When boys love dolls more than cars

Exploring one’s gender identity is a practice frowned upon in Kenya. However, the Church of England last year issued a directive ordering schools to let boys wear tiaras should they wish to

Every evening, whenever Eunice Nyoro arrives home from work, her five-year-old son, Dan, wears her high heels and carries her handbag around the house. Sometimes, he applies her make-up and wears his little sister’s dresses.

“I think doing it makes him feel pretty or he is just curious to know how it feels being in his mother’s shoes, I don’t know,” she wonders.

Her son started doing girly stuff really early. When he was around two-and-a- half-years-old, he would cry over a doll in the supermarket and most times he fought over his sister’s things. Sometimes he imitates movie characters like Sofia The First. But then, Eunice says sometimes he sits down and plays with his cars all afternoon and does all the things that boys do.

“It is neither here nor there. Sometimes I get really mad when he does girly stuff and I scold him. I just keep hoping that it will not turn out to be a gender issue,” she says.

In Kenya and by extension Africa, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex  (LGBTI) issues are considered taboo and repugnant to the cultural values and morality.

However in the West, individuals as well as churches are beginning to warm up to the idea. Last November, the Church of England, the mother church of the international Anglican Communion, directed that children should not be restricted by their gender when dressing up, and girls should be able to wear a tool belt and fireman’s helmet if they choose.

In its first guidance for teachers on transgender issues, the Church of England through the Archbishop of Canterbbury Justin Welby, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they really are without judgement. According to the anti-bullying rules sent out by the Church on November 11, 2017, a growing number of children had come forward to express doubt about their assigned gender. The guidance says: “For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess tiara and heels or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.” The document further gives teachers guidance on how to challenge transphobic bullying such as giving freedom to young children to understand that their state is not permanent. They should “avoid labels, which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play prefences,” it says, adding, “They are in a ‘trying on stage of life, and not yet adults, so no labels are to be fixed.”

During the launch of the guidelines, dubbed ‘Valuing All God’s Children’, Welby said, “All bullying including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide.”

Schools were also told that they should not use the Christian faith or Bible teachings to justify behaviour that is considered tantamount to bullying, for example, identifying a transgender pupil by a sex other than the one they have chosen.

“It is usual for pre-school boys and girls to dress up in clothes of the other sex as a way of trying out what it is like to be a man or a woman, a father or a mother. Generally, this kind of crossdressing is part of child play activities, and not any more important to the child than other play, and children later go on to choose to dress like others of their age and gender,” explains Child Psychologist, Catherine Gakii.

She says, sometimes cross-dressing for a child may be more of an attachment issues other than sexual.

“Sometimes a child does not want to dress up in clothes of the other sex, but he may like to take a piece of his mother’s clothing to bed with him for comfort. This is usually not because he is not happy about his sex, but he may be feeling anxious and having something of his mother’s to cuddle makes him feel better. A girl may want to have something of her father’s close by. Looking for the cause of the stress and dealing with it can help,” she explains.

Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya has welcomed this move by the Church of England saying it will aid in making the society respect the unique worth of every person.

“I am happy that the church is embracing LGBTI rights. This is the way to go. It is good that children are being given a chance to express themselves and choose what and who they really want to be,” he says.

“I hope the Kenyan Church can also follow through the directives and apply it in Kenya,” he adds.

Our efforts to get the Anglican Church of Kenya’s comment on these issues were futile by the time of going to press.  However, the Church’s stance on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) issue was put into question last week after it said it would comply with a court order to reinstate three priests accused of homesexuality following a ruling in their favour.

The three, John Gachau, Paul Warui and Maina Maigua filed a case contesting their  sacking over alleged homosexual practices in 2015. The Nyeri Labour Relations Court  last week ruled they be reinstated and awarded their salary arrears and damages totalling Sh6.8 million.

After the ruling, ACK primate Jackosn ole Sapit said the Church will obey the court order and work with the three priests, a statement that has placed many faithful at the crossroads on whether the Church is leaning towards acceptance of homosexuality.

“We will do as the court has ordered, but it must also be known that the Church leadership cannot force its followers to be shepherded by a person they don’t want,” said Sapit.

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