Desire seems easier here, less bedeviled by the economics of racial scarcity, the necessary embedding into others’ histories, the endless complications of place and race. I am less inclined to think every black man beautiful because we exist in the same space, less apt to question the simple—or simpler—inhale/exhale of pleasure.
I try not to romanticize what I have watched others experience, though this might also be a fantasy.
A certain hyper-consciousness attends my experiences of desire there, where looking across nation means looking across histories, trying to forge some kind of bridging narrative. It has been simpler to be an anonymous body, to use a “real fake” name, to negotiate or avoid what might be termed cultural closets. To find comfort with silent bodies, foreigners like myself. I can write this now.
It is not that I wanted or needed a story about Kamau and Njoroge, a suitable paradigm of ethno-desire. I remain glad that the peculiar economics of raced desire occupy the borderlands, or, in Lorde’s terms, always require us to chart new courses. And while I had realized I was seasick, I had paid little attention to the peculiar tides of there, my inability to ride them.
Again, one attempts to negotiate: to experience desire where there is no room for it, but where one can breathe, or to experience desire where there is no room for one within the institutions of desire.
True, I avoid pronouns and have stopped correcting those around me, but I also have no stories to tell about desire there, loving there, sex there. I could go on about what I find impossible, but I find it easier to breathe, simply breathe.
To describe this ease as the distance between here and there seems unfortunate, as though I really do believe in that hereness and thereness, but it’s difficult to find a language that can map the affective geographies created by distance. I have never been good at reading maps. And feeling my way through geography often leaves me lost.
I continue to marvel at what can be taken for granted: the accents are familiar, the bodies remarkable in their knowability, diversity so intricate that one is constantly surprised. I understand, in part, why my prose has been dominated by metaphors of fabrication: weaving, braiding, welding.
One might claim a jua kali approach to knowledge, to knowing the world, thinking its possibilities. I’m yet to understand this.
It is dangerous to imagine I feel what I have seen others, in their hometowns, their own countries, their familiar skins, feel, what some would term privilege. It is dangerous to imagine there is a homeness, a homeliness, a being-at-home that attends national queerness, national desire. It is dangerous to forget the fragile, beautiful, vulnerable lives and bodies over there that have changed my own life’s directions, goals, ambitions, means of apprehending the world, that have created new sensations, produced new calluses, new scars, and so much new joys.
And it is not forgetting that I allow myself.
It is more that here, as there, and perhaps more than there, queer will not register as knowable, as a title that readily substitutes for gay. That here, unlike there, black queer Kenyan is not so readily appropriated into “that’s a Chicago thing” or an academic posture or simply a fancier, pretentious way of saying “black gay.”
Were I to use it here, and I do, it would have no meaning, no social life beyond my utterance of it, and this, what I once thought of as exclusion and repression, offers, instead, fresh room to breathe, to be.
I am constantly asking myself what queer means here, where the homes and churches are filled with single mothers, cheating considered a national pastime, inter-generational sex an open, if disreputable, secret, where respectable church women urge their unmarried daughters to reproduce because “that’s why grandmothers exist.”
No or little shame attaches to sex, despite what newspapers claim about Kenyans being conservative. And in important ways, what I bastardize as Foucauldian narratives—never meant for here anyway—need important modifications.
* * *
Hetero-sex proliferates, and it’s difficult to assign the terms normal or normative, which change across generational, geographical, class, and ethnic lines. I have to remind myself that heteronormativity is a narrative-making, an embedding within conversations, on employment forms, the requirement that one declare one’s status on a resume, that employers can demand one be single or married—it is a story of labor and gender discrimination. This is not new here, but daily I see ads that should be illegal.
* * *
I have been having problems with this post, unsure of how to map what must remain ambivalent about desire, aware that the affective difference in this old-new geography is as much invented as it is real, wary of my Africanist tendencies.
It’s more honest to admit that I’m not recording “facts,” more feeling my way. That I don’t yet understand this performance of feeling, not yet sure what it tells, or betrays. I weigh the urgency of writing against that of thinking.