Queer Wanjiku?

Over the past few years, Dorothy Kweyu has been a leading conservative voice against queer rights and activism in Kenya. Actually, she has been a leading conservative voice against queer existence. In articles such as “Homosexuality an Abomination in the Eyes of God and Man,” “The Dilemma of Lesbian Schoolgirls,” and, most recently, “UK’s Aid Ban on Countries that Outlaw Gay Rights Smacks of Double Standards,” Kweyu has insistently, if not eloquently, expressed her “utter horror and revulsion” at the “evil” of gayism (a Kenyan neologism that, thankfully, she does not use). In so doing, she claims to write for “the silent majority,” “85 per cent of whom are Christians — and the remaining 15 per cent, who uphold different beliefs, including traditional religions” against those who seek “to pervert the moral order that is the pillar of any civilised society.” To use Foucauldian terms, her mission is to “defend” “civilised society,” that is, a society whose claim to civilisation rests on its practice of religion and, implicitly, heterosexual marriage.

Ms. Kweyu writes from the position of a dedicated Christian and supports her arguments through reference to the bible; this, of course, is justified, because she speaks for the “85 per cent” of Kenyans who are Christians. As an aside, one should note the range of ways Christianity is practiced and the varying degrees of authority given to the bible, ranging from those who consider it be infallible and a-contextual to those who interpret it within multiple cultural contexts. Simply, there is no consensus on modes of interpretation. I suspect that while Kweyu may speak for a certain percentage, it is not the 85% she claims.

This is not the place to get into debates about interpretations of the bible, and I suspect that Kweyu would be suspicious of interpretation as a too-human folly that risks corrupting holy writ. (I teach interpretation; I have to defend it.) Still, I find it strange that someone who pronounces on others’ lives with such authority would lack the decency to research within the body of scholarship produced by Christians, such as herself, on how the bible thinks through homosexuality. She may have conducted such research, but there’s no evidence of it in her arguments against homosexuality. Nor, it seems, is such research needed, as her authority rests on her self-proclaimed position as a Christian. And while I respect what Adrienne Rich terms the politics of location, I distrust dogmatic positions.

Kweyu’s latest article is the most troubling, and this because I agree with her claims about the neo-imperial implications of tying funding to gay rights. These are shared grounds that allow for a certain conversation to happen: I am not sure that Kweyu would be open to conversations with queers, but I hope she would be.

But I find myself struck by her recurring claims about the silent, persecuted majority. She writes,

I insist that the gay lobby is driven not by Wanjiku, whose concern at this time is to survive a particularly harsh economic climate, but by an elitist minority, whose agenda is to subvert not just the Christian mores that shape the lives of more than 80 per cent of Kenyans, but also the cultural norms of most Africans.

The “silent majority” has been expanded: no longer simply religious, it is also economic. One hears the familiar rhetoric against rich gays with disposable income trampling on the economically disempowered silent majority. While there are good critiques of homonormativity, Kweyu’s is not one of them.

Indeed, had Kweyu bothered to study the so-called “gay lobby,” she would note the outreach directed primarily, though not exclusively, to the economically marginalized. It is simply true that, across the world, wealthy queers lead substantially different lives, lubricated by money and lawyers in ways that are inaccessible to the less wealthy, and especially not to the lower middle and working classes. Indeed, the homophobia and transphobia that chases individuals out of their homes creates a sexual underclass marked as much by its economic lack as by its antinomian practices of gender and sexuality.

Wanjiku is far queerer than Kweyu is willing to admit or imagine.

Had Kweyu bothered to keep up with any queer happenings, she would have known of the session at the Storymoja Hay festival in which queer Kenyans and their allies had a conversation with religious leaders about the relationship between homosexuality and religion. In other words, the “silent majority” Kweyu is so intent on protecting is having rich chats on the side with the so-called enemy. Some lines of communication are open, or at least opening, as both sides figure out what they have in common: shared practices of belonging that range from the profound and legal to the idiosyncratic and pleasurable.

More bonding takes place in Kenya over nyama choma than over religion.

Had Kweyu bothered to conduct any research whatsoever, she would have discovered that queer African activists have already issued a statement about the UK’s ban that addresses precisely the economic aspect Kweyu rightly highlights.

Queer African activists do not, indeed, cannot, focus on single-issue politics, contrary to what Kweyu would have her readers believe.

I have long been disappointed by the Daily Nation’s coverage of queer issues, which ranges from the absurd to the hate-filled. Unfortunately, Kweyu ranges on the hate-filled side of that spectrum, even as her very convenient brand of Christianity will allow her to register such a critique as a form of “persecution” against a “silent majority.” Victimizer and victim alike, Kweyu cannot register how her work creates unnecessary fissures and endangers lives and livelihoods. Or, if she does register it, she simply does not care.

Despite what she writes, Kweyu does not, indeed, cannot speak for Wanjiku. Especially in these times of increasing and unrelenting economic hardship, Wanjiku is defined by her precarity: psychic and bodily vulnerability that, regrettably, is deeply anchored in the realms of gender and sexuality.

Wanjiku is turning tricks to get food or taking up with abusive partners for the meager protection they provide in her dangerous neighborhoods. This Wanjiku, the Wanjiku who negotiates her way through sex, is absent from Kweyu’s religious silent majority: she can neither be imagined nor discussed.

And so I wonder: for whom does Kweyu speak? Certainly not for the economically disenfranchised, because it’s clear she knows nothing about their lives. Certainly not for the Christ who advocated charity as he fought against dogmatic Pharisees. Certainly not for the many queer Christians and their many Christian allies, who are trying to build bridges of compassion, learning to live together as they acknowledge the glue of dissent. Certainly not for Kenyans who are against hate speech—and I hope many of us are, even as the anti-Somali sentiments trouble me.

Who is this silent majority she defends? And what does this convenient fiction allow her to get away with?

Wanjiku, queer Wanjiku, deserves an answer.

5 thoughts on “Queer Wanjiku?

  1. “Wanjiku is turning tricks to get food or taking up with abusive partners for the meager protection they provide in her dangerous neighborhoods.” I know someone like that. Someone I care for very much.

    Kweyu’s claims that homosexuality is against the African cultural norms just. nicks. me. in. the. jugular.

    Allow me to engage some free association. Whenever I hear those mythopoetic claims of African cultural “purity”, three things happen in my mind:

    First: I picture VY Mudimbe(?) shouting “Africa doesn’t exist!” — and therefore this sweeping claim of a coherent, unified African culture collapses on itself.

    Second: because such claims often hurtle us to the past (Kenyatta’s “there WERE no gays among the Gikuyu”), I start to think of the kind of remembering that is really forgetting — in part because memory is faulty, but also out of a kind of retroactive gay (hear: ethnic) cleansing.

    Third: shucks! I’ve forgotten my third free association.

    Sidenote: I have never liked the term “Wanjiku”. No, not for its ethnicity or sex(ual) connotation. Much like Joe the Plumber turned out not to be a plumber (at least not officially), I fear that Wanjiku might turn out not to be herself (“how am I not myself?”) — as when Monikers collapse too many narratives, identities and ambiguities and stories we tell ourselves about ourselves into something tangible for the world to grasp, to know us by. BUT I must say that the way you write about Wanjiku here resonates with me. You’re fleshing out Wanjiku, nuancing her/him/it, bringing out some multiplicity. WANJIKU WITHOUT BORDERS! That’s it!

  2. Oh, I just remembered the third association.

    I think of the way Hitchcock got around Hollywood censorship: the proverbial film couple embracing, after which the scene cuts out and they are again shown on screen (fully clothed and conversing in the same positions they were before the film cut out for just a short period). Smoking then becomes *wink wink* (“they have done it”) because it’s what people do in the films after sex. This idea I have stolen from Zizek.

    The reason I think about this is that it helps me imagine the ways in which LGBTQ people probably navigated public space and cultural censorship in these times the Kweyus and Kenyattas of this world purport were without gays (in my blog I keep writing “in a time that never was, in a country that never could have been”, especially when I get the feeling I am remembering in a skewed manner). And like Hitchcock (strange name now that we’re talking about sexual orientation, no?) got through the censors, maybe LGBTQ in these times I struggle to imagine hid effectively from the heterofascists — for their own safety, but in a kind of way that created a false perception of some societies as being sans LGBTQ.

    OK, enough bad thinking here.
    Onward! to more infantilism.

  3. I couldn’t have said it better myself…I have no idea how NMG can have such unbridled opinion pieces that are so poorly researched.

    Opinion pieces should at least be logical and well researched….that 85% is a figure off the top of her head…

    She needs a gag or a re-education

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