political homophobia

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.

5 thoughts on “political homophobia

  1. Dear ,

    You are exactly who the world needs, now more than ever. Your posts are often thoughtful and artfully written. I thank you for raising your voice above so many of us who have set down their flags, stepped out of the parade, so to speak, into a quiet life. A poet’s life. I am an inactivist. But ardent inside. All people are to be valued. Given compassion. Is this exclusive to gay activism? Humanity does not always behave the way it should. You are an important reminder.

    Best to you.

  2. Thank you Keguro for this post. I was reminded of this quote when I read the post: “We act in the face of oppression, dispossession, or occupation so that our own humanity may not be diminished by our silence when some part of the human family is being demeaned. If something lessens your worth as a human being, then it lessens mine as well. To act in your defense is really to act in defense of my ‘self’ – whether my higher present self or my vulnerable future self.” You are a wonderful example of one who acts, through writing, in the face of oppression and dispossession. Thank you for speaking up, and adding your voice to the voices of those who refuse to sit back and watch in silence as parts of our human family are demeaned.

    1. I keep hoping that, at some point, we’ll pay more attention to how we can make each other more possible-more healthy, more vibrant, more at home in the world.

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