By Millicent Muthoni
April 23, 2007: “My parents thought I was automatically a girl judging by my genitals. But I later adopted the name Viktor because I am transsexual. I am not bound to masculine or feminine expressions and roles of gender,” says Juliet Viktor Mukasa
While gays have been accepted in many countries, like South Africa which legalised same-sex marriages recently, homosexuals are still frowned upon in Ugandan society. However, a Ugandan lesbian is making news around the continent for being outspoken about her sexuality and other people like her. She was among the delegates who discussed gay issues at the recent World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.
When you first meet Juliet Viktor Mukasa, you would be forgiven for thinking that she is a man. She sports big shoes, short cropped hair, low riding trousers and a loose masculine shirt. When I approach her, Juliet, who is too tired of people tiptoeing around her at the forum, readily consents to an interview.
The chairperson of the Sexual Minorities in Uganda and the Africa representative at the Board of International Lesbian and Gay Association is eloquent and levelheaded, and does not have the defensiveness common among homosexuals.
Juliet, the girl, was born 31 years ago in Uganda. But Juliet Viktor, the lesbian, is the identity that self-discovery gave her.
“My parents thought I was automatically a girl judging by my genitals. But I later adopted the name Viktor because I am transsexual. I am not bound to masculine or feminine expressions and roles of gender,” she says.
As a child, Mukasa was boisterous and transgressed all the ‘good girl’ rules, she explains. She played soccer with the boys, wore shorts so she could sit any way she wished and destroyed all her dolls.
“My mother was a staunch Catholic and my father a polygamist,” says Mukasa. She was also a brilliant student, which earned her a special place in her father’s heart.
Mukasa attended the best institutions in Uganda, such as Mount St Mary’s College Namagunga, and the Uganda Institute of Bankers.
“At 11, 1 confided in my mother that I had romantic feelings towards a girlfriend called Peace. She did not reprimand me, but asked that we pray to Mother Mary because it was an evil spirit,” But Mukasa knew that for her, homosexuality was not a choice but “the way I was born.”
At 16, she had sex with a lesbian who was a senior in her school. “This was a big risk and we would have been punished if we had been caught,” she says.
But Mukasa has not been one to be closeted. “If heterosexuals are proud of their God-given orientation, why should I be ashamed of mine?”
But this openness did not go down well with Mukasa’s family, which believed that something was wrong with her.
When she was 23, her brother, with the full knowledge of her parents, set her up with a man who raped her in the belief that this would “cure” her. After this, the family started referring to the rapist as muko (in-law).
“It was revolting but I was not aware of my rights then, so I did not take any action.” Mukasa, who now lives in South Africa, has faced tougher setbacks in her quest for acceptance, including the Ugandan government, which is not about to legalise homosexuality.
“My own president, Museveni said to ‘shoot them all!’ (gay people). People spit at us, throw us out of homes and tell their children to avoid us. Some homosexuals even pretend to live heterosexual lives and get married to avoid the scorn.
In August 2005, the government raided Mukasa’s house and confiscated documents belonging to her organisation. But not one to be cowed, she declared that she would sue the government and went into hiding until June 2006.
With the help of Amnesty International, she later sought asylum in South Africa.
Mukasa seeks to clarify the term homosexuality: “Under the broad category of women who sleep with women, there are homosexuals (same-gender-loving people), bisexuals (those attracted to both sexes) and heterosexuals such as prostitutes who service women,” she says
I ask her the effect of homosexuality on the family structure. “That is the greatest fear by the society - that mass recruitment will lead to a breakdown of the conventional family. But a bonafide homosexual does not need recruitment. We cannot convert a heterosexual into a homosexual.”
She claims that children brought up by a lesbian couple will only notice they are different once they step out of the door. “All a child needs is love, gender roles are constructs of the society which can be redefined.”
Mukasa accuses the church of meting out judgment on many people in the name of the Lord, “I am not religious any more, but I am a Bible-believing Christian, I went from fear and condemnation to a peace-giving relationship with God, which gives me value as a human being.” She insists that it is the church, not God that discriminates.
Among the things Mukasa and her fellow homosexuals were clamouring for at the World Social Forum is the inclusion of the gay community in the fight against HIV/Aids.
“While the Aids prevalence among heterosexuals has reduced, it has shot up among homosexuals,” she says.