It is always strange to encounter oneself elsewhere, or, more precisely, the self that others think one is. I know enough to understand that all representation entails misrecognition: others’ images of us rarely accord with our images of ourselves and, strictly speaking, our self-representation is apt to be just as distorted.
I have been thinking about what anthropologist Tom Boellstorf terms “political homophobia” for almost as long as I’ve known about homosexuality. In Boellstorf (writing on Indonesia) and Ashley Currier (writing on Namibia), political homophobia describes how hetero-patriarchal sentiment is mobilized against those considered non-normative. It might include naming political opponents as gay or lesbian or otherwise gender- or sexual-dissident to exclude them from a nation imagined as heteronormative and hetero-patriarchal; or, as in Kenya, it might include arguing that particular parties or forms of legislation might introduce or promote homosexuality “through the back door” (as uttered in Kenya’s parliament discussions); or, it might simply mean how publics are called into being based on attitudes toward homosexuality.
Within the logic of political homophobia, the accusation that one is “gay” or a “gay activist” or even a “homosexual activist”—these are metonymic names meant to represent all gender and sexual dissidence—is supposed to discredit one’s persona and arguments. As Michael Warner and Lauren Berlant argue, heteronormativity is about a “sense of rightness,” about a moral and ideological anchoring in what is supposed to be beyond question, no matter its incoherence.
And, so, despite my well-known distaste for confession, a series of confessions:
- I’ve been out as queer to my friends and family since 1996.
- I attended graduate school to focus on queer studies.
- As a graduate student and as a professor, I taught classes devoted to queer studies.
- My first blog, Gukira, on blogspot, was explicitly queer.
- I have written many blog posts on queer issues on this blog.
- I have publications in Wasafiri, Modern Fiction Studies, the Queer African Reader, Kwani?, and elsewhere, that draw on queer studies and defend queer livability.
- I have published articles in the Guardian defending queer livability.
- I have participated in many conferences speaking on queer issues.
- My twitter bio reads, “Queer Writer”
- While disposability is a relatively recent term in my lexicon, the thread of my writing has always been against practices that unhuman and make life less possible.
- I believe all life is valuable.
Many of these statements can be used against me in a Kenya that has a draft anti-homosexuality bill. Many of them can be used against me in a Kenya in which no prominent political figure has come out—either in support of queer rights or as queer. Many of them can be used against me in a Kenya where the mere fact of being married or hetero-reproductive bestows respectability and credibility. Many of them can be used against me in a Kenya where hetero-patriarchy repeatedly asserts its rights to use and discard women’s bodies—consent not required.
I stand by these statements. If they mark me as “some other gay activist,” so be it.