This is the second part of a look at life in Gay Africa, most specifically Kenya. The essays below represent the lives and experiences of two gay male Kenyans.
TO BE KENYAN, MUSLIM AND GAY ACTIVIST
I am the only son in a conservative Muslim family. I have both my parents and a sister who is in a wheel chair. I am 46 years old, a not very normal for a Muslim to be single. I come from a Shia Muslim sect, which has very strict rules of do's and dont's. I consider myself fairly religious. I fast Ramadhan, pray as and when I can and have also performed Haj.
I believe I am born gay, and during my childhood, I used to wear my mum's clothes, and sometimes apply coloured chalk over my eyes as eye shadow, and apply lipstick. This was when I was about 8 years old, and surprisingly my mum used to watch all this, and never stopped me, or got angry with me, funny eh???
As I grew up, my feelings for men grew stronger. At the age of 14, I had my first encounter with a gorgeous looking Muslim Shia man. He is a family friend, and his name is Onali. It was a family gathering, in Mombasa, a coastal town in Kenya. I was 14, and had to share a room with Onali, for five nights. The first two nights we slept on separate beds, then came the 3rd night, and Onali got into my bed. He was about 21 years old, and he started kissing me, and starting caressing me, and I felt his warm body, our lips locked. I even did not know how to kiss. Then suddenly I had the urge to rush to the bathroom, and guess what I saw, some white stuff, I got scared and thought I was sick, I rushed back to Onali, and told him what happened. He held me tight, and whispered in my ear, that it is ok. He masturbated and showed me the white stuff come. This was the first time I felt sperms, and cum. My very first ejaculation was with Onali, and that with a man. The rest of the nights, Onali and myself slept together, and I always looked forward to being with him in bed. He was my very first experience with a real man. I loved every moment of it.
Then I had a relationship with another Muslim guy in high school, his name is Minu, and we were in the same class. It was here that I had my first “girlfriend", as a disguise. I never kissed her, but just held hands, with my feelings. My lover in my high school was a great guy, and funny enough I still see him, but he has blocked his school experience! He is married with a family.
It was in my college days, in my late teens and early 20s, that I had a conflict with my sexuality and religion. I am always felt dirty after being with a man, and I thought I was sick, and asked Allah to help me!! And guess what I did, I got married to a family member. Her Name is Tasneem, and she is my second cousin. I married her to "cure" myself, I felt my attraction for man was a sickness that would be cured my marriage. How wrong was I, it became worse, and my desire for man grew stronger. My marriage lasted for a year, and I decided to end it, I was not being fair to my wife and myself. I wrote a letter to Tasneem saying that we need to separate, since “there was no chemistry between us", we were actually sleeping in separate rooms six months from being married. My mum noticed it, and she asked me if everything was ok, I said NO!! She suggested I get a divorce.
The divorce takes place, and a lot of dirt is thrown at me, accusation that I am impotent, gay etc etc!! But I had no choice, because I could not pretend, and let my wife suffer. The divorce was the only solution. In my culture it is a taboo to divorce, but I did it.
It was after my divorce, when I was in my late 20s when I actually accepted my sexuality, and was comfortable being gay. I confided in my best friend, a Shia Muslim friend about my sexuality, and to his wife, and they both accepted me, till today we are great friends. It was after my divorce, that I could talk about me being gay comfortably
I got involved in Activism, and am now active member of Gaykenya, and sit in the steering committee of GALCK (Gay and Lesbian coalition of Kenya).
I have lots of pressure from my community members to re marry, but happy to mention that there is no pressure from my parents.
Being Gay in Kenya is not so easy, then add to that being an activist. There is no influence from outside the continent; it is just who and what we are, though we have funding coming in from various donors to push forward the agenda of our basic rights. Gaykenya has also received funding from two donors. One for domesticating the Yokarta principles, another for the office set up. Though, funding is not a lot.
Within the local Kenyans there are quite a lot of Kenyans who are gay, and they want their rights respected, freedom of association, easy access to basic amenities, e.g. education, medical, employment etc. There is discrimination if you are found or being suspected to be gay, therefore the activism, and have the gay community recognised.
Also note, we are not fighting for the law to recognize same sex marriages, all we want now is decriminalization of the penal codes, which sentence you to imprisonment for being gay!
I Was Never A Virgin
The Article That Has Taken Me 5 Years to Write
I have arrived at that point in my life when sex is no longer the most important thing or activity in my life. I am not impotent or asexual or God forbid, even celibate! I get aroused, my gonads are fully functional and I can still get my freak on. But, ever since I moved out of my grandmother’s place to my own house, ever since I started to work and immerse myself in the LGBTI movement and the gay Kenyan community, I have started to refocus and shift some of my earlier and otherwise frivolous aspirations -men, sex, parties, fun- and now aim for something more concrete and valuable. My work, my life, my friends and colleagues are now the primary things in my life. Let me give you a normal day in my oh-so boring life. It’s a four tier system: home, work, bar, home. I leave home in the morning heading to work; from work to the bar- where I get one or two cold Tuskers- then from the bar back to home. This is my daily routine.
As a gay man, the pressure to have sex with as many people as possible is unforgiving. Sad thing is that sex among most of the gay men I have met is short, meaningless and fleeting. Short in the sense that once the act is done, there is nothing is looked forward to. Meaningless in that there are no emotions or importance or dare I add, romance attached to it and its fleeting in that it’s not lasting and is seen as something to be done and get over with as hurriedly as possible. Another thing to be noted is that most gay men do not have lasting committed relationships: they would as soon move to the next person.
I have had my fair share of fun. I have been to countless gay parties, both in clubs and house parties and done things too graphic to be penned down. If it is sex, I have had it with men, with women, and even with myself. If its beer and alcohol, I have drank countless times and on different occasions. If it’s dating and relationships, I have a colourful repertoire. If it’s going partying all night and having sleepover in strangers’ beds or hotels, I have done it all. But many are the days I have woken up from the floor with a hangover and feel like the scum of the earth. I have cried, felt sad and become pitiful of my sorry self. Whenever I wake up and get bearing of where I am or who is sleeping next to me, I always ask myself, ‘How did I get myself here?’
Of course, I never learnt my lesson. Weekend after weekend, night after night, the cycle would be the same. And even with regret and the vow to change, I just couldn’t. I never could keep or save money. All my money went to buying drinks or handed out as fare money to my drinking buddies. I had such a huge ego (call it flamboyance) that if I went to a club, I would buy round after round of drinks to all my buddies and their friends too just to show I am loaded. I can remember once, in the height of my folly, and under the influence, I told, no, ordered, the waiters to give everyone drinks and bill it to me. You can guess how much I had to part with! I could spend all my money on drinks and funny enough manage to ignore to save or buy more basic stuff.
I feel so sad and disappointed when I do such that sometimes I wish and wonder that perhaps, just perhaps being gay is not me. I admit I was never a virgin.
(originally published as an artticle on the GayKenya website: http://gaykenya.com/)
For more information on gay Africa:
http://www.mask.org.za/ (a comprehensive website about issues dealing with the LGBT community throughout the continent)