Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in her book, Dust, states that silence is the third national language of Kenya. I couldn’t agree more.
Our silence speaks loud and clear and it has made us a passive aggressive nation. Many of our ‘ayes’ are really ‘nays’ because we don’t have the guts to speak what is in our hearts or on our minds.
Is it because we are afraid to offend or show our inability at doing a task? Why does the flat and empty ‘ndio’ roll so easily off our tongues?
DEBILITATING AND HEAVY
Silences are debilitating and heavy. They smother the soul. I lived in that world of silence for many years before I came out as gay.
From my pre-teen years all the way to my late 20s, I hid my sexuality. At one time I even hid it to from myself. I donned the cape of masculinity and strode out into the world like a man.
Whatever that means! Mwanaume ni kuvumulia, sio? But truth be told that kuvumulia in this case makes you do stupid things and forces you to build volumes of lies that are hard to keep up with.
Plus, there is also the paranoia of being discovered. It is difficult admitting and accepting that you are LGBTQI to yourself and then, to family and friends.
But the journey to self-discovery is not and will not be a walk in the park, more so in a society that awards conformity and has little tolerance for difference.
We live in a society where fiction is juicer than truth. I mean look at how much fake news on Covid-19 is being sambazwad during this period.
WE ARE HERE
Truth forces one to face reality. My being gay and that of other LGBTQI Kenyans is a reality that not many here in +254 are willing to accept. However, we are here.
We have always been here. At the dinner table, watching the news, Churchill Live or Maria. We have been stuck in traffic, participated in the census and succumbed to the Huduma number.
We have flown the flag at sporting events, kulad teargas and even have KRA PINS. Tuko na nyinyi. We have also been lied to by the honeyed tongues of our politicians.
We have been victims of political violence, police brutality, ferry disasters and terrorist attacks. I mean, even the locusts will eat our maize and live our stomachs empty too.
Tumedhulima, tumeugua na tumeomba pamoja. KANU was also our mama and baba once upon a regime.
Tumetoka mbali pamoja. We are also wearing face masks and hand-washing. We too are scared about what the future holds thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
CAPES OF CONFORMITY
Yet, in spite of this common reality, our existence is made invisible. We have been silenced or have silenced ourselves because we don’t want to shame our families, friends or even tribe.
So, we will wear our capes of conformity and be the women and men that are acceptable to the wider society.
We will marry people whom we don’t love or care about, so that you can take photos at weddings and tell tales of how you ate pilau and chicken at farcical weddings.
All that repressed love will be channelled to the children borne out of loveless bedrooms. Sex becomes a task that is scheduled like buying tokens for electricity.
Sunday bests will be worn alongside masks as we go to church or get-togethers to perform ‘happy families’. We will perform prayers for healing, and prosperity but not for peace for hearts in turmoil.
We will do this so that we can fit into your reality, a reality that even you struggle to understand.
THE EASIER OPTION
This might be the easier option, because coming out to our sexuality or true gender identify for us means exposing ourselves to the potential of violence, joblessness, homelessness, disinheritance and even death.
Silence for many LBGTQI Kenyans is the less shameful option.
Fortunately, there is a growing number of individuals who have opted to break the silence and advocate for the rights of LGBTQI Kenyans. May 17 was our day.
We take a moment to look into the mirror and face who we are. We celebrate our truth as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex individuals.
Furthermore, it is hoped that society too will face the fact that we are far from being a society that protects and embraces its sexual and gender minorities.
We are not a threat to the family, because we are already part of the family. We are husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, daughters, sons, cousins. We are you.
We live in this magical country alongside you. It is ours as much as it yours. Ni yetu pia. We are doing our part in making Kenya a safer country for those muted by the system and norms that oppress.
By speaking out against this silence and the many other silences that permeate this country, I hope that Kenya will one day, embrace the language of diversity, acceptance and uhuru.
Kevin Mwachiro is a Kilifi-based writer, journalist, podcaster and human rights defender.