Kenyan Queer Cultural Production (in a report era)

“Queerness is not yet here,” writes Jose Muñoz, adding, “[W]e are not yet queer.” Queerness “is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed, something is missing.” If queerness is a horizon, a “not-yet-here,” how is one to approach its becoming or, to be more agential, to realize its becoming? Democracy, argues Fred Moten, is “the rupture of any exclusion, however common that exclusion might appear to be; the recalibration of the polis, of the city, by and according to the most irregular measures.” Moten helps to bridge the relationship between queerness as a horizon of possibility, a futurity that one can’t not want, and democracy as the time-space-being of queer possibility, as ongoing, endless, ever-vigilant rupture. Queerness within Moten’s democratic imaginary is always more than a claim to identity or rights, precisely because the wild, unruly imagination extends beyond these frameworks, as it must to envision beyond-killability for those deemed endlessly disposable.

To write of the imagination in a report era seems more than silly, beyond frivolous, and, above all, suspect. Indeed, the cultural producer is besieged by a report imaginary that frames the world as problems to be solved, solutions to be implemented, rights to be accumulated.

The dailyness of being disposable in our precarious now conflates survival with thriving, success with management, staying uninjured with possibility. The good life is the endlessly administered, accounted-for life. In our neoliberal report era, the imagination—as play, as daring, as not-this and beyond-now—becomes increasingly truncated as the desire to be not-here:not-now takes precedence over any other forms of imagining.

One turtles into available shells.

The imagination, the peculiarly and particularly queer imagination, feels threatened, minor, unimportant.
I discovered Essex Hemphill at 20. The first passage underlined in my much-loved, much-traveled copy of Ceremonies:

I allow myself to dream of roses
though I know
the bloody war continues

No date is attached to this, and the generic black pen does not let me know when I might have underlined this. Perhaps in 1997? Perhaps in 2000? Anytime since then when I needed his voice, though I didn’t know how much I needed it.

Marked variously in pink marker (a bad phase), pencil jottings that range from the analytic to wild enthusiasm, what appears to be a purple gel pen (what was I thinking?), and green felt, Ceremonies has been a life line, compelling me to extend my imagination and possibilities.

In 2003, when I taught my first class in poetry, I knew I’d teach “American Wedding,” because of that wonderful opening,

In america
I place my ring
on your cock
where it belongs.

An opening so wonderfully profane as it re-imagines hetero-national marriage as a public sex act. If nothing else, perhaps the students I taught will remember the question, “what’s a cock ring?” Even then, I intuited how important it was to extend imaginations of social possibilities.

What would it mean to think of a cock ring or a nipple ring or a labial piercing or a tongue ring with the same reverence as any marriage ring? To ask the question is already to re-imagine social-sexual possibilities, to re-sex the social, to insist that the world of pleasure:desire is not simply a footnote to, or a refuge from, other lifeworlds. As Audre Lorde continues to teach me, the experience of the erotic, the reverence for its possibilities makes it difficult, if not impossible, to be satisfied with other half-lives.
We live at a moment when the imagination is threatened. When its possibilities are administered. When we have learned to believe that to survive harm is enough, and, sometimes, more than enough. And, certainly, given the queer-killing imaginations and impulses that surround us, the insistence “I am here” seems more than enough and, often, too much.

When I think about what has stayed with me, fed me, nurtured me, enabled me, it’s not the histories I’ve read, the reports I’ve consumed, the many articles I dutifully read and cited, or the very smart things many brilliant people have written. I return to a small cluster of names: Essex Hemphill, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Melvin Dixon, James Baldwin. I return to poets and novelists, to people whose imaginations extended mine in unexpected and still surprising ways.

In the 1970s, every lesbian was a poet, so the story goes. Poetry, Lorde teaches me, “is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”
What is the queer Kenyan imagination? What is queer Kenyan cultural production? Is there a space for a queer Kenyan cultural imagination in our report-dominated now? And what might such an imagination do?

Given the queer-erasing, queer un-being present we inhabit, where queerness is still claimed as “not-us,” every assertion of being, every “I am here,” is always an imaginative act. Yet, the “I am here” does not remain untouched by the administrative demands of our report era.

I continue to wonder what else the imagination can do. What else exists beyond the constraints of report realism? What possibilities remain to be thought?

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