The Current

From Julia to Julius: growing up intersex in Uganda

Julius Kaggwa was born intersex in Uganda. Today he travels the world advocating for intersex acceptance and equality.
Ugandan Julius Kaggwa was born intersex, raised as a girl, and now lives as a man. (Copyright PositiveNegatives for the Open Society Foundations )

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Julius Kaggwa was born in Uganda as intersex. Growing up, Kaggwa's parents decided to raise their child as a girl.

"People often think that it is much better to raise a girl who might become dysfunctional, than to raise a boy that might become dysfunctional," Kaggwa tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"It's a patriarchal thing."

Intersex people are born with physical sex characteristics that don't conform with typical definitions of male and female. That ambiguity can be in chromosomes, hormones, genitals or gonads. 

Kaggwa now presents himself as a man. Making that change wasn't easy. 

"I'm 47-years-old now," he says.

"It's been almost 30 years since this happened. I can laugh about it. There was a time when I couldn't even talk about it."

Kaggwa recognized as a child that he was different from the other children — physically, at least. But that difference became most apparent to him as a teenager in an all-girls high school. He found himself attracted to other girls — not as a gay woman, but as a man. 

He found comfort in religion.
Ugandan activist Julius Kaggwa is optimistic that his country will become accepting of people like him. (Courtesy of Julius Kaggwa)

"It gave me confidence to stand up and say, 'This is who I am. This is how God made me. I don't think it's by chance, or a mistake.'" 

That was a bold assertion in Uganda, where families try to quietly treat and "fix" their intersex children, Kaggwa says. 

"The mother, and maybe her sister or a very trusted friend, will begin to look for solutions. The solutions come in the form of herbalists, traditional medicine men. For the few elite people, it will come in the form of medical doctors who are ready to fix the child, to mutilate their genitalia." 

Related: I'm an intersex Ugandan – life has never felt more dangerous

Uganda is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be anything other than heterosexual. In 2014, the country passed its controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act, punishing gay sex with up to life in prison. A Ugandan court later invalidated the law deemed "draconian" by activists, but many vow to revive it.

Julius Kaggwa says when his story was leaked to a newspaper in Uganda, 'Everybody wanted a piece of me. They wanted to dissect me.' He says he was so afraid, he escaped to South Africa. (Copyright PositiveNegatives for the Open Society Foundations )

Kaggwa is now an activist and director of Support Initiative for People With Atypical Sex Development in Uganda.

"Many of us on the front lines, our focus is not so much the law," he says. 

"Our country, or our continent, is really community-based. The law lies with the community, regardless of what is on the books."

Kaggwa has four children and feels optimistic that the open-mindedness of younger generations could change things in Uganda for intersex people. 

"I really have hope that the new generation in my country might be different," he tells Tremonti.

"Young people are more curious to actually understand how things work."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.