Evelyn Makena @evemake_g
Fondly referred to as ‘Apostle’, Darlan Rukih understands too well what it means to lead a life shrouded in ambiguity.
At a vast homestead in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay county, he is adorned in a light blue pair of trousers, a flowing robe of matching fabric and a touch of make-up. Strands of long relaxed hair peek through a white-beaded crown perched on his head. Darlan is intersex, biologically, a combination of male and female. “I identify as male but I embrace both my male and female sides as my dressing indicates,” he says in a deep and husky voice. Standing at above 6.5 feet tall, the charismatic and jovial Darlan carries himself with confidence.
But growing up, Darlan felt like a misfit. When his mother gave birth to him in Sori, Migori county, she discovered that he had both female and male genitalia. “It was shocking. I confided in my mother and she advised that I keep it a secret and raise him as a boy,” says Marashan Raya, Darlan’s mother.
Luo traditions consider intersex babies outcasts and must be killed. Disclosing his condition would be additional shame for her, given that she conceived Darlan, her fifth born child, with a man from Ungunja, Zanzibar,while still married to her husband in Migori. Raised as a boy, Darlan faced constant rejection by both boys and girls. “Boys demanded that I go play with girls while it was the same for the girls. Adults on the other hand insisted that I was neither male nor female. It was confusing,” he says.
At school, teachers and pupils constantly questioned his gender. Growing up in a polygamous homestead, where his mother was the second of three wives further complicated issues for him. The attacks about his gender were more intense at home.
Even though his mother explained to him about his condition, he held onto the belief that he was a boy until he received his first menses when he was 13 years old.
Unable to bear the shame and emotional torture, Darlan contemplated committing suicide on several occasions. His mother, on the other hand, fought hard to protect him from people keen on killing him.
By the time he was completing primary school education in 1993, he had changed schools four times and at some point, left home to live with his sister in Suba, Migori to escape the stigma.
Darlan found refuge in singing and preaching in missions. Until then his social circle was limited to just his mother. But in 1996, while attending a mission, he met a beautiful girl named Presican Fau, from Gwassi, Suba. “When I saw Darlan that day, I was struck by his attractiveness, his captivating voice and love for God. I immediately thought to myself, this is the man I would marry,” says Fau, his wife.
Despite being approached by the girl, Darlan, a Form Three student then was hesitant to initiate a relationship. “I never thought that anybody would accept me, let alone marry me,” he says. But both their mothers encouraged the relationship. He opened up to her about his condition and the two were married months after meeting.
When he resumed his studies at a high-school in Kisii and left his 16-year-old bride under the care of his mother it was not long before his family, incited her against him.
“His family convinced me that I had married a fellow woman. I began despising him, physically abusing him, openly cheating on him and insulting his mother. I felt that he did not deserve me,” she says.
He endured it all afraid that if they parted ways, she would expose the secret he struggled so hard to keep. Even after completing his secondary education in 1998 and heading to Mombasa to fully embark on mission work, the mistreatment in marriage persisted. On several occasions, he attempted to start a church but his wife would incite the members against him. Conceiving proved to be a challenge for the couple as many times both their menstrual cycles coincided.
In 2000, when he had succeeded in setting up a church in Mombasa and things started looking up financially for him, his wife had a change of heart. The couple got their first child, a son in July 2002.
Going public about being intersex in 2012, was one of the most difficult decisions he made but he felt liberated. His son nudged him to make the move.
The son was concerned about why his father never visited or picked him from school. Instead he would delegate that responsibility to his driver, a church member or the mother.
Darlan had feared that his son would be victimised in school if the children and teachers suspected he was intersex and thus kept off the school. For the first time, he opened up to his son who embraced him and encouraged him to disclose the same to others.
Now, Darlan has been very vocal in creating awareness about the intersex and advocating for their rights. His wife, now a changed woman, is also involved in fighting stigma associated with being intersex. The couple got their second child, a girl, in 2014. The founder of Bride of the Lamb Ministries has made peace with his step-father and also reconnected with his father in Zanzibar.