by Innocent Gitoho*
I am a Kenyan man and I am gay. Yes, to the uninitiated, I am attracted to men, on occasion I have had sex with those men and I have pursued love and intimacy just like any heterosexual man and woman. But this is not the ‘Be all! End all!’ of who I am. I am many things. A son, a brother, a college graduate, budding writer and a Liverpool enthusiast.
I wrote this article following a question a friend of mine asked me once: Can I reconcile my Christianity with my homosexuality? Well, the most prompt dismissal of such an intrusion would have simply been: Yes or No. Unfortunately, I am not a one-dimensional China doll. I am human. So ‘Yes and No’ suffices as an answer.
I like conjunctions, they make for great dinner conversations. However, beyond the bold and unapologetic admission, the truth of the matter is that religion and sexual orientation are old positions that are greyer than distinct. If I were an Azande boy living in pre-colonial Congo, my sexual dalliances would have not raised any eyebrows. They would be just part of growing up and the ordinary pace of becoming a man. So in my endeavour to tell my story, I will apologize for those who expect a Saint Augustine Confession. This story is not, and further I am not sorry for who I am. Neither do I want to lobby, convert or coerce you into my position.
I discovered I was gay on the eleventh cycle of my life on this earth. The outing was a hallmark; When I look on it now, it lacked the usual fireworks that come with such occasions. It was filled with boyhood charm, innocence and the allure of experimentation. What it lacked, in hindsight, was an allusion to identity. That I was indeed a homosexual. The word – with all its connotations – did not occupy my space until later on.
At that age, I was simply a boy overtaken by hormones, exploring my sexuality. Unfortunately, the object of such heightened awakening was lured to other provinces than those popularly deemed appropriate. Teenage girls for all their romance failed to do anything for me.
My heart and hormones were set on bolder roads.
Despite this awakening, I knew well enough of social convention to toe the line. Leviticus 18:22 had been drilled into me early on and those GHC (Geography, History and Christian Religious Education) classes which morphed my gayness with the ills of tourism were always a good reference point. So to think for a minute that I was going against the grain was bold enough, even audacious, but to attempt to openly flaunt it was suicidal.
So, like a good Christian boy, I played along. I was a darling of the teachers and the model for other students to pursue. When the classes were done and the sermons given, the enveloping loneliness was frighteningly cold. I was suddenly alone – I could not talk about it, could not reciprocate my feelings and worse, pretense became a model of living. Not living as such but existing. Actually, looking back I see this episode as one of the reasons I have always enjoyed drama and film. Creating a make-believe world.
Just as every village has an idiot, I firmly believe that every hamlet has its own share of sexual deviants. I was one of them and there was the possibility there were others like me out there. So it was in one of this hard moments that my neighbourhood friend did the unthinkable: kiss me. A soft, gentle peck on the lips with such depth and warmth that I was floating on my toes. The solitude had suddenly become extinguished in a matter of seconds. I was enthralled. It was a simple act of liberation. I had become acquainted with something new and even years after many similar replications, I still consider it as my first love story. It became a summer fling that lasted 3 years without the perks of calling it a relationship. Time has passed, the neighbourhoods and people have changed but the memories remain: silent phantoms paying ode to the past.
Ignorance, while being bliss, is a fleeting occupation. It marries you for a season then absconds with the family jewels once the flames die out. And so was my innocence. Delightfully naive at the beginning, I soon came to detest who I was and what I had done. On entering high school, I had promptly forsaken my homosexual proclivities and buried the past as boyhood ventures not fit for polite conversations. The Homosexual or Shoga (the Swahili pejorative equivalent) had gained footing as an idea. In it I found contempt, fear and malice. So for the most part, I learned to hate myself.
Like any good teenager, I would weave my story of manhood on the acquisition of status and popularity. A clean break from the past. Hence in my attempt, I had chosen as one of my principal acquisitions a girlfriend befitting my second coming out. However, I must caution that these acts in themselves do not lend to that often misrepresentation of gay life; reducing it to merely a chosen fad or a passing phase. My choices for all their error were informed by my fear, prejudice and coming to terms with myself.
The series of girlfriends were different, enticing and, for a period, played their role. Unfortunately they did not last or fully provide the reprieve. By my third year in high school, I was tormented, lonely and borderline suicidal. I had done such a good job running away from who I was that I had easily and conveniently shackled myself to suffering. Things needed to change and so began the process of acceptance, which as any LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer and Intersex) person will tell you, is not a refined process. There a lot of bumps along the way and a lifetime of negotiation. But for all its worth I am much happier in my own skin than I was in someone else’s.
As for my Christianity, it is a bit longer in time line, less tumultuous and more appropriate to those who cannot stomach my first story. It is not all about hymns and Sunday luncheons nor liturgical rites nestled in Catholic traditions and rumours. It does merit its own audience of flare although much on the spiritual side.
I was christened as a Catholic three months into my early life. What I can faithfully recall of my early Christian education consisted mostly of inconsistent church attendance, rote learning of the Bible and a plethora of motherly advice that was often sprinkled with Christian admonitions, exigencies and penalties when I was less than righteous. You know what I am talking about. The belt or smack down when thou fails to honour thy parent or even the more infamous one of “spare the rod spoil the child”. As such, for a better part of my childhood I was made clearly aware of two things: there was a rule to all Christian endeavours and hell was not an idea after death. It was an everyday experience manifested in ordinary living lest the child lose his way.
Therefore, without pretense or praise, I was a Christian. I read my Christian stories, told others about them and dutifully appeared in church every Sunday. For any child, your reality with religion is really merited by the social manifestations you come into contact with. Yes, the stories of Moses, Samson and Esther are awe-inspiring in the beginning but the more you begin to come into your own, the more differences you see. Good and Evil are no longer abstract constructs narrowed to Christ and the devil, they are real things lived through real people. And it was with this experience of living that I began to doubt. I saw my Christian neighbours burn a thief in their committal to mob justice. I saw the endless injustices of being set upon by bullies and alas, I felt my own inadequacy to truly merit Christian charity.
But doubt did not completely overwhelm me.
There were still good men and women out there doing great things, unpraised and unpaid. My mum was such a person. She had protected me from such bullies early on. As a confession, I was not always this ‘manly’ man that I am today. These traits have come from years of willful training and conformity. When I was younger, I was more effeminate. My gestures were often construed to be girly and, as any bully’s victim will tell you, they are a sure way of getting a beat down. In spite of this, my years on the crucible have made me into a solid man who can give as good as he can get.
So I am not entirely wronged by such experiences.
It was in high school that the concept of homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christianity was laid on thick. Every religion class, was a day in the life of why God hates gays and why we will all burn in hell. I now know why Pope Francis admonishes his constituents for being over-obsessed with homosexuals. The imagery was not nuanced. It was vivid and terrifying. Catholicism has had two millennia to develop a good system of indoctrination.
The challenge of course lay on the ideological aspects. The impressionable fideist had gained a bit of mental acuity on leaving childhood. So Leviticus 18:22 read and still reads like those other parts of the Bible that sanction slavery, misogyny and hate. Parts which I came to detest and completely disagree with. But as I had become radicalized in my position, so did I also question whether I could stomach Christianity or any other religion whose words and actions were often inconsistent. Whose so-called adherents were more tyrannical and vicious than their so-called opponents. I had firmly established myself as a heretic, at least in the eyes of my religious educator.
In spite of it, I still loved Christ. He was the only good hero who had not managed disappoint me even when I considered his Father to be bipolar. Could I really turn my hurt and injuries against God for making me the way I am, or in the least allowing such bigots to exist?
On leaving high school, I met other gay men and women who felt the same. They felt abandoned by their churches and ‘Christian’ families, injured by years of hate piled on and dismayed by the ever flirtation of religion with hypocrisy. They had taken a position of rebellion and hostility, and as such had fallen into the camps of agnosticism and atheism. The only irony is that a prayer would always leave their lips in their time of most need. So I stayed a while in the pleading zone of Christian and non-Christian. Diplomatically negotiating both spaces. Even for a time, I thought of testing the waters of other religions only to run back to my Christian roots. Atheism and its shade Agnosticism were never really palatable. My philosophy and intuition had bound me firmly to religion. To accept the former was to lose myself. So I stayed on.
Accordingly, I am a child of both worlds. Living in the moderate provinces that my feet are planted on and my heart and soul opened up to. Christianity and my gayness have become essential to my existence. The former a merit of my nurturing and the latter of my nature. Christ taught me virtue and the purpose of living. He gives me hope even when the world is a contradictory shell of His message.
At no one point did he condemn me, but openly invited me to his table. I know I am not perfect, I err in many things. I struggle each day to live a good and happy life. Nevertheless, I am contented in His love. And as for my gayness, it informs the world and myself who I am attracted to but not who I am. This is the sole reserve of my choices. I hope to someday meet that amazing partner, fall in love, raise a family and spend our yesteryears in each other’s company.
My patron Saint – Thomas More – dealt with his own tribulations towards the end and had this to say:
“More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed apostle Saint Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of Saint Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now twain holy saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends forever: so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation.”
*The name of the author has been changed to protect his identity.
To write is to give meaning to life. To live is to give meaning to existence. I endeavour to do both.
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