Binyavanga Wainaina, one of Africa’s most notable writers was condemned, scolded, abused, cursed and laughed at on social media by conservatives when he recently revealed he was gay. But he equally received support from the liberal minded who hold the view that what a man or woman does in his or her bedroom is no one’s business.
Binyavanga is probably the first ‘visible’Kenyan to come out of the closet. Although homosexuality is outlawed in Kenya, his ‘bold’ move coincides with a time when more gay people are making it clear that they exist and that they have no apologies to make.
But even as a section of society recoils with horror, quoting religious verses and so forth, the fact is that Kenya is not as homophobic as other African countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda.
Male homosexual sex workers operate publicly and certain entertainment spots in Nairobi are known as a preserve for those searching for gay partners.
In fact, homosexuals increasing hit on those they fancy regardless of their sexual preferences in entertainment joints.
John Kamau says he was seated at the counter at a bar in the outskirts of Nairobi when a stranger made advances at him without even inquiring about his sexual preferences.
Held me from behind
Another victim, Mercy Akinyi, said a stranger indecently approached her in a washroom at a bar in Nairobi.
“I had just finished with the toilet and I was washing my hands when all of sudden someone held me from behind. I had come with my fiancée to the bar and at first I thought it was him who had followed me to the washrooms. But I turned around, I saw this strange woman,” she says.
To her horror, the woman begun making sexual advances, telling her how attractive she was. Mercy pushed her away and returned to her seat, frightened.
Three gay men
“I reported the matter to the manager who is also my friend and he told me several complaints about her had been made by other female patrons,” Mercy says.
An editor with the Standard Group concurs, saying three gay men have approached him at his local pub in Ongata Rongai on separate occasions. Apparently, they mistook his penchant for sitting alone with a book and a drink as a suggestion that he was ‘searching’. At the same pub, he says, he watched a young waitress ward off aggressive attention from an inebriated 60-something old grandma as scandalised patrons and other waiters and waitress watched, mouths agape.
Gay activist Denis Nzioka, however, defends the gay community claiming that they are ‘just trying their luck’.
“It may seem offensive to some people but you never know who is who. A bar is also a ‘hunting’ ground. This is exactly what happens when heterosexual Kenyans go out, isn’t it?” Denis told The Nairobian.
Scouting for lovers
The hunting ground is also quickly creeping into social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Random interviews conducted by The Nairobian team revealed that gay people are scouting for lovers by creeping into strangers’ inboxes.
Several people including male media personalities have posted on their Facebook walls and other social media accounts protesting sexual advances from male strangers.
Denis also defends this, saying society is simply moving from ‘analogue to digital.’
just hit on anyone
“Hiding the fact that you are gay is like boiling water in a pressure cooker. There is this excitement that one feels when they finally accept who they are. They also forget that not everyone has been hiding and thus the assumption that they could just hit on anyone,” he explains.
Kuria Mbote, a former gay rights activist says he sees no harm in gay people making their advances on straight people. Mbote who unsuccessful ran for the Kiambu County Senatorial bid said,
“I would want to compare it with hawkers who try selling something to you while you are travelling. If you are interested in the commodity, you buy, but if you are not, you decline politely. If a gay approaches someone who doesn’t subscribe to homosexuality, they should just say no and not be violent like is normally the case.”
Gladys Chania, a psychologist, says society needs to affirm and embrace gay identity, a key component to recovery for a group whose sexual orientation is viewed as a taboo. “You do not choose to be gay, bi-sexual or straight. Life events can influence identity developments, similarly to change from one sexual orientation to the other.
Gay to straight can take the same course, that means a gay person can still change to straight and vice versa,” she said.
Chania explains that due to individualistic reasons that are involved in this sexual expression, what’s humanely needed is to understand and affirm homosexuality as we get a proper and constitutional way of handling the matter without abusing humanity.
She also said people whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with homosexual behaviour may require some other method of integrating their conflicting religious and sexual selves, but if a client wants to change his sexual orientation, “we explore the reasons behind the desire without favouring any particular outcome”.
Binyavanga’s bold action might embolden other gay Kenyans, notably well known media personalities and businessmen, to step into the public limelight. Or maybe not.