When we asked literary sensation Binyavanga Wainaina last year why he had not married at 42, the winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing said he had not found reason to marry yet.
Then wading into the debate stirred by the selection of Witi Ihimaera’s The Whale Rider as set book in Kenyan secondary schools with some calling for its withdrawal because of the author’s well-known sexual orientation, Mr Wainaina quipped that denying reality only brings about madness.
“A child growing up in this country will meet a homosexual, but you can’t maintain purity by shutting out everything you don’t agree with. This is part of ancient madness,” he said.
But while the Nairobi grapevine has always been alive with muted talk of Kwani? founding editor’s sexual orientation, his confession on Sunday shocked the nation and sent the social media abuzz at a time when African nations such as Nigeria and Uganda are enacting controversial anti-gay laws.
“Nobody, nobody, ever in my life has heard this. I am a homosexual, mum,” he wrote in the confession subtitled ‘a lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place’.
He was confessing the missing link about his romantic relationships pointed out by Sunday Nation literary critic Evan Mwangi in a review of the childhood memoirs.
Binyavanga describes how some 13 years ago he failed to tell his mother on her deathbed about his homosexuality.
“Once with another slow easy golfer at Nakuru Golf Club, and I am shaking because he shook my hand. Then I am crying alone in the toilet because the repeat of this feeling has made me suddenly ripped apart and lonely…It comes every few months like a bout of malaria and leaves me shaken for days, and confused for months,” he wrote in the South African blog Chimurenga Chronic.
Yesterday, Binyavanga told Nation on phone that he was unfazed by all the talk following his revelation.
“I am not afraid to talk. In fact I am doing a documentary on it because this thing must be discussed. Kenyans should discuss it in all platforms but not before they hear the full story. I know you called me over this matter of coming out. I will talk but I don’t want the media to manage my story”.
He was expecting the film to come out last night.
Mixed reactions greeted the news as Kenyans continued to grapple with Binyavanga’s revelation.
While some bloggers called him brave, honest and liberating, others called for caution in a society which was yet to embrace same-sex relationships.
The Anglican Church in Kenya has been hostile to the liberal stand of the mother church in England.
Some were also miffed by the passion with which President Obama called for more tolerance to gay liaisons during his recent tour of Africa.
Binyavanga’s pronouncement on his 43rd birthday also appears to have been provoked by his latest experiences.
“Of course my friends knew, but I had been toying with how useful it would be to make a public statement for close to eight months,” he told GlobalPost, a US media company on Monday.
The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya on Tuesday welcomed Binyavanga’s move. “It shows there are many people in the professions who have not come out. It is a great achievement. Once a prominent person comes out, many will come out. It helps a lot,” said advocacy officer John Mathenge.
Another openly gay Kenyan is journalist Mwangi Githahu, who came out after moving to South Africa and marrying his his long-time partner, Jerome Forsyth.
UK-based Charles Ngengi and Daniel Chege caused a sensation when they married in 2009.
Additional reporting by Otiato Guguyu