment surgeries have been delayed globally as a result of coronavirus – with elective procedures stopped to expand capacity for intensive care because of the pandemic.
Although hormone treatments are still available to many in the West, trans-rights groups in East Africa warn that may not be the case for transgender people in other continents.
“Transgender people are already an extremely vulnerable group,” says Barbra Wangare, the Executive Director of East Africa Trans Health & Advocacy Network (EATHAN), “and support has historically never been a priority – even among the LGBT community. Coronavirus will only expose more of these vulnerabilities.
“We are hearing from people who say they fear they are detransitioning due to lack of access to medical care. This puts them in an extremely fragile emotional state.”
Transgender people are about twice as likely to take their own lives as other LGBT people, according to a 2017 Lancaster University study, ‘Suicide in Trans Populations’. The paper, which looked at several peer reviewed studies, suggests lack of health access adds particular pressure to the trans community.
The BBC has spoken to two transitioning men in Kenya and in the US about what coronavirus lockdown has meant to their transitions.
Mauricio Ochieng, 30, Kisumu state, Kenya
Mauricio travels seven hours on a bus to Nairobi to collect his testosterone injections. It’s a journey he’s been making for over a year. It’s worth it.
“With the injections my body has started changing, I look less ‘feminine’, my voice is deeper and I’m growing a beard,” he says. “I was finally on the way to becoming myself. I am a man. I was never a woman.”
Growing up in rural Kenya, about 350km from the capital Nairobi, Mauricio knew he was different. He has more than 150 cousins and couldn’t relate to any of them.
“I was the black sheep of the family.”
He knew that he was not a girl, despite his body. His parents believed he was a lesbian. That was bad enough, they said, but it was something they understood. When he told them that he was a man in a woman’s body, they made him leave the family home.
Mauricio was 16 and homeless. He was sexually assaulted multiple times. Just over a year later, he fell pregnant from one of the rapes. People called him a “chkora”, a slur for a street beggar.
He went to his mother’s house and said: “Please don’t make me give birth in the street like a dog.”
She let him come home.
Mauricio’s daughter was born in 2007. He worked at the local market, buying and selling shoes.
In 2018 he decided to begin his transition. Testosterone injections cost around 1,200 shilling per dose (about £9) – which is a day’s work.
The 14-hour round trip each month to collect his medication felt like a huge achievement. Mauricio was saving up for top surgery: to have his breasts removed.
Then coronavirus reached Kenya, and soon lockdown restrictions followed.
Mauricio does not have his next supply of testosterone.
“I’m having sleepless nights, depression,” he says. “What will happen if I cannot have access to my medication? What will all this pain have been for?
“I am a trans man in a transphobic country. If I don’t get my medication what will happen to my body – it is already changing. Will I look abnormal? Who is going to fight for us to be heard in this chaos?”
By Megha Mohan
Gender and identity correspondent
29 April 2020