It's June and Pride, Gay Pride that is, is showing up everywhere. In the 1970's the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance coordinated the first anniversary rally in honor of the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, The Stonewall Riots marked the start of the gay rights movement here in the United States. In 2000 President Bill Clinton proclaimed June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.
In honor of Gay Pride Month, I thought it only fair to highlight lesbians and gays of African descent- but with a twist. Since early 2010 the news has been flushed with the indignities being done to the LGBT communities thoughout Africa, with Ugandas hateful anti-gay bill that would criminalize homosexuality, calling for death as a penalty, Malawi arresting and trying a male couple for holding a wedding ceremony and Zambia's harsh anti-gay sentiments being espoused by members of the government but little has been heard here in America from those living under the harsh anti-gay laws that are on the books in some form in most African nations.
So I put out a call for essays from the African LGBT community asking friends of mine and them asking their friends. I wanted essays from Africans from all over the continent and of both genders and representations. For one reason or another I didnt get the response I was looking for, but the personal essays I did get were enlightening and quite different from the bleak picture painted in the news about "gay Africa."
All the essays are from gay men living in Kenya and run the gamut from the role of gay liberation in Africa, coming out to family in homophobic communities, and makes one realize that being gay is the same regardless of if it is in California or Nairobi, Kenya.
For more information on the state of Gay Africa:
FOR OURSELVES, BY OURSELVES, WITHIN OURSELVES.
There is a gay character in the British sketch comedy, Little Britain, who believes that he is the only gay in his Welsh village. When I had come to terms with my sexuality, I too thought that I was the only gay in ‘my village’.
Nairobi, the Kenyan capital is the one place in the country I have always felt at peace. But is the setting for the current chapter in my story, being gay and living in Africa. When I came back to Kenya from my four year stint abroad, I arrived a different man; confident in my personality and comfortable with my sexuality. There were issues of faith, that I was dealing with, but that is another story for another day.
I had vowed not to go back to closet and I knew somehow there were others like me living in Kenya. I needed to make contact and once that was made, I was literally home free. It was affirming to know that I could be still be gay in Kenya.
We may not freely live our sexuality openly, but we live. The hallmarks of the gay lifestyle that are apparent in most western countries are lacking here, but the rules of the game though different are universally the same. The cruise will always be the cruise. Networks and friendships that I have developed have made it possible for me to grow as a gay man. There have been no parades or marches to affirm who we are. We do that for ourselves, by ourselves within ourselves.
I have met other like minded individuals, who have chosen to live their lives. Choosing to be middle aged and older and single, not bowing down to demands from relations and society, to get married and have kids. Those who ask me, when I will get married, I respond by telling them, that we can’t all be married. Those who push, I ignore and dismiss.
I chose to break free of the expectations set on me by society and coming from a family that I would describe as fairly liberal and independent, I am not bound to keeping up the Jones’. The only people in my immediate family who don’t know about my being gay are my father and step-mother. This, I hope to change soon. I have three male siblings, one older and two younger, then there is my mother, who was the first person in my family I came out to. She wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t surprised. We have not spoken much of it since. When it did come up, she used the word feelings. My brothers have told me that they love me for who I am.
I have come out to my close circle of friends. For me it was part of the homecoming, part of the process. I felt I needed to do that. By and large all of them have accepted it, though they have mentioned that they don’t agree with my decision to live the lifestyle. I must mention most of the teen years and early adult life was spent in the church and so most of the friends have strong Christian beliefs. Did I know I was gay during this time of my life? Yes, though I was able to suppress most of my feelings and chose not to think much of it. I was somewhat asexual. So, coming out to my friends was important, but one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome. I have made new friends, but try to hold onto my old friends. They are still a part of my life. I may not get that many invites for social functions or golfing weekends, but I harbour no hard feelings and at times I decline a number of the invites. I am the single ‘uncle’ and I don’t always want to show up alone and yet I want to respect their space. I have tried to separate the old and new, it makes things easier for me. There are fewer questions to deal with.
There is that constant struggle not to become bitter and angry towards a society that is by and large homophobic. The cynic in me, says that Africa needs to be buggered just once, then there eyes will be open to fact the there are gay Africans, peppered across the continent. But yet again, I live in a country and continent where choice isn’t freely exercised, individuality is seen as selfish and rights of the minorities don’t make the top agenda, political or otherwise. I strongly believe that not until more is done for the women’s rights movement on the continent will only then will any headway be made. Africa’s largest minority is still not free. Once this is done, then I believe things will change for all other minorities.
I am not be able to show affection to my partner in public, I may not have a night club where I can dance shirtless and in hot pants or in chaps nor have a sauna to go to, so as to get my groove on, but I am alive. It can get frustrating, not having physical representations of the lifestyle, but we rely on the social aspect of the lifestyle to keep on going. We’ve gone round this through friendships, networks, the internet and a bond that ensures that we still represent our brethren. The rainbow flag is hoisted proudly within me, free!
TIMES AND SPACES IN MY LIFE
I am stuck to think of a fancy or intellectual title for this and being gay and growing up gay in Kenya is too long and boring so am just writing it down as thoughts and observations of times and spaces in my life…. Ahhhh! That’s the title – Times and Spaces in my life.
I remember realizing I was gay when I was about 14 years old, the earliest funny memory is standing in front of a mirror trying to figure out if I wanted or was brave enough to try a pair of tights I had found in a cupboard somewhere at home. In a strange way I have never had the experience of a before and after snap shot in time. It’s always just been I realized this is who I was. And with that came all the ingredients for a life lived in different spaces and ways.
In primary school – ages 8-15yrs old – it was a mixed bag of nuts. The first 6-7 years there sex and sexuality was not part of my life or realization or consciousness oyu could say. In the last 2 years, 14 and 15 years old, the body wakes up with a bolt and a sweat…lol. Boys around, galore, hormones raging, embarrassment, envy, lust, the works… I knew I was attracted to boys and there was no one to talk to just sneak read whatever books I could find, I was an avid reader, James Hadley Chase, Jackie Collins… excellent sexual awakening books for teens on the 80’s NOT! They were full of sex scenes and the imagination went riot.
Then off to high school for the next 5 years. Here in Keya most people send their children to boarding school for high school. So imagine a city kid like me born in a middle class family off in boarding school in what can only be described as a cultural shock exchange programme. In boarding school boy’s brag all the time about sex, women they have slept with, how, techniques, truth and lies meld into a tales of what man hood is or should be or is expected. And with no discerning force this is what we grew up with. Now when you look at all of this through the eyes of a culture and environment where being gay on a good day is simply taboo and on a bad day evil and immoral, you start to see what it was like to be afraid, alone, lonely and at the same time trying to define for myself who I was not only for myself but for my family, society and culture. There were many embarrassing nights of lies and conversations gone along with for bravado and image, in the first year of boarding schools there is a lot of bullying that goes on for the newbie’s. A comparison but not identical is like the hazing that goes on for frat houses in the USA.
All in all there was a lot of conversations about sex, not so innocent sexual innuendo bullying going on, don’t get me wrong no molestation or anything like that, but crotch grabbing and inquisitions about sexual conquests, sisters, female cousins, sister school girlfriends.
The thing I remember the most about that period of time was the aloneness and fear of being found out, of being a fraud counting his days and because had no experience or knowledge of hetero sexual sex, the idea of lying was made larger than life for the fear of saying things that were clearly not possible but not knowing lol its funny the books and the lies went hand in hand…
I went to the UK for university, and the one regret I have in life so far is that I did not take full advantage to find out, speak to, date, get into relationships during that time, I think all the fear and shame had been so set in me that even the thought of doing anything had the repercussion called what if my parents find out??? It’s a common conversation I have heard form colleagues now who all went abroad to study, the what if? Conversation and family image conversations. Kenya like a lot of developing countries is big on family, and especially extended family, and gossip and nosey or moral or religious relatives etc so a member of your family finding out always carries for many gay men and women an extended fear of the rest of the family finding out.
My biggest fear coming back home was my family finding out and me being rejected, kicked out, all that. My saving grace was the first lot of friends I MET WHEN I CAME BACK TO Kenya were a gay white couple of 17 years together at the time and a host of other liberal open minded people so the transition for me to come out was ironically seamless and to happen here in kenya and not in liberal open Europe.
The conversation for coming out to my parents happened when I was 30 and took approx 8 minutes. I think was October 28th… lol strange what we remember as details. At the end of the conversation my mother had basically said she always suspected and my dad had said we care about your health, well being, savings or lack thereof and the rest is your life. I am lucky and one of the few to have that response in Kenya and even fewer to come out to family. Marriage, children and the down low culture exists and is a growing phenomenon in my opinion and meetings in the last few years. In the last 6 months I have had no less than 5 married men chat me up and ask to meet up/hook up.
I have never had anyone I have told am gay react negatively, I have very very rarely denied or actually omitted to correct someone when they speak about why am not married and I say not found the right person yet and they say you will find HER. Some situations require that omission.
Meeting other gay men, potential boyfriends, or mature relationship martial single men is hard enough anywhere I imagine and that much harder here. In a country with a highly religious, moral and righteous sensibility, it more scandalous and shameful to be gay than to beat your wife senseless everyday for years, or rape and molest children as a school teacher. We live in strange times and spaces, filled both with innocence and guilt, spiced with shame and morality, and oven baked with political plot forming and familial and societal conformity.