AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

I am a homosexual, mum
Binyavanga Wainaina | January 19th, 2014

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(A lost chapter from One Day I Will Write About This Place)

11 July, 2000.

This is not the right version of events.

Hey mum. I was putting my head on her shoulder, that last afternoon before she died. She was lying on her hospital bed. Kenyatta. Intensive Care. Critical Care. There. Because this time I will not be away in South Africa, fucking things up in that chaotic way of mine. I will arrive on time, and be there when she dies. My heart arrives on time. I am holding my dying mother’s hand. I am lifting her hand. Her hand will be swollen with diabetes. Her organs are failing. Hey mum. Ooooh. My mind sighs. My heart! I am whispering in her ear. She is awake, listening, soft calm loving, with my head right inside in her breathspace. She is so big – my mother, in this world, near the next world, each breath slow, but steady, as it should be. Inhale. She can carry everything. I will whisper, louder, in my minds-breath. To hers. She will listen, even if she doesn’t hear. Can she?

Mum. I will say. Muum? I will say. It grooves so easy, a breath, a noise out of my mouth, mixed up with her breath, and she exhales. My heart gasps sharp and now my mind screams, sharp, so so hurt so so angry.

“I have never thrown my heart at you mum. You have never asked me to.”

Only my mind says. This. Not my mouth. But surely the jerk of my breath and heart, there next to hers, has been registered? Is she letting me in?

Nobody, nobody, ever in my life has heard this. Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear.

“I am a homosexual, mum.”

July, 2000.

This is the right version of events.

I am living in South Africa, without having seen my mother for five years, even though she is sick, because I am afraid and ashamed, and because I will be thirty years old and possibly without a visa to return here if I leave. I am hurricaning to move my life so I can see her. But she is in Nakuru, collapsing, and they will be rushing her kidneys to Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi, where there will be a dialysis machine and a tropical storm of experts awaiting her.

Relatives will rush to see her and, organs will collapse, and machines will kick into action. I am rushing, winding up everything to leave South Africa. It will take two more days for me to leave, to fly out, when, in the morning of 11 July 2000, my uncle calls me to ask if I am sitting down.

“She’s gone, Ken.”

I will call my Auntie Grace in that family gathering nanosecond to find a way to cry urgently inside Baba, but they say he is crying and thundering and lightning in his 505 car around Nairobi because his wife is dead and nobody can find him for hours. Three days ago, he told me it was too late to come to see her. He told me to not risk losing my ability to return to South Africa by coming home for the funeral. I should not be travelling carelessly in that artist way of mine, without papers. Kenneth! He frowns on the phone. I cannot risk illegal deportation, he says, and losing everything. But it is my mother.

I am twenty nine. It is 11 July, 2000. I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five. I have never touched a man sexually. I have slept with three women in my life. One woman, successfully. Only once with her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was not able to.

It will take me five years after my mother’s death to find a man who will give me a massage and some brief, paid-for love. In Earl’s Court, London. And I will be freed, and tell my best friend, who will surprise me by understanding, without understanding. I will tell him what I did, but not tell him I am gay. I cannot say the word gay until I am thirty nine, four years after that brief massage encounter. Today, it is 18 January 2013, and I am forty three.

Anyway. It will not be a hurricane of diabetes that kills mum inside Kenyatta Hospital Critical Care, before I have taken four steps to get on a plane to sit by her side.

Somebody.

Nurse?

Will leave a small window open the night before she dies, in the July Kenyatta Hospital cold.

It is my birthday today. 18 January 2013. Two years ago, on 11 July 2011, my father had a massive stroke and was brain dead in minutes. Exactly eleven years to the day my mother died. His heart beat for four days, but there was nothing to tell him.

I am five years old.

He stood there, in overalls, awkward, his chest a railway track of sweaty bumps, and little hard beads of hair. Everything about him is smooth-slow. Bits of brown on a cracked tooth, that endless long smile. A good thing for me the slow way he moves, because I am transparent to people’s patterns, and can trip so easily and fall into snarls and fear with jerky people. A long easy smile, he lifts me in the air and swings. He smells of diesel, and the world of all other people’s movements has disappeared. I am away from everybody for the first time in my life, and it is glorious, and then it is a tunnel of fear. There are no creaks in him, like a tractor he will climb any hill, steadily. If he walks away, now, with me, I will go with him forever. I know if he puts me down my legs will not move again. I am so ashamed, I stop myself from clinging. I jump away from him and avoid him forever. For twentysomething years, I even hug men awkwardly.

There will be this feeling again. Stronger, firmer now. Aged maybe seven. 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. The feeling is not sexual. It is certain. It is overwhelming. It wants to make a home. It comes every few months like a bout of malaria and leaves me shaken for days, and confused for months. I do nothing about it.

I am five when I close my self into a vague happiness that asks for nothing much from anybody. Absent-minded. Sweet. I am grateful for all love. I give it more than I receive it, often. I can be selfish. I masturbate a lot, and never allow myself to crack and grow my heart. I touch no men. I read books. I love my dad so much, my heart is learning to stretch.

I am a homosexual.

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50 thoughts on “I am a homosexual, mum

  1. I salute you with deep respect Binyavanga. The great Somali poet, Warsan Shire instructs us that while “living like an open wound” can open you up to ridicule and make people uncomfortable around you… it is honest, allows fresh air to get to the wound and is ultimately healing! You are not hiding who you are. Speaking out, particularly about taboo vulnerabilities, is an old feminist method of empowerment and emancipation. Let’s all embrace it.

    • Beautifully stated. There is power in speaking out. And in embracing each story of empowerment and emancipation. Thank you.

  2. Ken its your old friend Chris from South Africa. I have read what is a very moving piece from you. Just remember what ever a persons sexuality it does not change the real person they are. You have always been and always will be a good person. I hope and trust you have found peace at last.You deserve it. Take care and continue to do the good work you do in this Universe.

  3. Thank you for your wonderful story. You write beautifully.

    I recall the sadness and terror I felt when I realized I was gay at fifteen. During that same year, my best friend killed himself. I somehow survived and decided to live, believing it would have to get better some day. That was 1969. I happened to be on Christopher Street later that same year, on the night of the Stonewall riots. I was a block to the west and saw the outcry and hubbub to the east. And so history was born.

    Fast forward forty-four years. I am now sixty, happily married to a wonderful man, together for 33 years, raising two kids (of African descent) in a loving community. The great majority of our friends are heterosexuals.

    In those forty some years, Americans have learned and listened, seeing that gay and lesbian people are their brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.

    The same story will unfold in Africa because people are intelligent everywhere and, over time, love triumphs over hate. But it takes big-hearted and beautiful souls like yours to shepherd this change forward.

    Thank you, for all mankind.

    • A question remains: do political ideology and tolerance go together or it is always just a rule of majority, however unjust? Since Pan-Africanism grew out of 19th century efforts to end slavery and the slave trade, the answer would see seem obvious but, apparently, I am wrong…

  4. You crack my heart and set hope free. Thank you for all who need to see and hear. I thank you as a mother and a friend, a sister and an aunt.

  5. Dear man, you have made me cry. And for every human you have just awakened to the fact they are not alone in their experience, their fear, I smile. You have planted a seed of reason, acceptance, respect, change …and surely you have saved lives. You have begun the ripple in the pond. You are beautiful.

  6. Thank you, Binyavanga Wainaina. You have wrote a beautiful and honest and real piece. You have opened a door. I appreciate reading this so much.
    With love, from Germany: Christiane Fluellen

  7. I Don’t Know Wat Drug Other Gays Will Take To Be That Bold, But I Know That Not Many Will Come Out As Bold As You. Personally, I Respect Human Rights N Gay Rights R Human Rights. LONG LIVE BINYAVANGA.

  8. I don’t see the need to ‘come out’. As asked- to satisfy who? Stay in your closet and keep doing your thing. We are soooooo keen on insisting that the world is developing and forgetting our morals in the spirit of development. Stay in your closet!!!! Keep it your secret and God’s- regardless of how good a read the type up.

  9. To be Gay or Not to be corrupt

    The trumpet has been blown, the ancestors are turning in their shrines, and all hibernating wild have broken their life saving rituals to attend this very important congregation. A life and death issues of importance it must be, I hear you say. Now, all present, proceed Mr. president. Oh one moment, is it your imminent relinquishing of your ‘god-given’ seat of power? Or the witnessing of the execution of one of your corrupt official? It must be a matter of public urgency that would surely guarantee our children’s future. Ok, what is it?

    Well…I am happy to announce that ‘fortunately’, it is none of those reasons as to why we have shaken grave stones to wake the dead and gather you away from your small matters of public duty. However, it is matter of personal interest that we gather here today to debate; ‘to be gay or not to be corrupt’. The later will most definitely concern many though not in the greater interest of the few-including me. However, gay-ism, is my ticket to steer this ship away from a collision course with accountability and true democracy. Hence, why I gathered you here to stupendously commit endless hours of tax payers money to help me in my mission to stay here, till-death-do-us-apart.

    It is perplexing how some African leaders just keep on creating more tunnels to escape their inevitable demise, clinging on to their dear non-existence dignity while spearing no effort to divert attention from their collapsing castle. In a land (oil producing) where children are dying due to the luck of a polio vaccination vaccine with an average cost of US$ 0.127 per dose, where corrupt government officials would squander millions from western aid (poverty eradication aid-more like poverty sustain-ace) and a presidency is for life; surely, talking of the private citizens persona private affairs are quite frankly not remotely in the public interest. At least not more so than real material challenges facing the African citizens that need urgent remedy. Talk of biting the hands that feed you; I would call this ‘stabbing the doctor in the front on the operating table while your guts are wide open. The doctor’s natural reaction is no brainer.

    African leaders have the tendency to accept an awkward baby seating arrangement from their western counterpart while they are fully well cable of self-care. And In the process, turning against their own to please their parasitic resource depleting self interest nannies. However, the sooner they can no longer provide the required ‘natural’ value for being baby sat; they are confronted with the glare of the discontent. And the hasty mention of change for a more valuable puppet the sooner they press the ‘self-state-destructive’ button. Mostly because the matter has become clear, sooner does he not only have to retire and pave way for a more lucrative horse for the enthusiastic bookies? But also the prospect of visiting the abattoirs looms. The natural reaction would be of the much talked ‘kick of the dying donkey’. The only strategy left here is to kick your own and cause a stampede in your own barn. Destruction strategies from the inevitable demise and at the same time appear, and heralded as a beacon of strength facing the invading foreign forces.

    Kicking those who are already down might only delay the inevitable sure, but creating draconian laws in order to bring this ship to anchor and executing those who are creating anarchy on board might be a better cause of action for the legacy of the dying horse than choosing to kick the vet. Africa needs barbaric laws to eradicate the most painful cancerous threat to the very existence of the dwellers of this continent. Though public execution, the lethal injection and life sentence might be a step too far given the potential for miss-use, nevertheless, might not be any different from passing barbaric laws against individual’s private acts that might have no bearing in the public state of affairs, while ignoring issues of national security (corruption and poverty). This appears to be strategic rather than a logical process. Even more illogical is the tendency of the general public to join-in in their enemy’s war songs marching towards their gallows. As an African, I have no interest (personally and economically) in what others engage-in behind closed doors, if at all they can find shelter to begin with. But my interest is with the normalization and the inflation price of the corruptions that creates the death of children in the under equipped maternity wards, the miss-education of the Africa children and the privatization of the public offices, and the complete ownership of the public offices by the individuals till death visits.

    If the tax payers money has to debate on this issues, the parliament spends its precious budget and time on this issues, the god-given rights to the state office are discussed, and relinquished, only then, people would have the mind, and the sanity to discuss what we do behind closed doors-if at all-is any of our business. http://ali-adam.tumblr.com/

    • Each century of human history is saturated with examples of how to get a support for ideologies through stirring and feeding the hate. Religion, race, tribe or anything else that can differentiate us, is used to fuel it. Such examples as Nazi Germany and recent Bosnia or Rwanda are usual proof that hate does wonders. As individuals, we always underestimate the power of self-corrupting mob mentality.

      An uncompromising constitutionalism (an independent monitoring and enforcing of the constitution) that is fully protecting each human right, is the only guarantee we have. Otherwise, each societal group is the potential target of any self-corrupting system.

      Anybody who claims that sexuality is not a human right is already guilty of playing the hate card. Consequently, religion- or race- or tribe-based rules (tribe includes also those who own the most and are buying the power over others) are nothing else than a self-serving evil that must be stopped by any means possible which do not violate rights of others.

  10. I was gonna call you moron, but I remembered that if we didn’t have people like you the world would be so boring. Almost as boring as Heaven, where we your ignoramus kind tells us that everyone will wear white night and day, singing songs in praise of men who’ve never been known to have wives but who swear homosexuality is the cardinal sin. Oh, wait, there won’t nights in Heaven. I hope you are not African or I’ll laugh at you for being a slave to a religion that has been used to keep our people down. Thank goodness most people in Africa have brains.

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