Sodomy is always presumed guilty in Kenya.
Last year, we discovered that sodomy debauches prisoners and this year we are discovering that sodomy debauches young street children. That it has similar effects on what are presumably two unlike populations speaks to its power as a corrupting force. In both instances, the discourse on sodomy produces a certain kind of Kenyan.
It is worth dwelling, for a moment, on the comparison between prisoners and rehabilitated street children, the targets of sodomy, for both might be said to occupy similar positions in one kind of social imagination. They are, for better or worse, neglected and negligible populations, populations whose value lies in their invisibility. Nairobi prides itself on “clearing away” street children, for instance.
What does it mean that neglected and negligible populations must be defended against sodomy? What does it mean that marginalized populations, those that occupy the edge of the social must be defended against sodomy, in parliament no less? How might we read this securing of borders against invasion?
What happens to sodomy in the absence of any pro-sodomy discourse? Who will defend sodomy?
In his rich, and probably dated, glossary of prison terms, Maina wa Kĩnyattĩ offers the following definitions:
Mende/Mfiraji/Shoga/Nding’oing’o: All refer to those prisoners who sodomize other prisoners. “Mende” is probably the most popular and accepted name. A rich “mende” has a host of concubines. He feeds them, supplies them with cigarettes and provides them with security which is needed in prison. Those “mende”who are not rich rape other prisoners. Literally, “mende” means a cockroach and “nding’oing’o”means a beetle which feeds on human excrement. “Mfiraji” or “shoga” means a faggot or homosexual.
Kumkula/Kũmũrĩa: Means to sodomize another prisoner. Literally, “kula” or “kũrĩa” means to eat.
Kũhũra Mai/ Gũtindĩka Mai: To have anal sex, literally, “kũhũra mai” means to beat shit with penis and “ngũtindĩka mai” means to push shit with penis.
I have yet to think through these definitions, which are only one part of the rich homo-discourse in Kĩnyattĩ’s work. For now, only to note how rich the tonal shades of these descriptions. And to suggest that it might be possible to find interesting, ambivalent descriptions of sodomy in Kenya.
But does sodomy need to be defended? By whom and for what reason? (Elsewhere, I have noted why it is important to discuss sodomy, not homosexuality.)
To judge sodomy as guilty or proclaim its innocence misses the rich textures, shades, colors, and variations of sodomy. I write this aware of the rich way the term sodomy has functioned in history, to describe all non-reproductive sex acts. But I also write it in the context of the limited understandings that continually find sodomy guilty in Kenya.
We try sodomy without saying anything about trying sodomy.
I continue to believe that Kenyan discourses on sodomy are impoverished and truncated. Since we already know what “it” is we need not detail, see, talk about, discuss, debate “it” nor can we countenance any alternate stances, any differing viewpoints. And our fledgling queer rights activists are not yet convinced that erotic lives and practices are worth defending—to do so might be to compromise the emphasis on rights and dignity, and yet not to do so risks losing what is specifically queer.
Queer is bodily.
As long as we Kenyan queers remain silent and bashful about sodomy, we continue to enable the kind of framing in which sodomy is something to be tried and found either guilty and innocent. In this case, always guilty.
What other ways might there be to frame and re-frame sodomy?
I return, as always, to Foucault’s invocation of bodies and pleasures. And I think about some of the effects of queer pornography on queer politics. Not simply pornography as titillation, but as a way to make visible and palpable what can be done and imagined with the body, as a way to make evident bodies and pleasures in all their ambivalent varieties. I continue to invoke ambivalence because we feel in complex ways about what we do: feeling “good” might not necessarily be the point.
I am not suggesting that multiplying discourses on sodomy will provide a new trial in which sodomy will be found innocent. (I am not convinced that innocent sodomy is any fun.) I am suggesting that multiplying discourses on sodomy, saying more about how “it” is less singular than imagined, more richly textured than envisioned may provide us with more interesting terrain than we now occupy.