JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
ON NOVEMBER 8, the Lusaka High Court passed a landmark judgment allowing a 23-year-old resident of Kafue who had grown up as a woman to officially change her gender and become a man.
In an affidavit filed in the Lusaka High Court on May 30, 2017, Hellen Sibanda indicated that she was born with a condition known as Disorder of Sex Development.
Sibanda stated that as a result of the condition, “my genitals appear to be that of a female, but that I am in fact genetically and biologically a male with my testicles hidden internally beneath my stomach”.
According to Sibanda, his parents and doctors were not aware of his condition and hence incorrectly concluded that he was female by simply looking at his genitals.
However, when the child reached puberty, it did not develop breasts or experience menstruation as a normal female. Instead, Sibanda began developing facial hair.
This later prompted him to seek tests to determine his gender.
In February, blood test results proved that Sibanda was made up of 46 XY male chromosomes.
Put simply, Hellen Sibanda was a man trapped in a female body.
Judge Betty Majula-Mung’omba, who was handling the matter, could not overlook the novelty of the case.
“I have no difficulty in stating that the legislature could not possibly have contemplated the scenario in the case at hand pertaining to mistaken gender identification. That notwithstanding, I have scrutinised the development of the law in other jurisdictions,” she stated.
“In view of my findings that doctors and parents were all mistaken as to the gender of Hellen, I order that the Registrar General of Births and Deaths should change her birth records accordingly from that of female to male.”
Following the judgment, Hellen decided to change her name to Ricky Sibanda, and will now live life as a man.
As usual, the case generated a lot of public interest, but also revealed society’s amusement with people with mistaken gender identity or gender dysphoria, also known as shemales.
According to the medical encyclopedia MedlinePlus, “gender dysphoria occurs when there is a conflict between a person’s physical gender and the gender he or she identifies with. For example, a person who is physically a boy may actually feel and act like a girl. The person is very uncomfortable with the gender they were born as.”
No doubt the world’s most famous transsexual is Caitlyn Marie Jenner, who was formerly known as Bruce Jenner. She was an Olympic gold medalist who later became a television personality.
In 2015, Jenner announced he was actually female.
Professor Paolo Marandola is an eminent sexologist who has worked in Zambia for decades. He says he has come across a number of cases of gender disorder or transsexuality.
“I had a case about three years ago here; a boy who wanted to become a girl,” he says.
Prof Marandola, however, could not perform the surgery on the 23-year-old because of legal issues.
“I told the boy ‘if I conduct this surgery, I will be arrested, because this kind of surgery is not among the procedures allowed in Zambia’,” he says.
Back in his home country, Italy, the professor has performed many sex re-assignment surgeries on transsexuals.
Prof Marandola says the sex change surgery is done for free in Italy for citizens. Before, patients paid a lot of money for the surgery. As a result, many of the transsexuals involved themselves in prostitution to raise money for the surgery.
“Personally, I’m specialised in male-to-female change of sex,” says Prof Marandola. “I can make surgery and transform – anatomically – a boy into a girl.”
According to the professor, the success rate for such surgeries is very high.
“Male-to-female surgery is time-consuming but very successful,” he says. “You can see a beautiful girl come out of the surgery.”
He says it is easier to cut a penis and build a vagina than to close a vagina and build a penis.
He says after surgery, a woman can perform sexually, but cannot bear children because they have no ovaries.
In 1986, Prof Marandola and a French surgeon came up with a technique to guarantee high sexual satisfaction in their patients.
Prof Marandola says after the sex change surgery, individuals are put on a lifetime dose of hormones.
He says many of his patients have transformed into beautiful women.
“I have a lot of patients, and when you see some of them, you won’t believe that they were male,” he says.
But he says many surgeons in Europe have been taken to court by their patients because the vagina was made too small for penetration.
As for female-to-male surgeries, Prof Marandola says the success rate is only 20 percent.
“Even me, I have given up,” says the professor, throwing his large arms into the air. “I have tried but I was not satisfied myself.”
But was the patient happy?
“No, the patient was not happy, therefore I wasn’t happy as well,” he says laughing, obviously seeing the humour side of it.
Prof Marandola says in a female-to-male surgery, a prosthesis fitted with a pump is used. The pump is used to cause an erection.
“There are some surgeons claiming good results, but I have never seen good results,” he says.
Prof Marandola says the Ministry of Health has to accept sex change surgery among the procedures that can be performed in the country.
“Otherwise no-one can do it,” he says.
Prof Marandola says the problem is that many people in Zambia confuse transsexuality with homosexuality.
“Transsexuality is clearly classified as a psychiatric disease,” he says. “There is a clear separation between transsexuality and homosexuality.”
He says a man who is trapped in a female body will be attracted to a male, hence most transsexuals get involved in gay relationships.
He says transsexuals can be helped because theirs is not a preference, but a medical condition they are born with, caused by a hormonal imbalance.
According to Prof Marandola, in a normal man, there is 5.0 units of testosterone and 0.1 oestrogen, and vice versa in a woman.
He says the hormones are like an orchestra in a human body.
“There must be balance like in an orchestra,” he says. “When there is imbalance, then there is a change of behaviour.”
He thinks transsexuals have been unfairly treated because people do not understand their condition.
“The country must give an answer to everyone’s problem,” Prof Marandola says.
But sex re-assignment, although now common among transsexuals in the West, remains controversial, especially in the Zambian culture.