Trans man Prince fled Uganda to save his life

After coming to grips with the mix of male and female characteristics that his body developed during adolescence, Prince fell in love with a Ugandan woman, only to run into the harsh opposition of her father and her father’s bodyguards. He was kidnapped, tortured and threatened with death. To save his life, Prince fled to Kenya. This is his story.

By Simon Kwesigabo

Prince. (Photo courtesy of Simon Kwesigabo)

Prince. (Photo courtesy of Simon Kwesigabo)

My name is Prince, but it hasn’t always been Prince. I grew up as a girl, with a girl’s name, in Kawoolo in the Buikwe district east of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Now I am destitute in Nairobi, Kenya.

As a young woman growing up, when I would shower with other girls I realized that I was attracted to them.  During adolescence my breasts grew, but then went away. I worried that I was possessed with evil spirits. I knew of no one who was like me.

At school and at home, I spent a lot of time with boys. I was always with them. I mostly dressed like a boy. I wished that I had been created a boy. At one point while I was growing up,  I used to fight a lot with boys. Some of them feared me.  They even called me a boy.

During adolescence, after I lost my breasts, my voice deepened and a little beard started to grow.

When I reached age 20, I changed my name to Prince and started hitting on women. I also learned that I wasn’t the only one of my kind. I read about others like me on the Internet. That really made me feel strong and fearless. Now I consider myself a trans man.

I started traveling to other places in Uganda and met many other people like me. It was like a dream come true. I fell in love many times. I was heart-broken many times, but I could still get up, compose myself, and move on.

One woman whom I loved was someone who truly loved me back. My friends warned me that she wasn’t a good person to fall in love with,  since his father was a military man, highly ranked in the army, and very harsh. I turned a deaf ear, thinking they were just jealous of me and her.

But then the bodyguards at her home told me to leave her, or else. They said they would deal with me. They knew about me and her and they had gotten their orders from her father.

At one point when I had taken her back home from a night club.

As a young person in love, I tried my best to avoid going back to her place. She would travel to see me, not knowing who might be watching her.
My neighbors told me they had often seen people following her to my place. When she’s around, they stay outside the gate, the neighbors said.

I asked her about it and she denied it. For a while, everything seemed fine. But one day when we were inside the house talking, I heard people knocking on the door. When I went to see who was there, I saw the faces of the same bodyguards who had warned me off months back.

They handcuffed me and her. They threw us in a car and drove off. I never learned where we were taken. She was taken away. I didn’t learn where she went. I knew the location where they took me was what people call a “safe house” where people are tortured.

I was undressed and beaten up. They kept pouring cold water on me, beating me and kicking me. They asked why I had turned the general’s daughter into a lesbian.

After three days of torturing me, I was told they were going to release me if I would say that I would never again approach the general’s daughter.  I agreed because I felt that I was on the verge of losing my life. If they saw me again, they said, they would kill me.

A scene from Mabiri Forest in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of

A scene from Mabiri Forest in Uganda. (Photo courtesy of

They took me out of the house in darkness. They dropped me in Mabira Forest in the middle of the night and drove off.

Mabira Forest was a few kilometers from my house, so I walked back there. For the next few days, I kept having bad dreams, imagining being tortured again. I feared that the bodyguards would come back for me and this time I would be killed. That’s what they had promised to do to me.

I told a friend what had happened. He advised me to run for my life. If anything happens to the general’s daughter, I would be held liable, my friend said. They would hunt me down.

The next week I left for Kenya, crossing the border at Malaba. That was back in September 2015.

LGBTI Ugandan refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, protested for humane treatment on Jan. 26 at the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. (Photo courtesy of Kamarah Apollo)

LGBTI Ugandan refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, protested for humane treatment on Jan. 26, 2017, at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. (Photo courtesy of Kamarah Apollo)

When I got to Nairobi, I was directed to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. I was registered as a refugee there.

Life hasn’t been easy for me, since as a refugee I can’t get a permanent job. I survive on the little funds that I receive from HIAS, the refugee support organization.

Sometimes I wash people’s clothes for money. Sometimes I get money from people who want sexual satisfaction, especially women. At times I carry bags for people in the markets and get paid a few shillings.

People often discriminate against me after they realize that I am different. They say that I might lure their daughters into doing what they call bad manners.

I have often been arrested by police for doing nothing except being a person that they can demand money from. I end up giving the police the money that I have hustled for almost all week so they will release me from prison.

When I’m in prison, it’s awful. It reminds me of what I faced back in Uganda.

I’m still awaiting my first eligibility interview at the U.S. embassy, which will determine my fate — whether I will be granted asylum or not.

The author of this article, Simon Kwesigabo, is a Ugandan refugee who  recently relocated from Kenya to the United States.

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