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 on his head.
Darlan is an intersex, biologically a combination of male and female. As the world marks Intersex Awareness Day today, Darlan delves into the myriad challenges the intersex persons in the society endure.
It is estimated that there are over 40 variations of intersex anatomy. While for some the intersex anatomy is visible at birth, for others it may become noticeable at puberty.
“I identify as male but I embrace both my male and female sides as my dressing shows,” he says in a deep voice. Standing 6.5 feet tall, the jovial character carries himself with confidence.
Growing up, Darlan mostly felt like a misfit. When his mother gave birth to him at home in Sori, Migori county, she made the discovery 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 raised me as a boy,” says Marashan Raya, Darlan’s mother.
His mother remained tightlipped about it, afraid of the consequences from such an admission. According to Luo traditions, intersex babies were considered taboo and would often be killed.
Disclosing his condition would be additional shame for her, given that she had conceived Darlan, her fifth born child, with a man from Ugunja, Zanzibar while still married to her husband in Migori.
Despite peeing with his penis and being 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 kept questioning his gender. Growing up in a polygamous homestead —his mother was the second of three wives — further complicated Darlan’s life. Attacks about his gender were more intense at home.
Even though his mother explained his condition to him, he held onto the belief that he was a boy until he received his first menses at 13 years. “Another boy noticed blood oozing through my shorts in class. At first I thought, I had been hurt,” he recounts.
This was a turning point in his life. The shame and emotional torture was too muh; Darlan contemplated committing suicide on several occasions. His mother on the other hand fought hard to protect him from people keen to kill him.
After starting his menses, Darlan was put on hormonal treatment in hospital to inhibit his female hormomones, but the menses would just stop for a few months and then resume. The medication subjected him to intense pelvic pains.
Worse, as puberty set in, his breasts swelled like a girl’s. Doctors also discovered that he had a uterus. His stepfather, who worked in Kisumu as a tailor, now disowned him. “Until then, I believed that he was my father despite contradicting rumours. I recall him saying that he had not taken part in siring a child like me. It hurt deeply,” says Darlan.
By the time he was completing primary school in 1993, he had changed schools four times. He once left home to live with his sister in Suba district, Migori in a bid to escape the stigma of being an intersex. Darlan found refuge in singing and preaching in church 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 Gwasi, Suba. “When I saw Darlan, I was struck by his attractiveness, his captivating voice and Godliness. I thought; this is the man I could marry,” says Fau.
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 agree to marry me,” he says. But both their mothers encouraged the relationship. He opened up to her about his condition and the two were married several months after meeting.
He resumed studies in a high school in Kisii and left his 16-year-old bride under the care of his mother. Shortly afterwards, his family incited her against him. “They said 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,” says Presican.
He endured it all, afraid that if they parted ways, she would expose the intersex secret. Even after completing secondary education in 1998 and heading to Mombasa to embark on missionary work, the mistreatment persisted.
On several occasions he attempted to start a church but his wife would frustrate the congregation through incitement and infidelity. Moreover, conceiving proved to be a real challenge for the couple as many times both their menstrual cycles coincided! “I could not perform my duties as a husband. I was powerless as she cheated,” he says.
By 2000, he had succeeded in setting up a church in Mombasa. Things started looking up financially for him and his wife had a change of heart. “Looking back, this man had never mistreated me despite all I did to him. He also feared God, so I decided to reform,” says Fau.
The couple got their first child, a son in July 2002. Even as he ministered in church, he kept the fact the he was intersex a secret. A wife and child helped his image. He bought a car and felt like his secret was safe.
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. But he opened up to his son who embraced him and encouraged him to disclose his status.
Coming out about being intersex in 2012 was not easy. His own son nudged him to make the move. Darlan has been very vocal in creating awareness about the intersex and advocating for their rights.
His wife is 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 stepfather and also reconnected with his father in Zanzibar.