tender(ness)

They are sitting alone, dreaming a world, wishing for a little tenderness. Wishing for a different kind of tenderness, not the limp-stumble, bruise-soft after that lingers, not the aloe-rubbed, ice-packed relief, not the gravel-hard calluses where tenderness used to be. And now the thick-thick scar tissue where tenderness cannot be. The question of whether tenderness can be here. Again. If gravel-hard calluses can learn to feel again. Something. Beyond bitter-pain. Perhaps something bitter-sweet.

*

Dreaming can be difficult (here).

27 September 2010

Newly elected governor of Nairobi, Gideon Mbuvi, known popularly as Mike Sonko, described newly elected member of parliament for Embakasi East, Owino Paul Ongili Babu, known popularly as Babu Owino, as a shoga. Sonko threatened to send members of a banned militia group, Mungiki, to rape Babu Owino.

Shoga. Homo. Fag.

To be conjured – as an apparition. To be made present as rapeable by an outlawed gang.

Mungiki is the the spiritual-military wing of Kikuyu ethno-nationalism: those called to defend the Kikuyu nation against outsiders. Outsiders are broadly defined as other ethnic nations and those that fail to follow traditional Kikuyu practices. Militarized Kikuyu masculinity, represented by Mungiki, defines itself against the shoga. The shoga is to be raped. Rape is a weapon of war.

Dreaming can be impossible (here).

On September 27, 2017, I was in India. One of many Kenyans who travel to India for medical care. From India, I heard shoga and was pulled from my body, marked as rapeable by an ethnonationalist militia deployed by the newly elected Governor of Nairobi. A difficult home became more difficult. Almost impossible.

In these streets, men have touched me in ways I have not touched a man. In ways a man, too, has never touched them. But these same men have touched me – neither a man nor a woman. I have been told, on these streets, that I would be raped and possibilities of pregnancy thrown at me with overloaded hints at a forbidden termination. I, neither man nor woman, will carry the baby of a man whose name I do not know. A baby sired in the streets of Nairobi by a man whose face I choose to forget.

– Neo Musangi, “In Time and Space”

*

To be queer is to be unhomed by legal and ordinary practices of attachment.

Article 45(1) and 45(2) of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution:

(1) The family is the natural and fundamental unity of society and the necessary basis of social order, and shall enjoy the recognition and protection of the state.

(2) Every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, based on the free consent of the parties.

These two work together through what feminist scholar Sara Ahmed describes as a problematic proximity. While 45(1) implicitly recognises a range of intimate arrangements that go by the name family – blood kin, fictive kin, claimed kin, chosen kin, queer kin, adoptive kin – 45(2) restricts family to a heterosexual couple.

Shall we call this queer panic?

Queer: to be disappeared from legibility, with all the terror of state violence that disappeared conjures

Queer: to be made legible as a target of state-approved, ethno-national violence, to be made rapeable

(dreaming might be forbidden here)

We imagine survival because we must, as we work toward freedom rooted in care.

Survival, Audre Lorde teaches, should not be confused with resilience. Resilience refers to a system’s ability to absorb shock. “You can take it.” Survival is the imaginative act of pursuing freedom amidst devastation. Resilience says, “I can handle it – do your worst.” Survival says, “I can imagine beyond and work toward practicing freedom.”

Survival is also hard work, requiring daily practice. It is exhausting work: to resist being pulled out of your body and out of your unhome, to be present as the object of political homophobia. To imagine yourself elsewhere – in another body, another place, another mind, another spirit. Somewhere less vulnerable.

Calluses form.

Is there space for tenderness?

*

They are dreaming themselves into being (possible). In stolen seconds, short snatches of impossible time, as scream and cry and whisper and groan. They are building a world in which to be possible: touch by touch, crush by crush, hookup by hookup, DM by DM, bae by bae, climax by climax. Touch by Touch. With tenderness.

They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Every time we kiss
We confirm the new world coming.
– Essex Hemphill