Even though I *should* know better (is this not the lament of now?), I have been reluctant to write about gender and sexuality, convinced that “the national” takes precedence. How does that happen? How do we convince ourselves that our most urgent questions should take a back seat while we wrestle with the “immediate” politics of the present? And, why is it that, quite often, it’s questions of gender and sexuality that are shunted to the side, as though they are not part of the national?
It is no secret that at moments of crises, nations are sutured (though not healed) by appeals to kinship values. The repeated incantation “we are all brothers and sisters” is chanted in what one of my languages calls uchawi (another language calls it the performative). We are encouraged to subordinate idiosyncratic passions to maintain the kinship-nation. Any acts or utterances that step outside prescribed lines are taken to demonstrate indifference toward the national cause. (I will confess, all this setting up is a delaying tactic.)
One of the most disturbing reports on the post-election violence claims that boys have been sodomized. It is often juxtaposed with the statement that women have been raped. Sodomy and rape can then be understood as similar acts of gendered violence. Simultaneously, sodomy, like rape, can be understood as an engendering act that both creates and reinforces gendered hierarchies: boys are lesser men, available for bodily humiliation.
Still treading warily: gender-based violence is violence no matter what form it takes. In no way should this reflection be read as an apologia for male rape.
What strikes me in thinking about this issue is how seldom the Kenyan press (mainstream and bloggers) and artists (musicians and writers) tackle the question of male homosexuality, of sodomy (and here, I must confess to a certain weariness with “good gay” people who “don’t do that”). I am especially concerned by the dearth of affirmative (“sodomy is good”) or neutral (“sodomy is okay”) reports, counter-narratives that would compete with and contextualize the current rapes.
Put otherwise: if the only accounts of sodomy we have come from prison and ethnic-based rapes, it becomes impossible to understand sodomy (a metonym for homosexuality) as benign, benevolent, pleasing, and pleasurable. It becomes impossible to campaign for homosexual rights when the acts associated with homosexuals are symbols of ethnic violence and national fragmentation.
Instead, as in the current situation, sodomy can only be understood within certain conceptual clusters. It is pedophilic, something men perform on boys. It depends on gendered notions of submission and violation. It violates the sanctity of the family—here, we cannot overlook the symbolic way incest is conjured. It breaks the contracts that bind communities.
Cumulatively, these narratives, whether spelled out or not, create a position for sodomy outside the national imagination. It defiles and violates the national.
To be clear, I am not conflating the rapes of boys and sodomy. Rather, I am interested in how such a conflation might happen (might be happening), and how sodomy might then come to occupy a degraded place in the national imagination. In those metonymic flights beloved by contemporary cultural politics, one who is for sodomy (as I am) might then be taken to sanction pedophilia, ethnic violence, and national fragmentation.
I would like to arrest this metonymic flight.