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‘He said I was looking for people to rape me’, Kenyan open transgender Letoya Johnstone narrates

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‘He said I was looking for people to rape me’, Kenyan open transgender Letoya Johnstone narrates

Kenyan transgender Letoya Johnstone is a talented fashion stylist and and catwalk trainer, who identifies herself as a woman trapped in a man’s body.

She talked to the Star about her struggles to find acceptance, and ultimately, herself, since she identified herself as a member of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community.

Letoya likes sharing photos flaunting her ‘curves’ on social media, and works with local and international brands.

People in our society don’t understand transgenders. I am more than gay,” she says.

Being gay means you are a man who is attracted to other men, but for me, I felt more of a woman, powerful as a woman, carrying myself as a woman, walking like a woman. It was in me even before coming out as a transgender woman,” she added, while admitting she is attracted to men.

Asked why most gay guys act feminine, she said:

You don’t see gay men and find them feminine. You see feminine men and assume they are gay. That’s a whole world of difference.

It is more genetic than one may think because not all men who are feminine are gay. Some are heterosexual. People should stop having the conspiracy that all men who have a feminine aspects in them are gay.”

 

Meet the first transgender male model trainer from Kenya

SOCIETAL STIGMA

The 25-year-old says it has not been easy for her, as she has had difficulties living life as a transgender, and at one time, she was denied medical attention after she was raped.

Immediately after high school, something really sensitive and so unfortunate from my side happened. There was a time I was in Homa Bay in 2007. I was so young and was beautiful, with glowing skin. Dressed like a girl,” she said.

Hell broke loose and I was grabbed and thrown into the ditch and got badly raped. I almost lost my life. I went to the district hospital and the doctor on duty refused to treat me because he was Muslim and told my mum that he could not treat me because I was sleeping with people of my gender.

He said I was looking for people to rape me, adding that I wanted to be a woman. That is how my parents came to learn that I was gay.”

Before the assault, Letoya says she “had never had sex with anyone whatsoever”.

“I was in my own space and nobody liked me and no parents wanted me to be with their children. Neither did the society welcome me because I was always the different one. I got traumatised,” she said.

She added that she has faced discrimination from celebrities.

A sister to a top celebrity here in Kenya told the celebrity not to hang out with me because I am a trans-gender woman. Not because of being incompetent but because of my sexuality, which leaves someone wondering if one’s sexual orientation determines whether you are a liability or asset in society.

 CAREER JOURNEY

After being rejected numerous times back in the day and being told she wasn’t the standard of beauty most Kenyan agencies and designers wanted, she almost gave up in what she wanted to become.

However, Letoya says she didn’t let it get to her, and instead used the rejections to start her own brand.

She started training models in 2012, whereby she first trained models in Kenya Fashion Awards and some ended up becoming international fashion models.

She has had a great influence on Kenyans in the fashion industry, by helping them know the difference between beauty pageant walk and high fashion walk. Being denied the opportunity to be a model helped her learn and teach other models and trainers in the fashion industry what is supposed to be done and how it should be done.

I had the opportunity to meet Naomi Campbell a British model singer and actress, who ended up loving my runway walk and made people learn about me and also want to see what I had to offer,” she said.

“I have worked with Parents magazine, Akothe, Lupita Nyong’o’s stylist, among other big brands.”

In Kenya, homosexuality can lead to a 14-year jail sentence. But in recent years, campaigners for LGBT rights have become increasingly vocal and she advice to people who are fighting to be identified in the society is to know who they are with so that they will never have to explain themselves to people.

Letoya has had to explain everything to people about her sexuality.

In my career, I have to explain myself and tell people what transgender is and other parts of the LGBT community, so people can understand what I am coming to do as a fashion stylist or whatever,” she said.

PERSONAL LIFE

Letoya has never dated and is not planning to date any time soon. Asked what she thinks about sponsors, she said: “My mama raised me better”.

However, she does not judge anyone who dates an older man, since if an old man marries a young woman it’s okay, but wonders why when an older woman marries a young man, it’s a problem.

If things are done out of love, then people should let those people be, without judging or trolling them,” Letoya said.

“Love is love. I really don’t look on the physical aspect. It’s always about a deeper connection that surpasses how someone looks like.”

What does she think about gay blackmailers?

I detest people who blackmail or make women and other people look bad. No one has the authority to make another person think less of themselves. A problem is a problem, whether it happens to a heterosexual person or a member of the LGBT.”

Despite identifying as a woman, Letoya still dresses like a man.

“I do not have a problem with people who have fully transitioned. However, I love myself as I am and will not transition, since it does not define who I am,” she said.

My inner being is greater than the physical aspect, and since I’m from a Christian background, I believe in God and that He never makes mistakes. The way I was created is perfect.”

In April 2012, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported that a patient who had undergone the process of reassignment claimed she had been denied the surgery by Kenyatta National Hospital without reason. Her subsequent attempts to appeal to the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board had been futile.
Additionally, Kenya doesn’t have laws to allow a person to change their gender from the one assigned at birth. Currently South Africa and Botswana are the only African countries that have laws to allow official documents to be changed to suit the desired gender.

As for Letoya, she has faced harassment online.

People send me pictures while naked, while others troll me and tell me to kill myself because I should be dead. I put all the negative energy behind and always do what makes me happy,” she said.

“It is really sickening what hate can make people do or even say. However, others admire me and even tell me that I’m an inspiration and that my positive vibe builds them. They say my courage gives them the strength to be themselves, and that makes me want to stand firm even more.”

Letoya says people need to be educated about the LGBT community because many of them despise and say foul things about the community with little knowledge of what usually happens.

 

Educated people and government officials say how it is wrong to be gay, not knowing that their kids do the same out there. People need to have knowledge about it so they don’t misrepresent anyone and also know how to handle different situations about us,” she said.

I want people to ask me more of what I do and join me in proposing for a Fashion Council of Kenya that will help the local fashion industry grow. People need to see me as a human being without using labels; not only me but every member of the LGBT community.”





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