One of the few things we can agree on about Kenya is that we are a deeply religious nation. Kenya is listed among the world’s top 10 religious countries, with 88% of its people ascribing to religious teachings. 47% are Protestants while 23.5% are Roman Catholics, meaning that 80% of Kenya’s religious population is Christian. Many of our beliefs as a people are anchored in religion.
We are also keen on our traditions, and we mainly identify with our ethnic groups. Many traditional practices within these ethnic groups are still practised, like payment of dowry, circumcision, marriage and funeral ceremonies. We also have people who believe in witchcraft, which partly stems from our ancient traditions. We are proud of our culture(s), and many times frown upon things thought to be contrary to it. We label them as “against our traditions” or “unAfrican”.
Homosexuality is one such thing – labelled as against God and unAfrican.
Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are known to be intolerant to homosexuality. The Judeo-Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin is rooted in several Bible verses, and this is one of the most quoted reasons in Kenya on why we collectively hate gay people. Leviticus 18:22 says: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.” This verse is clearly about homosexual intercourse, not the orientation.
Homosexuality, just like heterosexuality, is an orientation. It means that one is attracted to members of the same sex, as opposed to members of the opposite sex. Sexual intercourse is when we act on this orientation. This may be compared to temptation. Being tempted is wanting to do something that is considered wrong by one’s religion. Temptation itself is not a sin, as one has not acted upon the temptation. The sin is born when one acts upon the temptation.
In the same way, one’s orientation is not a sin. It is not sinful when a man is attracted to a woman or a woman to a man. It is merely attraction. It is a predisposition. So why is it sinful when a man is attracted to a man, or a woman to a woman? It is still merely attraction. The sin comes in when the sexual act happens, and are we ever 100% sure that the gay people we castigate are sexually active? I think not. Even then, as a Christian, I know that we are also called not to judge others, or we shall also be judged – I don’t see why homosexuality should fall outside the “do-not-judge” umbrella.
The Pope, believed to be infallible, recently declared that he was none to judge gay people. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” He even added that the tendency to homosexuality was not the problem (he felt that the lobbying around it was).
We must remember that fornication and adultery (where pre-marital sex and mpango wa kando fall) are also sins according to the Bible. We must also consider what the same Bible says about other sins, many of which we are definitely guilty of committing. 1st Corinthians 6:9-10 says: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
So much for being self-righteous.
Saying that homosexuality is “unAfrican” implies that it was introduced to us by external parties. European colonialists are normally blamed in this argument. Homosexuality is felt to be incongruent to several cultures’ belief in the continuity of the family and clan through the birth of children. If we allow homosexuality, therefore, there will be groups of people who will not procreate and their lineages will meet a dead end. They will have nothing to be remembered by. It is thought of as a direct assault on the traditional family unit.
However, the claim that homosexuality is unAfrican is laughable. Firstly, there are gay people who are African. To say that homosexuality is unAfrican would be to deny their entire existence, their lives and ultimately, their humanity. The insistence that it is unAfrican means that determining what qualifies as “African” is the preserve of a privileged few. The folly of this type of argument has previously been discussed here.
There are also several documented cases of homosexuality in Africa (and Kenya) pre-colonialism. Some cultures even allowed men to have “boy-wives” when women were not available. In Lesotho, relationships between married mpho women were not forbidden by their husbands. They were rather commonplace, and their existence continues to this date.
If anything, it was the European and Arab colonialists who introduced homophobia to Africa in the form of Abrahamic religions and homophobic laws. In Rhodesia, for example, the 1914 Immigration Act forbade anyone practising homosexuality and prostitution from entering the colony. This clause existed until 1980. Portuguese penal codes criminalized homosexuality in Angola. Before then, gay men known as chibadi were free to practice their sexuality.
If this logic is to be followed, then we should also protest against a majority of the religions in Kenya. After all, Christianity, Islam and Judaism are as unAfrican as it gets. Kenya is also steadily on the road to overpopulation – would it be a bad thing if fewer people had children? Our food security and poverty levels are bad enough as it is, if we keep reproducing at our current rate, we will not be able to feed ourselves. Perhaps a subset of people not procreating is not such a bad thing.
I feel that the real reason that homophobia thrives in Kenya, and in other parts of the world, is an innate fear of rejection. We cannot accept that others do not like the same things we like. That they do not think the way we think; that they are different from us. This makes us feel rejected. They have refused to be like us. Why have they refused to be like us? Is it that they think they are better than us? No way. We are the best. And we will show them.
“Rejection, though–it could make the loss of someone you weren’t even that crazy about feel gut wrenching and world ending.”
– Deb Calletti
The fact that someone else does not find attractive what you find attractive means that they reject a key part of your being. “How can this man not find a woman sexually attractive? What is wrong with him? Wait, does he find me attractive?” Instantly, a problem arises. This, I feel, is what leads straight men to lash out at gay men.
Another fear is that the gay man finds you attractive and wants to have sex with you. This is the height of self-absorption. In thinking thus, one fails to even consider that the gay man in question may not even find you sexually attractive. In the homophobe’s mind, a gay man finds men attractive, thus the said gay man must find him attractive because, I mean, how can he not? Can’t he see how attractive the straight man is?
This is a double edged sword.
It is what leads to the embracing of lesbianism by straight men. “Two women having sex? I wouldn’t mind being in that mix!” The man assumes that part of the reason the women are lesbian is because they haven’t had a piece of him. The other men they messed around with before “becoming” lesbians were nothing. He is the messiah, the best they will ever have, and once they do, there’s no going back. Once again, the self-absorption rears its head. In the man’s mind, of course the lesbians are going to let him in on the action, or at least let him watch. They must. Can’t they see how attractive he is?
Beneath these two scenarios, there is a failure to recognize that maybe gay men and lesbians simply do not want a piece of you, or that they do not want what you want. Sometimes, when this recognition is made, there are disastrous consequences. Lashing out occurs in the form of corrective rape and acts of violence against homosexuals.
In the recent past, there have been reports on increasing violence against homosexuals in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi. Gay men have been slashed with pangas and beaten with hammers, and at least one person has died from these attacks. There have been cases of corrective rape of lesbians. This is rooted in the misguided thought that once the woman has sex with the said man, she will know what she’s been missing. In the case of the rape of men, the logic goes something like this: “You want to behave like a woman? I/we will make you a woman then.” Most male rapes are committed by men who self-identify as heterosexual. Why?
Sometimes, homophobia is a cover for other conflicted feelings bubbling under the surface. The men or women in question may have homosexual feelings themselves and not know how to deal with them, leading to them lashing out at gay people. “How dare you make me find you attractive?” They may not want to accept these homosexual feelings because they are generally frowned upon. As such, conflicted men who self-identify as heterosexual may engage in violence against gay men or male rape in order to make themselves feel better.
Female rape, male rape and gender violence have one thing in common: they are not about sex. They are about power. They are about bringing the victim to your level because (in the abuser’s mind) the victim feels like they are above you; like they are too good for you. It is up to the abuser to show them that they are not. The abuser already feels rejected, unwanted. Thus, he/she lashes out and corrects the situation.
Homophobes may not be exactly sure what being a straight man/woman means or doesn’t mean – yet there is this person in front of them who is extremely sure of their sexuality. This may make them uncomfortable, or angry. The idea of sexuality may also be taboo, and having it openly displayed in front of them, especially in a fashion that is not “normal” to them, may create fear.
In our straitjacketing of sexuality, we create such dire situations. This drama is entirely avoidable. We, as individuals, need to accept that we are not the standard for the perfect human being, or the perfect Kenyan. We need to accept, in the same way that we know not everyone will like us, that not everyone wants what we want. Not everyone finds us attractive. Not everyone wants us, and that’s okay.