Sunday, 23 February 2014

Of Homosexuality, Binyavanga, Museveni and Obama…

So, the last few weeks have been filled with a lot of talk on gayism (no, it is not an actual English word). First it was Binyavanga Wainaina, the Kenyan writer who became probably the first public figure in the country to openly come out of the closet and declare his homosexuality.

"She thinks I like her. Syke!"

Then there was news from across the border in Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni first declined to sign into law a bill that would see gay people sent to prison for life. He has since changed his mind and decided to sign the bill, citing research from Ugandan scientists that shows homosexuality as “... not a disease but merely an abnormal behaviour which may be learned through experiences in life.” Okay.

"There, there, we'll take good care of you. You'll be just fine."

First, I want to talk about Binyavanga and this whole coming out business. Predictably, his action generated a lot of heat both in his support and... well, not in his support. Homosexuality as a subject tends to split people down the middle, both as a political and a moral issue. My opinion is pretty straight forward. I will never understand how a man could be sexually attracted to another man. I will never get it. However, I can see how a woman might find another woman sexually attractive. My logic is simple. I am heterosexual, therefore I find the female form to be a thing of beauty, and I say this with a great deal of respect to women. So yes, I totally get lesbianism.

"Yeah, we totally get it too!"

But why do we make such a big deal out of other people’s bedroom preferences? For example, why do we feel invested in whether Binyavanga sleeps with men or women? And why does Binyavanga feel the need to let the whole world know that he does not really like women that way? What is the value in “coming out”?

I understand why the gay community might feel discriminated against by society at large. They want equal rights as those enjoyed by non-gays. Moral arguments aside, fair enough. But is it really necessary for one to announce or declare their sexual orientation to the public? Why is it necessary to let the whole world know how you like your dessert served, and by that I mean how you like to have sex?

Every human being has a right to choose whom they want to have sex with and how, as long as it is consensual. I may not agree with the choices that some folks make. There may even be religious and moral arguments against those choices. Whatever. What I am concerned about is this need by homosexuals to “come out” and let everyone know what they get up to in the bedroom.

As a heterosexual, I have never found it necessary to announce that I like women. I have never had to. It is none of anyone’s business but mine and whoever I am involved with. Conversely, I really do not care what other people do behind closed doors. As a practising Christian, I know that I should probably be breathing fire every time homosexuality is mentioned, but honestly, I just cannot summon that righteous anger that might be expected of me.

I. Just. Don’t. Care.

I respect Binyavanga as an accomplished writer. He is a talented prose writer and I have enjoyed his works. And that is the extent to which I am familiar with him. I do not know him personally; therefore I have had no opinion on his sexual preference. Until now. Because of his public coming out, I will now know him as that homosexual writer, not in any derogatory way, but because that is how, by commission, he has chosen to cloak himself.

I have read some online comments by fans of his works. Some are supportive of him; others not so much. Some are actually offended by his homosexuality that they have decided that he must not be a very good writer after all. Which is a ridiculous premise of course, but there you are. You cannot argue with people’s stupid opinions.


But when a person in the public eye makes the decision to declare their sexual orientation, particularly if said orientation is not very acceptable, they must understand that the public will from that point on define them by their sexual preference. I find that to be unnecessarily distracting. For instance, right now we are not talking about Binyavanga The Writer; instead, we are speculating on what kind of sexual partner he is. Dominant or submissive? Who cares?

Incidentally, Binyavanga’s late mother was Ugandan (Binyavanga is a Ugandan name), and that country is currently in the middle of a storm that has attracted the attention of US President Barack Obama. Following the decision to sign the anti-gay bill by President Museveni, Obama has said that that decision “...could complicate Uganda’s relations with the US.”

Now, I find Uganda’s position on the whole gay question to be not only repressive, but an overreaction of titanic proportions. I understand how some people might find gayism disgusting and everything, but do you really want to jail for life folks who choose to rub their genitals against other similar genitals? Really?

Of course that decision by Museveni, as much as it sounds like he is doing what the larger Ugandan public wants him to do, could very well be a well calculated political move. It is said that the President really believes, just like he had earlier indicated, that homosexuality is a genetic disorder and that homosexuals need care and treatment and not jail time. Also, he is very alive to the fact that his country’s relationship with donors could be strained by harsh laws against the gay community.

When Uganda’s parliament passed that bill, Museveni’s hands were tied to the extent that he needs that same parliament to pass some crucial bills that are important to him. So he obviously needs the House’s goodwill, while at the same time not wanting to alienate the donor community. So what is a president to do?

Simple. Sign the anti-gay bill into law and keep the Members of Parliament happy while looking good among the country’s conservative right. Then get your people to go to court – of course no one knows they are your people – to contest the law. Wring your hands and tell the nation you tried to sort out the gay problem, but you could only do so much. The wazungus are glad that you are not really going to send gays to prison forever and everyone goes home happy. Problem solved!

Back to President Obama, as much as I disagree with the direction that Uganda is taking with the gay law, I cannot help feeling slightly insulted by the condescending manner in which the US administration deals with nations in the so called developing world. Just because homosexuality is slowly going mainstream in some parts of the US does not mean that other countries should follow suit.

I... I have no words, Time Magazine.

Obama is overtly pro gay, but it is wrong for him to try and impose his beliefs and opinions on other nations.  It is not a smart move to base your foreign policy on how other nations treat their gay population. That kind of rhetoric has the potential to backfire in interesting ways, especially with the Chinese looking to supplant the West in Africa. There are better and more diplomatic ways of expressing displeasure than subtly hinting at possible complications in bilateral relations.

Having said that, we must all agree that homosexuality has been around since time immemorial and it is highly unlikely that it will stop any time soon. Having punitive laws that open the door to sending gays to prison for life, or even executing them for not enjoying sex the way us “normal” folks do will not cure the gay out of homosexuals. It will only send the gay culture and lifestyle underground, not eradicate it.

Frankly, I am not even sure that we should be treating homosexuality as a problem. Come on, we are talking about people who have unconventional sexual taste, not poverty or famine or insecurity or any number of things that should be our focus especially in Kenya. I do not think we should give the gay community the recognition they want as a “minority” group because I think that is a load of crap. They are just people who have chosen a certain lifestyle and they should be able to live with its limitations.

However, we should not really be falling all over ourselves criminalizing the hell out of gayism. It is a complete waste of time and resources, and while it may give those amongst us that find it disgusting for people of the same gender to have sex with each other some measure of comfort that we are making the world safer for... for... um, I have no idea where I am going with this sentence.


Some of my readers complained about the use of cuss words in my last post. They will be glad to note that I have ably exercised restraint this time. Unfortunately, I cannot, in all honesty promise that I shall continue to behave myself.

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