If you could live a thousand years as yourself, never having to worry about looking over your shoulder, hiding or being found out, what would that be like for you? If you lived a thousand years always looking over your shoulder, doubting and worrying about what you say, how you say it, trying to remember what you said last time or the next, what would that be like for you?
By the time I finished university in 1997 I was certain of 2 things; that I was definitely coming back home to Kenya to live and that I was gay. I actually knew I was gay much earlier and had redesigned my life to fit into a life I knew for certain would be hard, difficult and secretive. But something was to change when I got home, and I never would have thought home, Kenya, would be where I would make my peace, be myself as a gay man. I always thought it would be in the ‘west’ where I would be comfortable and ‘at home’ and proud of myself.
To understand the irony of it all would be to first take a snap shot of my years in Coventry University. I went there as an eager eyed 23-year-old young man. The most I had travelled abroad by that time was to visit my sister a year or so before when she was also in the UK in Manchester. This time I was on a flight alone, heading off to university. I had this picture in my head that it would be great I would explore the world and myself and find some identity or to be honest some great skills for how I would survive as a gay man when I got home. Then there was the hopeless romantic in me who always thinks, even today, that prince charming is coming to sweep me off my feet. So there I am 23, gay and scared within an inch of my life about what it is to be gay in Europe, how to get into a relationship, how they work blah blah blah…. round and round and round. However, I had this idea that somehow I would find the answers while in university.
How it went was completely not how I thought or would have imagined. And to date it is one of my few regrets. I remember at fresher’s week standing at the Afro-Caribbean societies both signing up with some Kenyan and Ugandan friends and directly opposite was the LGBTI stand and wanting so badly to simply take the 2 steps over and signing up or even talking to the guys and gals there and not moving. Only looking at them from the corner of my eye, in the background I heard my friends and other Afro-Caribbeans’ at the stand making comments, not rude or anything but along the lines of its un-African, what kind of lifestyle is that, it’s a white thing… And I was frozen in time. Not to cross that line for the next 4 years. I spent the time hanging out with people who fathered illegitimate children, went onto welfare illegally and looking back, made no difference in my life; I never spoke to any of them since I graduated. By the time I was graduating I can say I was pretty much at the same spot as the 23-year-old who walked off the plane 4 years earlier. Wishing, wanting, hoping for someday maybe something would happen.
When I got back to Kenya, one of the first groups of friends I met was an old family friend. A family party for people I had not seen in 4-6 years, however at this party was this guy who would be my first truly madly deeply crush, with his boyfriend. And strange as it may seem that party really created for my being proud of whom I am and there being nothing wrong with me. At this party, this guy and his boyfriend were absolutely amazing, gung ho kinda guys, truck driving safari going, car fixing, you could say über butch guys who were normal happy and out. My friends parents and a lot of the other people who were there that day that I spoke to were all no problem and clear, albeit, in the unsaid, all clear I was gay and I was home and there was nothing wrong. There are times you look back and thank the gods, the stars and spirits for being at the right place at the right time. At that party I made friends who to this day and all that’s happened in between, life, births, deaths, have been true to our love and friendship. The guy I had a massive crush on made me godfather to his son. In that first year of knowing them and hanging out with them, I found myself.
When I was turning 30 years old, I was at another crossroad, and I had spoken to my friends about coming out for a while and knew that if anything went wrong I had a place to go to, a place to live. I was now burdened with living a double extreme life; happy, gay and open to my friends and closed, closeted and heavy with my family. I knew it was a matter of time before something broke. I had in January 2004 taken a personal training and development course and I knew the tipping point was now. At the course I got that I was the master of my own ship, commander of my vessel… And how the rest of my life went was up to me.
October 8th, 8am 2004 I came out to my parents. There was no drama from them, it took about 10 minutes and what they said was I was their son, they loved me, what mattered was my health, savings, and that I was happy. My siblings on the other hand had a minor dramatic episode the day before trying to get me to wait to tell the parents for a while longer. And we moved on from that and I told them.
The heart of this blog really comes down to this next part. After I told my parents, I was clear; there were no more lies, gaps or distance between us. That does not mean we talk about it all the time, it does not mean the very next day I brought a boyfriend home, but what it meant was that at any time, I was now proud of myself and having taken the 2 steps I never did in university, and that however it went with my family, I would know myself as a proud man who created a space or honesty with my family.
It has not always been easy with my parents, or for them, African culture and taboo still dominates a lot of background conversations. How they deal with it is my dad will ask my mother questions, she in turn will find a way to ask me and then report back to him – lol – it’s a communication channel we have come to love and use. Recently my mother asked if I had any special friend and I said no. We then talked about the ‘Bahati Bill’ in Uganda, and the fact that my father was worried for me about that and if that would happen here, would I be safe. These brief and rare moments we have are what I want to honor this month; Being proud that we dare to be ourselves when there is no agreement around us. We are the few, the brave, the bold people, that get up every day, proud, ourselves, and a brotherhood/sisterhood of fellowship love and honor.
How to end this now, so am turning 40 at the end of this year. And in the words of Oprah, ‘this much I know to be true’, I am who I am. Kenyan, Proud and Gay. I make no apologies for being gay and I know that sometimes this comes across to people struggling with finding their bliss as arrogant, standoffish or distant. I have learnt to tame the arrogance I used to have after I came out, and to embrace the support and fellowship I can offer others on the same journey. This is it. Make the difference in your life or for another, Gay it forward…..
Copyright © 2011 Ng’ethe Githinji. All rights reserved.