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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54 thoughts on “I am a homosexual, mum

  1. Forgive me for presuming to say that I think your mum and your dad would be very proud of you.
    May you find love in the same abundance as the inspiration and connection your writing provides for so many people.

  2. This was a great read.. I actually had to settle into reading it.. warming porridge, dicing, tomatoes into chilli n salt.. – coz i knew this was going to be a great read.. you always do that.. when you put pen to paper/ finger on keyboard..
    BUT what a read! (what a come out) What a really good read!
    Amen to your journey, may you enjoy fulfillment, peace, freedom and love way more than we usually find.
    P.S These hidden chapters!.. anymore..?! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing yourself, and for allowing other Africans the opportunity to come out. You courage is one step closer to assuring that the rights of LGBT Africans are honored. So proud to see you live authentically.

  4. You’ve always inspired me, sir, but after this one, you’ve become a living saint in my world. I have written and spoken a lot in defense of LGBT rights. I’m not gay. I’m human. But most importantly, I’m an African who — like many — grew up in harmony with kids we suspect were homosexual. The worst form of hate we ever showed them was saying no to sleepovers. In the playground they were our peers. That is African. What is unAfrican are these hateful laws being sponsored by right-wing religious bullshit.

    http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=53eadd07acc3fd4a14f9fd541adcd58d

  5. Judging from the responses of most people here, it is clear that they are quite impressed by the apparent courage it must have taken for Wainaina to, uuuumm, do I say “…… come clean”???

    It would seem like the public admission that one is gay is the ultimate act of fully coming to terms with the fact that one is “plagued” with this “abnormality”.

    If this is so, it explains why this particular admission by Binyavanga has attracted accolades and lots of “best wishes” from those who empathize and/or sympathize with his peculiarity.

    I now find myself wondering; there are other people who feel that they are equally “odd”. Could they be passing up a real opportunity to feel better about themselves and even be praised, understood and encouraged by others because of “staying in the closet”?

    There are those who have chosen “sex with themselves” and other inanimate objects a.k.a. “masturbation” as a lifestyle.
    Should they call a family meeting and announce that they are “masturbationists”?
    [They are so weird that there is no proper English noun existing that refers to them]

    What of those who are into bestiality, (goats/chicken/cows/their pet dogs e.t.c)?
    Should they also come out of the closet so that ordinary people and parliamentarians debate/discuss/encourage or discourage their sexual orientation?

    How can I forget others who have chosen never to have sex at all?
    Those who have opted for a rather odd, yes, even extra-ordinary lifestyle?
    A celibate lifestyle.
    Should those in that closet also call a press conference and announce it?

    Maybe it is about time I try and come out – (albeit partially and anonymously) – and say that even me, I am a weirdo – sexually.

    I am a heterosexual married monogamist.
    I have been enjoying and tolerating, in more or less equal measure, not very regular sex with my spouse of more than one a half decades – ONLY.
    Is this not considered strange sexual behavior in today’s world?
    Doesn’t my sexual behavior as a one half of a married couple qualify me for the “weird” group?

    Far too many spouses who have been together for long are barely having sex – WITH EACH OTHER. Barely.
    Some are not having sex at all – With each other.
    Others are not having sex at all – not with each other, not with other people, not with things and not with animals.
    How is that for extra-weird?

    Is there anybody out there who will show me some love for this public admission of my weird sexual choices?

    I mean, it is embarrassing to admit even to myself that I am not getting some as often as I imagine others in my position are getting despite having satisfied all “religious”, “legal” and “social” requirements that warrant me to get some on the regular.
    Even more embarrassing is the admission that most times I get it; I don’t really enjoy it – at least to begin with.
    I don’t even think about initiating it these days because I hardly miss it.
    Who can believe that our children have been sleeping in our marital bed while we sleep on two different seats in our living room?
    That has been going on for like 28 out of 30/31 days in a month for the last 3 months or thereabout.

    It is so weird that I would never tell anybody who would half way recognize me.
    Oh, wait a minute – I have told one friend who thinks I am taking far too much for granted in my marriage. My friend really encouraged me to stop “joking around with my marriage.”

    There are times I miss making love and think that maybe I should hustle for some.
    Then something ……. anything, happens.
    My spouse is asleep, the kids are awake in the living room, the kids are asleep on our bed, I am tired, my spouse annoys me [my spouse happens to be a very annoying person], a guest comes, a friend calls and we speak for too long – eventually, the low libido goes to below zero.

    Do we love each other? Yes we do.
    Do we like each other? Not particularly, especially nowadays.

    What is killing the passion? There is a lot of apathy.
    No one is really intentional about tending to the marital relationship.
    None of us seems to be really bothered about rekindling passion and connectedness.
    I used to try a lot harder to keep the fire burning a while ago.
    However, my spouse, who is basically a good person is most definitely not the lovey – dovey type.
    I felt that that my efforts did not mean much to them given that they seemed so caught up in the rat race that their life was seriously out of balance – as far as I was concerned.

    I found myself getting repeatedly frustrated, hurt and angry and eventually I just stopped trying.
    I found more peace in resigning myself to a “low-passion” marriage.
    You know how you say, “whar-ever” and throw your hands?
    Now we are just moving on from day to day mostly concerned and stressed out by the pressures and cares of modern day living vis-à-vis unmet personal and family goals.

    Do we have a bitter conflict touching on fundamentals – infidelity, domestic violence, irresponsible parenting, alcoholism, serious financial impropriety, personality disorders, religious fanaticism, witchcraft, devil worshiping and the like? NO.

    In my understanding, it is nothing beyond the ordinary trifles of any marriage between two strong headed people.
    My only growing concern is that our quarrels have increased significantly especially since we both shifted base from the bed to the living room.
    Could the lack of sexual intimacy be responsible for the increased misunderstandings or are the increased misunderstandings responsible for the drastically decreased sexual activity?
    Who knows?
    Who cares?
    Yeah – that’s how bad it is getting.

    Deep within me I know that something’s gotta give and it better be sooner rather than later otherwise, the sexual monogamy of one or even both of us may be a thing of the past.
    Is my spouse getting some elsewhere? I think I would know or have a nagging suspicion if they were.
    I do not suspect as yet although I know that it is a real possibility if nothing changes.
    I am not getting any and have not even toyed with the idea.
    I doubt I would allow myself to go down that road.
    My conscience and my spiritual convictions would not allow me without putting up a serious fight.

    Can someone please recognize me for sharing this very personal piece of information – albeit anonymously?
    Hey, how about I call a family meeting and tell them how weird my sex life is?
    What if call a press conference and announce it?
    With proper positioning, I am sure some media house would be interested in featuring me bearing out the gory details of my sex life – or lack of it. I might even make the prime time news. I dream…..
    How about I ditch the anonymity that this part of the World Wide Web affords me and come clean to all and sundry about the oddity of my sex life?
    I am certain that there are people out there in cyber space who just out of curiosity would not mind knowing more about the person behind this story.

    It is not my intention to make light of Wainaina’s “issues” as highlighted to the public herein.

    I am just wondering;
    Who really needs to know that Wainaina is just another weirdo – courtesy of his sexual preferences?

    Let me ask that again s-l-o-w-l-y:
    WHO —– REALLY —– NEEDS —– TO —– KNOW that Binyavanga is just another weirdo?

    Other questions one might ask are;
    WHO —– REALLY —– WANTS —– TO —– KNOW that Binyavanga is just another weirdo?
    WHO —– EVEN —– WANTS —– TO —– KNOW that Binyavanga is just another weirdo?
    WHO —– REALLY —– CARES that Binyavanga is just another weirdo?
    WHO —– IS —– REALLY —– BOTHERED that Binyavanga is just another weirdo?

    I suggest that these questions are serious and all “weirdos” and “wackos” intending to come out clean should consider them carefully especially as they plan on their “coming out” options.

    Why do I say this?
    Because, being a weirdo is not an absolute. It is relative.
    Anyone who sees things from a radically different perspective than your own will most likely be a weirdo at best, or a complete wacko in your eyes.

    Every human being makes it to someone’s “weirdo” list and someone else’s “wacko” list.

    Granted, Wainaina is a weirdo in my eyes – actually, more of a wacko.

    But what I find most weird is that he finds it necessary to tell Kenyans and the world that he finds himself more inclined to those of his own gender for romantic liaisons.

    WHY IS HE TELLING THE WORLD?
    That is what I find most intriguing.

    Is it for therapeutic reasons?
    Is it empathy that he desires?
    Is it catharsis through self-revelation he seeks?

    Is it information he is giving us just for information’s sake?
    Could it be just an academic exercise for him? He just wants to see how people will respond.
    Could it be just another story he is telling? He is a writer after-all.

    Could it be that he really wants to contribute to societal development through creating a deeper awareness of a situation/condition/preference that the vast majority consider rather odd?

    If something disturbed me so deeply that it took me 39 years to admit to myself something I’ve felt since I was 5 years of age, I would most probably look for someone to confide in and explore the issue with.
    I would do this first before I embark on exploring it with the world – those who would be bothered anyway.
    I would take up the issue with someone I love and/or trust.
    Someone like a sibling maybe;
    A best friend,
    A lover,
    A spouse,
    A priest,
    A counselor,
    A therapist,
    A psychiatrist,
    A customer care rep at the other end of a toll-free line e.g. Safaricom’s number 100 for their pre-paid customers [bad joke]?

    That’s how I would do it, if I were him.
    I am not prescribing the standard procedure for coming of out of the closet.
    I recognize that it is my modus operandi that makes me think that Binyavanga’s public admission that he is gay is as strange as his sexual orientation.

    It is a well known fact that there is the thing, and then their is the thing behind the thing.

    What is it that is really driving Binyavanga Wainaina’s public admission?

    That is the next lost chapter I wish he would write as brilliantly as he usually does.

    I believe that allowing the world a peek into his innermost thoughts and motivations in so far as this revelation is concerned would evoke the interest of psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, journalists, gossipers, curious onlookers and a host of other audiences

    Over to you, Mr Wainaina ……..

    Now that you have told us the what, how about you tell us more about the why and maybe leave the how to our imagination.

    • If you remove your head from inside your ass and look around Africa you realize that some African countries are legistrating laws which which will criminize being a “weirdo”. I guess wain ama’s love is writing and he chose to come clean through that, and he couldnt have done it any better. Now, take your weirdo head back in your ass loser and let others be!

      • I understand your anger, really I do. Wainaina is making history, bringing us forward, its time Africa started acknowledging that homosexuality is so real and not dirty or evil.

    • I’ve left long comments in response to articles and blogs before, but generally they were about complex philosophical, scientific, or legal issues.

      Writing so much just to attack a person, and make it about you? It doesn’t make sense.

      A person’s sexual orientation (hetero-, homo-, bisexual, asexual) is not an abnormality. It has nothing to do with a person’s ability to function, work, raise children, or love. It is simply part of normal human variation.

      An orientation is an attraction, and an identity. It is associated with behavior, but is not solely behavior. We encourage people to come out about their sexual orientation, where it is reasonably safe to do so, because when they do they are more productive, have stronger relationships to family, and are happier with their life. There’s no reason for them to live with the stress of keeping this secret, which harms nobody else to learn. We encourage the brave to come out where it is less safe, because their honesty and existence force their lying opponents to admit that they are not any weirder than anyone else, except for the hardships specially targeted at them.

      Wainaina is not “just another” anything. He has taken a stand in an environment where he may be at risk now, even if he avoids sex with other men. His action is of a kind which can perhaps prevent bad laws from being written.

      Nobody cares about your “weird” lifestyle, because it is legally, religiously, and socially privileged.

      It takes two people to make a marriage work, but only one to cause it to fail. While your marriage may have some outward appearance of success, it is clear to me that it has failed. I believe you and your spouse have an obligation to find a third party to attempt to repair your marriage, and to genuinely work to improve it for the both of you. You chose each other to become family (I assume it was not arranged) and that shouldn’t be disregarded casually. It is up to the two of you to define what the acceptable options are, which may include sex outside of the marriage. But if it does not work, you should take advantage of whatever laws you have available to (divorce and) remarry. There is no point in suffering nobly. You get one shot at life. Be with someone who wants to be with you.

    • Geez, you need help. I think more from yourself than anyone. Do you even follow up on current events, nations are criminalizing the kind of love that LGBT enjoy. I bet you if the Kenyan government passed a law saying you can’t enjoy a relationship with your wife and limit sex to one day a year…. Everyone will be on the streets protesting. So even criminalizing homosexuality is denying a people basic human rights. So if people have to ‘come out’ and protect their rights, then let it be. Even MLK matched up and down the south so black people could be free. I suggest that if you can’t comprehend what’s going on around the world, go back to your oblivious world and stay there. People like you are an embarrassment to Kenya.

  6. Great courage Binyavanga Wainaina! Life unfolds its mysteries when we open our souls. Roads rise to meet us and hope springs anew. Great read my friend!

  7. Seems it is confession time,and i want to confess that,i have this strong urge to ask anybody who cares to answer me,whether for a man to regard himself as gay ,he experiences a serious urge to sodomise or to be sodomised as the case may be,obviously depending on whether ” He is The man or Woman” in the relationship. The other thing i find disconcerting,is the claim that,2 men who considers themselves as a married couple would adopt a child,as i hear they are doing,without considering the repercussions,and especially the psycological damage,they will have caused to such a child later in life,when he or she confronts the bare facts,and especially if such a child ends up being straight!!.What right do these weirdos have to corrupt children,who can not have a say in all these weirdo sagas?

  8. I don’t believe this, there cannot be only positive comments about this, unless someone is busy deleting things here. Please let people condemn and praise you for your act

  9. The story, I definitely enjoyed, and the telling, albeit the confusing time travel, left me in awe of this man’s craftmanship.

    What I really couldnt get, at the end of the story, is the author’s position. Should people who find themselves effeminate (physically or emotionally) or just plain gay remain mum/secret about it…never tell anyone, just masturbate your penis to extinction..and is he of the view that people are born gay or not.

    I swear, this is a fine piece. Wallahi!

    Now, this should not be taken an anti-gay comment, I have made my opinion on this matter known severally.

  10. This is such a brave and honest piece. And I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you for trusting us with your truth. Curiously enough I was born on the same date as you. Happy (belated) 43rd Birthday!! Keep living and keep writing!

  11. I would also have thought this is a non- articale if nobody actually cared about those “weirdos” (others’ words, personally i have no prob with gay people) but actually countries that a reeking like dead fish with corruption, murders, land grabbing, oppression, etc spent there life trying to come up with the harshest laws possible against what is otherwise a consented act between two people that is harming nobody else!

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