We sometimes joke that often when we’re online the only other person who’s consistently awake and on Twitter (no matter where he is in the world) is Binyavanga Wainaina. It’s like, if you blink, you miss out on some pronouncement by him. Though he has been an active social media user for a while now, it was after he came out on January 18th, that he has gone into overdrive. And you can’t look away. No one else we know, talking about Africans and their relations to the West (not on Western terms), is in such blistering form right now. Take Sunday night when–from a hotel balcony in Dakar; he was in town to give a lecture–he just went in
Binyavanga Wainaina’s coming out last week was seen as a ‘bombshell’ by a wide range of media, including the New York Times, and Kenya’s Daily Nation. Certainly it was cheered by many, both publicly and privately, as courageous and timely. The question is: Will it inspire other prominent Africans to also come out of the closet? While Binyavanga’s welcome bombshell may change some attitudes, it won’t change enough. We will need many more prominent Africans to come out of the closet if we really want to see assumptions and prejudices of the homophobic majority start to shift and shatter.
How does one come out when a global audience believes it knows the terrain of one’s life story—all the fissures and intimacies that there are to know—already? How does one tell of that thing which one held close—and tell it in a whisper to one’s mum, to one’s Baba—while letting go of that tight-fisted secrecy into the air for others to breathe in and take away as if it were theirs to own and consume? Here, on the Internet, a world will imagine that this whisper is an invitation to bring cars around the back to the back of the house, where carefully tended thickets camouflage things one did not, in fact, know how to reveal to the most beloved figures in one’s life. It will not be obvious to many that the thicket is still one’s own, that one simply said what should have been just known, not asked about, or inquired into with prurient inquisitiveness.
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.”