For Us

I have no figures on how many queer Kenyans commit suicide, or attempt to. I have no figures on how many queer Kenyans are bullied into normativity, into silence, into despair, into drugs and alcohol. I will never ask anyone to write these stories. I will never ask anyone to re-live the experience of being negated.

Over the years, I have told the story of being booed by an entire school assembly, of walking down the aisle of the Lenana School chapel as I experienced my peers’ absolute contempt. I continue to marvel that I survived Lenana.

Scars continue to irritate.

It is difficult, impossible even, to write about moments when one experiences oneself as an object of contempt.

One is hailed by negation.

When one is raised on what one critic of African American literature termed “zero images,” that hailing can be too successful. Negation calls to negation.

We who survive, and it is a matter of survival, rarely show our scars. Even their presence can be shameful. One cannot de-interpellate oneself.

And perhaps this is why sex and love are so important to queers: fleeting moments of affirming that one exists. One has meaning. A simple way to think about queer community. One exists. One has meaning. Perhaps too simple. But so many places exist, so many discourses, so many practices in which one reads only as absence.

How does one move from negation? How does one materialize?

At 20, I was reading Judith Butler. She spoke of what it meant to materialize, to become matter, to matter. I read her because she captured something I felt intuitively—a response to a phone message that said “you are not mine.”

I am yet to recover from that now 14-year old message.

How easy it is to negate other people. To refuse to see them. To refuse to engage them as people. To tell them they do not exist.

Fanon writes that the problem with the racist has little to do with intent. It is irrelevant whether or not one acts from malice or hate. I am willing, following Fanon, to believe those who claim not to be racists or homophobes or sexists, despite their actions. It is, in fact, precisely their indifference to their actions that is more pernicious. That they negate without intent.

Negation is never benign.

It is, in fact, the most violent thing we can do to each other.

And to speak of negation as a mode of interpellation must be the most terrible thing to imagine. To call others into nothingness. And to do so with indifference. Not from hate. Not from malice. As a joke. Or without intent.

In the crowd that booed me, some did so because others did. Not from any knowledge about me. Not from any feeling. Simply because they could.

We queers rarely tell each other these stories: we talk about “the first time,” and mark it, through our silences, as a time of affirmation. When we materialized through another person’s gaze, touch, kiss.

There are other firsts—the firsts of when we begin to be negated. The man, my brother’s age, who called me a fag when I was 11 or was it 12. I don’t remember his name. I am not even sure I knew it. I do not know what licensed him to attack me. To name me as something I could not yet have known.

And the echo of his laugh across the years—I flinch when I hear groups of men laughing. That is his legacy to me. I am not sure I should be writing this. It is difficult to write of being negated. It is difficult to explain what that means. It is difficult to explain how certain moments return me to that primal scene, that moment of psychic undoing, when I unravel, want to run away, can only run away, but remain stuck.

I do not like that queerness is so often associated with mourning and anger. I do not like that we are hailed into being when one of our own is destroyed, that this remains foundational to our existence. I do not like that we who live to adulthood do so, still, against the odds.

We have battle scars and calluses.

I am grateful, everyday, for the callused tenderness that surrounds me. For those who continue to affirm life and joy, knowing, as Audre Lorde writes, that we were never meant to survive.

We were never meant to survive.

Some of us do. And try to make sure that more of us do.

A survey from Technorati asked why I blog: because we were never meant to survive. We do. And we try to make sure that more of us can.

4 thoughts on “For Us

  1. Perhaps you survive to rage. Rage is good. Rage is affirming, a measure of being alive. Rage can make and mold worlds. Of course, so can tenderness and kindness but these are not on offer in general in these cases.

  2. Rage can also be so tiring, a statement that, I know, comes from immense privilege. I continue to wonder how to reconcile my desire for a rich quotidian–the everyday pleasures of waking up and drinking tea and being surrounded by love–with the demands of normativity. And then how to understand the quotidian I have now as a privilege, one that others cannot have, and one that others arrive to scarred, too scarred, battle-weary.

    I need to read Essex Hemphill. He will sort this out for me, or at least give me space to breathe.

  3. I don’t think you rage, but you do think–more deeply than I see almost anywhere else on blogs. It’s a gift. One might say, if you do keep going, you might even be able to read Gukira regularly, which is a joy in itself. Calluses and all.

  4. Well said! I’m a new fan of your literature.
    As for those scars, well, i think every gay guy carries them forward…Not as a reminder of bad days but to remind us of how far we’ve come, how we’ve grown inside. =)

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