What you need to know:
At a time when the agenda for promotion of women has been gaining momentum everywhere, it seems women are moving further from being accepted without question for who they are. Who is a woman anyway? And are all those women playing on the field really women? The lines are blurred once again as men keep showing up in women spaces, turning them into a man’s man’s world.
In February 1966, James Brown recorded It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World in a New York City studio; a song he wrote, rather ironically, with Betty Jean Newsome. Many across the world echoed the words of this song for years afterwards.
In recent times, the tables seem to have turned and the so-called man’s world has become quite narrow for some men that they now seek to find a place in the woman’s world. With these developments, the world we live in has since become very confusing for both men and women.
On Monday this week, French news agency AFP reported that a young man veiled as a woman turned up at the Nairobi Women’s Chess Open wearing a niqab and glasses, an ensemble he managed to pull off for a while before he was exposed.
The impostor registered in the tournament as Millicent Awour but was dressed as a Muslim woman who should have had a different kind of first name and not the Christian-sounding Millicent. Still, the pretender got away with the lie until after he had played four rounds of the game.
His masculine shoulders peeping through the dress and the rubber shoes gave him away. The Kenyan Chess Federation was stunned. They had never seen anything like it in the game.
“I don’t think anything like it has ever happened anywhere in the world,” said John Mukabi, secretary general of the Kenyan Chess Federation.
When he was caught, the impostor said he had done it because he stood a better chance of winning the women’s competition prize money.
Clearly in this case it was every man for himself although one could argue that since chess is a game where you need mental muscle and not physical strength, the man was under a false impression that he was getting an advantage by entering the tournament. It was reported though that he had defeated a very experienced woman who had competed six times at the World Chess Olympiad. The lie almost worked, until something went wrong. Often, something goes wrong because in spite of all the attractions and imagined benefits, it is not easy to fake being a woman.
“In tennis, we try to be as systematic as possible. We start with most of our athletes from the age of five to seven years. We will know who will play for the next 20 years. In tennis, the eligibility criteria is so high. It is very difficult to slip in. If we start with 20 children, a maximum of five will be elite. We are such a close knit community, which is difficult to infiltrate,” explains Alvin Mboijana, an administrator in Uganda Tennis Association .
The ‘athlete from Kapchorwa’
On Easter day this year, news filtered through social media that another young man had been arrested in Kapchorwa, masquerading as a female athlete. This news came in form of a graphic video of the man being paraded through the streets with his manhood dangling for the world to see.
The infiltrator, as per details obtained after his arrest, arrived in Kapchorwa as Apollo Byamugisha, 26—according to his national identity card. He came in from Bushenyi two days prior to his arrest and camped at a lodge in town under the name of Joan Chebet . To add to the ruse, he carried sportswear. He then infiltrated WhatsApp groups in Kapchorwa, from where he proceeded to send love messages, soliciting multiple men in the area. When he was arrested, many men testified to being propositioned by the alleged conman.
In 2019, police in Kagadi District arrested a 22-year-old man who has been passing off as a woman for the three years. John Mark Bukenya was arrested in Muhorro Town Council where he was working as a bar maid at Muhorro Rest-house. His arrest followed a tip off by Mr Charles Mugisa Busigiriko, the owner of the Rest House. Mr Busigikiro said he became concerned after receiving complaints from his female workers about the “suspicious conduct” of Bukenya.
Witnesses said he always wore skirts and dresses, necklaces and ladies’ shoes. During interrogation, Bukenya reportedly told detectives that he impersonated women in Kabarole District for two years before moving to Kagadi District where he impersonated women for at least one year.
According to the Kagadi District Police Commander then, Mr Romeo Onek Ojara, Bukenya was impersonating women in order to get employed and earn a living.
The cases of men passing themselves off as women have been multiplying over the years. In January 2020, in Kayunga District of central Uganda, a seemingly ordinary couple exchanged marriage vows in Islamic culture or Nikah (legal marriage contract between man and woman).
At that time, the couple identified as man and wife, with Sheikh Mohammed Mutumba, the Imam of Kyampisi Masjid Noor, wedding a Ms Swabullah Nabukeera. Or at least that is what the community thought. There was a full deception, with the supposed bride putting on the bridal gown and walking down the proverbial aisle.
It was only after some days in the would-be marital home that the supposed bride started behaving unexpectedly. Mr Mutumba’s neighbour claimed that his newly wedded wife jumped over a wall and stole their television set and clothes. That was not the only mischief that the runaway bride Richard Tumushabe alias Swabullah Nabukeera had attempted.
From the account of Mr John Lukooto, the Kayunga District Police Commander as reported in the Daily Monitor, Tumushabe had duped a number of men who fell in love with ‘her’ before ‘she’ stole their money.
One of the victims of Tumushabe’s deceit, Lukooto said, came to Kayunga police station after seeing the suspect in newspapers and testified how he fooled them that ‘she’ was their relative and convinced them to receive ‘her’ husband for introduction. Again, here was a man seeking to hoodwink an unsuspecting public and make off with some economic gain disguised as a woman.
When he was produced in court and charged with two counts of theft and committing an unnatural offence, Tumushabe pleaded for understanding, explaining that desperate times had pushed him to the limit. He said he was forced to start selling his body on Kampala streets after he found himself unemployed.
“I admit what I did was wrong. I offended my family and others concerned and I regret it. It wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone but I was forced to do what I did because of the harsh conditions I’ve been going through. I didn’t know it would attract that much attention,” Mr Tumushabe told journalists in January 2020 before the court proceedings.
For economic gain?
There is something about the nature of the woman—whether her weaknesses, strengths or the very essence of being a woman—that has become a highly sought-after quality for men of various descriptions and motivations.
In the cases that come to light, at least in Uganda, whether it is that of the local man-turned-bride in Kayunga or the fake female athlete in Kapchorwa, it is understood to be a case of a man seeking economic gain from posing as a female. The growing number of male impostors now adds a layer of scrutiny to security scans, qualification for sports competitions and even dating and relationships. You better approach your partner in the full glare of the disco glow so you know which gender you just picked up. In addition, make sure you are very sober when you leave with your date. She could be a man.
Late last year, a video circulated on social media, with a man formerly believed to be a woman and heavily decked in facial make-up, being undressed by members of the public after being unmasked as a man.
Human rights activists protested his treatment because, as they rightly pointed out, there is actually no law that criminalises dressing as the opposite sex as long as one does not engage in same-sex intimacy and unnatural acts which are outlawed as per the Penal Code Act.
This, therefore, means that until we have a definite provision in the law, there is nothing to stop men from dressing as women, if that is all they do and they commit no other crimes. Judging from the public reaction in almost every case where a man is found dressing as a woman, we are far from considering the gender switch as normal.
“In rugby, competitions are based on screening first to certify that you qualify to play in that competition and for you to qualify, you must be a member of the club and to be a member of the club, we trace it back to your mother club. We have not yet experienced a case of people masquerading as female players when they are men.
Most of these players know each other because in rugby, we have various competitions; we have the Sevens; the 15s and 10s. These players play alongside each other and some have played together before joining different clubs. The coaches know them, identify with them and many of our coaches have grown up seeing these players because we have the age-grade rugby at primary and secondary school level. Also, these coaches train in clubs. It is hard for someone to masquerade as a female in rugby. We have not had cases in rugby except some time back when we had cases of players who are LGBT (lesbians); you see her body format, she looks like a man but in actual sense, she is female. If transformation (sex change) had happened, we would know. We had those players who were LGBT but when we went for international events, they were screened because rugby screens, even at international level. They do tests that would tell if someone is a male masquerading as female,” explains Dorothy Nekesa, the director age grade and development at the Uganda Rugby Union.
However, even in countries where transgender rights are guaranteed, not all cases of gender demarcation are clear-cut.
There is a complex gender discussion going in sports bodies globally. It has to do with the place for women in sport and how to deal with those who identify as women but were not born female. One sport governing body after another is pronouncing itself on trans women—former biological males who now identify as female—entering women sports. In June 2022, FINA, the world governing body for swimming voted to ban transgender women from participating in women’s swimming competitions.
The vote held at the FINA Extraordinary General Congress 2022 in Budapest was a blow in a series of fights over whether trans athletes could and should compete according to their gender identity or their sex assigned at birth. If people who had been male at birth and had experienced male puberty were allowed to compete, they reasoned, biological females might never get a chance to reach finals or be on podiums as winners, the FINA policy sought to assert.
“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam was quoted as saying in a report by National Public Radio, an American nonprofit media organisation based in Washington, D.C.
The growing promotion of trans gender and the appearance of trans women in spaces traditionally reserved for biological females have sparked discussions on the rights of biological females to be protected from unfair advantage that the new entrants often carry into spaces traditionally reserved for biological females.
According to AFP, a transgender basketballer was barred on Tuesday from playing in an Australian women’s competition, with the sport’s governing body acknowledging it was a “complex area to navigate”. To show how complex this argument is, the Australian basketball body said the assessment of transgender players is done on a case by case basis.
At a time when the agenda for promotion of women has been gaining momentum everywhere, it seems women are moving further from being accepted without question for who they are. What is a woman anyway? And are all those women playing on the field really women? The lines are blurred once again, men keep showing up in women spaces, turning them into a man’s man’s world.
Gender discussion in sports bodies
There is a complex gender discussion going in sports bodies globally. It has to do with the place for women in sport and how to deal with those who identify as women, but were not born female. One sport governing body after another, is pronouncing itself on trans women—former biological males, who now identify as female—entering women sports.
In June 2022, FINA, the world governing body for swimming, voted to ban transgender women from participating in women’s swimming competitions.