Women in Love

We were two girls, one brown
one white. Loved
each other, from Kenya
to England. We held hands
on an East London street.
All hell broke loose.
—Shailja Patel, “Two Girls”

Frame One

A few weeks ago, two lesbian friends celebrated 25 years together.

Yesterday, on the metro, a young lesbian couple cuddled together.

Frame Two

At the African Literature Association conference, a speaker insisted that African women are meant to get married and to give birth within a heterosexual setting, and that is how they prove their worth. No one questioned the violent erasures of her statements.

Frame Three

Yet another email, yet another bashing in Kenya.

The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya in solidarity with Minority Women In Action are profoundly concerned about the increasing violence, discrimination and violation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, trans gendered, intersexes and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals rights in the country. We particularly vehemently condemn the unjust and unconstitutional acts occasioned against [a Kenyan lesbian] on the early morning of Saturday, April 18th, 2009 at Florida 1000, on Koinange Street.

[A Kenyan lesbian] was leaving Madd House on the said morning with a friend – (anonymous), when, as they were walking through the exit, a woman shouted out behind them “ma lesbians”…. [The Kenyan lesbian] didn’t recognize the woman and they got into a verbal confrontation during which the woman hit her with her bag and went off to go back upstairs. [The Kenyan lesbian] and (anonymous) followed the woman, later identified to them as Constance Sirikwa Rukia, and saw her being hidden in the changing rooms by the bouncers.

[The Kenyan lesbian] went to ask the bouncers why they were hiding the woman when they should be kicking her out for disturbing them. The bouncers held each of [The Kenyan lesbian’s] hands and attempted to throw her out. Upon seeing that [The Kenyan lesbian] was being held by the bouncers, the woman then hit [The Kenyan lesbian] on the head with a bottle that she’d been holding and she fell down, bleeding heavily.

The bouncers then attempted to get the woman to escape in a taxi but were unable to get away due to the interventions of (anonymous), patrons of the establishment and some taxi drivers. [The Kenyan lesbian] was driven to Central police station with Constance and the two bouncers, with (anonymous) following them behind. She remembers the woman saying in the taxi “you’re still a fucking lesbian and there’s nowhere you’ll take me”.

Upon arrival at the police station, the woman was taken inside and (anonymous) was told to rush [The Kenyan lesbian] to hospital as she was still bleeding heavily. They left the two bouncers talking with police officers. [The Kenyan lesbian] was admitted in Nairobi Hospital and had surgery yesterday morning to get stitches on her forehead.

Frame Four

Shortly after watching the horrible video of an old man roasting because he was accused of witchcraft, I saw horrible photographs of the lesbian’s face and head—evidence of bashing. Those who have read know that lesbians have often been accused of being witches, and suffered the punishment for it: burning.

There is no distinction between the young, angry man who kept hitting the old, roasting man and Constance Sirikwa Rukia, who believes it’s her right and duty to assault lesbians, and to inflict bodily harm. And there is no distinction between the villagers who watched that old man roast, and did nothing, and the bouncers who held the Kenyan lesbian’s arms as she was assaulted. No distinction at all.

I have been forced, here, to use “Kenyan lesbian” because we Kenyan queers are still too fragile, too vulnerable, and few of us can use our real names with limited repercussions. But I also use it to signal how very vulnerable all of us are: all it takes is one angry, hate-filled person, and we can be assaulted.

Pater Nostra has noted the cases of blackmail against gay men. And other friends have told me about assault against gay male sex workers.

Perhaps the most sickening aspect of all this: for each report, each deed told, countless others remain untold, invisible. I’m yet to see anyone write about the homeless queers, thrown out of home because of their desires. I’m yet to see anything appear in the local papers that is not reactionary or repressive or conservative. And nothing I write, no matter how eloquent, will find a place in our local media.

When we tried to place an ad for our anthology in the newspapers, the word “homosexual” was “accidentally” left out.

Break Frame

We held each other in the night
whispered stories
waited for daylight
two little Kenyans who dreamed
of a world
where girls, one brown, one white
could love each other un-
—Shailja Patel, “Two Girls”

Many years ago, when I still thought a future in Kenya was possible, I said no to a man who loved me. I said no to his dream that we could “visit Kenya together,” build a life on two continents, find a way to “make it work.” That no has continued to live with me, as has the anguish of having to utter it.

In the more than ten years since that first no, I continue to inhabit its impossibilities, impossibilities that have, paradoxically, enabled another kind of life for me. Yet not a life I can have in Kenya, and for that, I cannot forgive Kenya, nor can I have patience with the hate-mongers who threaten me and mine.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being angry and scared. I’m tired of receiving emails about yet another queer bashing, another queer death. I’m tired of getting yet more evidence that “people like me” have no value in and for Kenya. I’m tired.

I’m tired and I’m sad and I have no more rage left.

And as I think of that old man sitting in the fire, that old man who knows he has absolutely no value, I wonder about that absolute resignation, that complete loss of fight, and if this is what Kenya would do to me if I let it.

Africa kills her sun, and, right now, it feels as though the darkness is most thick over Kenya.

6 thoughts on “Women in Love

  1. While the overall meaning of this post makes me sad, I’m completely thrilled to discover the poetry of Shailja Patel. Thank you!

  2. Hmmmmm I guess Constance puts paid the belief that lesbian assaults are perpetrated solely by men…

  3. Again more sadness but I too am glad to have discovered this wonderful poem by Shailja

  4. I’m stubborn, and not quite tired enough to give up yet.
    Only, that’s easy for me to say, isn’t it?

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