This is the story of Iris Sahhara Henson, 29-year-old singer and supermodel who was born a man but now is a pretty woman.
Sahhara Henson was born Clifford Oche before she changed
When God created the first humans, they were of two kinds; male and female. The world finds it incomprehensible and difficult to accept or recognise the Third Kind, those born with the wrong body chemistry.
Generically called transgender, they are an endangered species, constantly subjected to xenophobic reaction which atimes include discrimination and imprisonment.
One of such unfortunate human beings that has felt the wrath of the world is Iris Sahhara Henson, 29-year-old singer and supermodel who was pretty enough to contest for the 2011 Miss International Queen Pageant in Pattaya, Thailand and ended first runner up.
Born Clifford Oche to the family of Mrs. And Mrs. Agbo Ella in the dusty Benue town of Otukpo, he was raised in the capital city of Abuja. After two failed suicide attempts he escaped to London ten years ago where he has since been living as a woman.
Sahhara Henson, one of the first known Nigerian transgenders, is yet to find the absolute freedom she craves. Recently, Facebook threatened to shut down her account because of the offensive pictures she was posting.
Forced to vent her frustration, she blamed religion for a world that has gone awry. In one of her diatribes, she claimed the world has been screwed by religion and she cannot wait to die.
In a rare show of concern, she condemned the atrocities committed around the world in the name of religion, with explicit reference to the 200 Chibok girls abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents in Northeast Nigeria.
Nonetheless, Sahhara continues to face public condemnation. The most scathing attack happened last year, when she inadvertently stirred the hornet’s nest by speaking about how happier she is now that her dream of becoming a woman was achieved.
Blast from the past
Testimonies have shown that even from childhood, Oche used to behave like a girl. In fact, those in the know claimed that Oche had never appreciated the fact that God created him a man. Students of GSS, Bwari Abuja hinted us that back in their school days, precisely 1998, Oche enjoyed the company of female than his male counterparts.
According to a classmate, Oche was the Press Club President and used to be an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Students, FCS.
“He normally behaved like a a female, he hanged around ladies all times and also had this friends that behaved like him in the same hostel in Abaji House to be precise. The name of the friend is called Monsuru, though he’s now married in Abuja,” the school mate hinted us.
Even students of Benue State university, his alma mater have their own testimony on Oche’s strange behaviours back in the institution as a student of Mass Communication in 2007.
In a recent online interaction, Clifford Oche, now Miss Sahhara who was recently crowned Miss Transgender tells the story of her struggle against the world. While making a strong case for her existence, she also throws a strong taunt and tantrum against her detractors.
The point she is making: she has a life to live. Here is her account straight from the horse’s mouth.
Journey to self-discovery.
Well I am a self made woman, well educated, talented and down to earth. I am originally from Nigeria, moved to the UK slightly over 10 years ago to live my life freely and openly as the person I truly am.
I am professionally trained Digital Media specialist, with interest in production, editing, management and research. I hope to further my education in PhD Gender and sexuality studies in the nearer future.
At the moment, I am modeling, advocating for equal rights in Africa, producing songs and performing at a fabulous resident in London westend.
“I am standing in front of the mirror looking at my reflection. Tears of joy trickle down my rouged cheek before going on stage. I am in tears because I just can’t believe how realistic my dreams have become. I am a woman! Living my life freely. Accepted and respected for my achievements as a model and a performer.
My fellow transgendered sisters and brothers paved this way for me. They fought for acceptance, understanding and respect.
Some died while fighting for what they believed in and others fell before their time due to hate, rejection and society’s unfairness. Every single story gave me strength to fight on and never to give up.
I wish I could tell the younger me who tried to commit suicide twice that life gets better and dreams come true. I did not imagine life could be this amazing many years ago after being released from a horrid Nigerian prison for being different.
Then all I could think was I could die in this prison and no one will know or care.
Being imprisoned felt justifiable, considering I was being punished for being ‘gay’ – something they assumed due to my feminine features and mannerisms. I wasn’t gay, I am a woman born differently due to natural defects.
What I felt did not match my outward appearance, Being assigned male at birth doesn’t make me a man or a woman, nobody was born a man or a women, you develop into your preferred gender as you grow up. For me that gender was female. I was born male but my brain, gestures, features and carriage functioned as female.
Growing up and not knowing what was happening to my body made me confused and lost. I couldn’t discuss it with my family because my femininity was frowned on due to religion and I could not talk to my friends because they would not understand what I was going through. I found solace in music and dreams.
I dreamt of being free to be myself, free of insults, free of judgment and free from harassments. That freedom came when I moved to the United Kingdom, finding girls like me gave me hope of not being alone in my journey of self-discovery.
I found out what I went through growing up in Nigeria was quite common with transgendered people. Having freedom, acceptance and knowledge are the key most important elements to a successful transition. Knowing I am not alone in my struggles helped me to reevaluate my views on life and how I should go about my transition wisely.
I researched my transition and reconciled the conflicting emotions involved in the process of accepting myself as the woman I am.
It is a lonely world during transition, as your body changes so do your emotions, which leads the mind into the darkest path in life. If the chemicals are not professionally controlled, you can feel suicidal due to rejection from loved ones and society.
In life, perfection doesn’t exist, but for me having the freedom to be my true self feels almost perfect. As a black transgendered woman I am faced with many daily challenges such as transphobia, a complicated love life, poor career prospects and racism. But when I remember my life history, these challenges become water under the bridge.
That is why I will always remember those who built this foundation for freedom and knowledge. Also those who never got the chance to enjoy the acceptance we have achieved so far.
Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20, is particularly important to me because I have lost close friends to suicide and have seen many more wishing to commit suicide as a final fix to their gender dilemma and rejection by society.
The media is silent on the subject of transphobia and the effects it has on young transgendered people of today, because they don’t see transgendered people as ‘normal’ members of our community. Remembering my fallen friends helps me to keep their memories alive. It also encourages me to carry on the fight to be respected, understood and accepted for whom I am.
I dream of a world where we are given some sort of understanding and tolerance to live peacefully as able, intelligent fellow human beings who make positive contributions to society. Transgendered people are human too. We are your brothers, your sisters, your children, your friends and your lovers. Stop the hate.
My mum did an amazing job all by herself! Even though she feels she failed with me. She raised me a good person with good education and good morals! She has done incredibly well in my books. She is my idol – minus the religious madness of cause.
Some words for my haters
I’m flirting with the idea of competing in more beauty pageants next year. I find them quite fun. Which Country should I represent? UK or Nigeria?
I was born a plain canvas like any human. Hence I like playing with makeup, sexy clothing, high heels shoes, & different colours of hair to create an interesting looking character.
Beauty they say, is in the eyes of the beholder, so you don’t have to like my looks. I honestly don’t care about your hatred for my ‘plastic look’. I am not doing it for your approval, I do it for myself!, because it feels and looks good. So keep your nasty hateful opinions to your boring self!
Just because you can’t achieve the same result as myself doesn’t make your BASIC FAT A** more of a woman than me! Jealous Nigerian b*****s sending me stupid hateful messages after reading a popular blogger’s sentence comparing me to their ugly fat a****!
Why she may never return home
Though safe in a more liberal society where his (or her) kinds are tolerated, Sahhara may well bid goodbye to his native country where sentiments against transgender are highly inflammable.
Her ties to her roots have been uprooted as her immediate kith and kin, the Idomas, including the parents have been rather visceral and virulent. She has been deemed a sacrilege for putting their proud ethnicity on shameful spotlight.
Several attempts to speak with ‘her’ father, Pa Agbo failed. A family member told our reporters that the father had since forgotten everything about him. “The father does not want to hear anything about Oche again. He’s a forgotten issue,” the close insider squealed.
A visit to his family house located on Upu Street, Otukpo could not yield any positive result as the father was not be reached for comment. From the look of things, his kinsmen are no longer at ease with him.
Kinsmen are denouncing him. The common man is asking for his head. Idomas are taking it personal with Oche. Shame! Shame, they roar.
When it finally dawned on the Idoma community that Oche is a son of the land, nay, a native of Otukpo Nobi, protests sparked like wild fire. From the street to the Internet, particularly on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, vitriolic tweets and venomous Facebook post are being thrown at Miss Sahhara, so strong-worded that, as a matter of fact, she seems to be the most hated indigene of the moment.
From outright curse (“It’s unfortunate that an Idoma person is part of the evil reign in the world) to scalding criticism (“He should not only change his gender but his nationality.
He is not fit to live with human beings but among animals like pigs, dogs and goats) to blunt denial ( He is not from Idoma land) – the Idomas are having a field day venting their spleen.
However, Oche seems unperturbed by all these criticisms. In fact, ‘she’ has no regret over her now look.
Hear her: “I didn’t buy my looks from a surgeon’s table. I created my looks out of knowledge and understanding of my own body! Buy your coffins b*****s. You gonna be seeing more hotness from my end! Get ready to die or bow down. Ugly cows!” she once responded to her many critics.