Over the past ten years, my home church (close to home; I no longer attend; were I to enter I might burst into flames—yes, it’s a bad pun) has produced a crop of Unwed Mothers (UM), Pregnant We Wed couples (PWW), and Ecstatic Grandmothers (EG).
We have been happily fornicating.
(This explains why my own sexploits elicit yawns. Been there, done that, though maybe not in that position.)
We belong to the generation that embraced all night prayers at select city churches. One hears of other embraces that took place. And clearly other kinds of embraces were and are still taking place.
We are a lusty people.
I offer this not as evidence of hypocrisy—accusations of hypocrisy accomplish nothing—and more as a way to think about Kenyan sexuality as diverse and healthy and pulsating. I offer this to oppose (in debate speak) the silly idea that Kenyans are conservative, a claim used to justify gender oppression and to promote gender normativity.
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In part, I might be mapping here the distinction between the painful earnestness of my youth church—where vice was a word in the King James with some relation to Moi, Kibaki, and Saitoti—and the church of my adulthood, in which, like Jesus’s followers, we are UM, PWW, EG, and otherwise vice-ridden.
If we are to understand gender and sexuality in Kenya, we cannot get away from the church, and to understand the church as primarily oppressive seems short-sighted, for what is said in the pulpit often has little relation to how members of the church live and act.
This means that what might be termed “religious discourse” in Kenya, what is enabled by the institution of the church, the discourse communities that form in unexpected ways in and around the church in Kenya, we need to think about these in unusual ways.
We need to think about religious discourse as more than what is said from the pulpit, more than what is shared in moments of confession, more than what is “right,” more, simply more.
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I like the idea of Kenyans as happy fornicators.
We negotiate religion in incredibly bodily ways, understanding it as a site of pleasure, as the domain of ecstasy. We understand that bodily pleasure is a gift. We understand, as many of the first African converts did, that to touch and be touched should never be cause for shame.
Despite over a century of Christian teaching, we are yet to learn how to be appropriately shame-filled. This makes me happy.
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I am not an ethnographer. I have not the eye, the ear, or the mind to capture what is. And the Nairobi I describe—I have yet to leave the city—this Nairobi is suffused with my desires, laden with meanings I create and impose.
This act of creative reconstruction (to borrow a lovely phrase from George Hutchinson) lies at the heart of what it means to imagine and re-imagine one’s present, to inhabit now as one who shapes, who sees anew, who envisions possibilities.
To think of this diary in this particular way is to acknowledge the kind of public work, the sotto-voce ambitions it and I harbor. And it is to think of what it means to have semi-public writing.
It is also to re-think embedding and re-embedding as practices, ways of living, feeling, being, acting, being acted on, re-acting.
I have to keep reminding myself that one hyphenates re-turn.