Growing up, nobody ever told me that love could be queer.
All around me, I saw men and women in love, dying for love and making sacrifices in the name of love but I never saw two women representing the type of love I felt and at that time, I was an outcast. I still am only that currently, I embrace my dissidence like a second identity because it’s who I am and I have accepted it.
I am Beryl but I go by the name Nyar Afrika which is my writer’s name but you can call me Afrika. Everyone calls me Afrika. Well except my mom. She calls me ‘nyako’ to mean girl in luo and I find it amusing.
I am a queer woman in the 21st century, born and bred in Kenya so yes; I am a Kenyan like you. I have a family. A mother who doesn’t know of my sexuality, brothers and a sister who will one day be shocked when they know that it's women who make my heart race, friends and known strangers on the internet who know me as a queer writer from Kisumu, people who don't know me at all like you who is reading this, everyone.
I also have a girlfriend and we all dream of one day finishing school, getting that degree, getting a job and travelling together. Just like any other relationship, this one is not exempted from heartbreaks and breakups and if by any chance we part ways due to unavoidable circumstances, I will still follow my dreams of wanting to work for UN Women, saving lives, doing good and leaving the world at a much better place than I found it.
I remember struggling with my sexuality when I was younger like it's yesterday. When I first realized I had feelings for “women” that were not considered ‘normal’. At that time, my mom had us so much into church and my church isn't the type that openly preach against homosexuality so you must have imagined my dilemma. It's an African independent church so to them, issues like homosexuality and others are dead. Nonexistent. UnAfrican. All this got me so disgusted with myself because I felt like I had let everyone down; my parents, my family, my religion, myself as a person, as an African and so, I fought it.
I tried to 'tone down the queer.'
Ironically, the more I fought it, the more it wanted to be embraced, to be let out, to be allowed to live, to grow and, manifest itself. I went through a depressive phase and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I would lock myself at home, at my aunt’s, watching movies, reading books, refusing to accept my own twisted reality. I had hook-ups with boys so as to try and forget my attraction to women. I stopped talking about it. I internalized my homophobia as a way of defending myself from this but all these were in vain.
I was unable to kill who I was.
So what triggered this "revelation" because almost everyone asks me that when I tell them about my struggle with ‘demonic feelings’? (That's how one pastor called it.)
Well, there was this girl I was friends with. I developed feelings for her without knowing it, feelings that were much deeper than sex. I cared for her. I always wanted the best for her since we were friends. As time went by, my feelings for her grew stronger. They became different. Being around her made me feel 'weird'. It made me want to be a better person just for her sake. It made me feel alive and human again. She was straight though and since I didn’t know that what I was going through had a name, I let it go and we came to part ways, going off into different directions to live life the way we knew best.
This girl still haunts me to date with what ifs. You know? What if I had told her how I felt? Would it be different? Would she have accepted me or lashed at me and went on a homophobic rant? There was a way in which she kept on looking at me when she thought I wasn’t looking. As if she knew I was ‘different’ and was waiting for me to say something, to make a move.
All this shows that I am a person with struggles that cut across all human beings and are relatable irregardless of one's own sex and gender. This also shows that I am human, that I have and that I am not some westernized idea being forced down Kenyans throats as some of us want to believe.
There have been discussions in the light of the petition that is in court that seeks to challenge section 162 of the penal code which puts gay persons at a risk of harm because of their sexuality.
This whole petition is about decriminalizing homosexuality and not making gay marriage legal. No. We are in court to challenge section 162 of the constitution that actually allows the dehumanization of individuals on the basis of their sexuality and that’s sad because every Kenyan; gay, disabled, poor, rich, man, woman or child has rights both as a human being and as a Kenyan as clearly stated in the constitution.
Right now, we are all joining hands saying homosexuality is unAfrican as both Christians and Muslims, coming together to fight this vice in one voice, putting our differences aside, showing the world that we can only be untied when hating and not when called upon to show love.
This also reminds me of some time back when men came together to speak in one voice, making Nyakundi their spokesperson, calling women whores, thots and slay queens but were again deathly silent when the government was killing people from a particular tribe and at that time when their unified voices were needed the most, they were nowhere to be seen. Again, this shows us how we as a people are ready to come together to hate and not to love. I call it the mob mentality.
So let me say, instead of coming together to hate, why don't we come together to love, to treat your neighbour who is different with love and empathy and leave judgment to the deities we all believe in?
Why don't we let love trump hate?
Well, for me I had to. I had to embrace love and embrace the people who love me for who I am and fast forward into the future, here I am, wearing my sexuality around my shoulder like it’s a form of resistance. Like a shield.
My affection for women has matured and it’s deep, deeper than how it used to be back then when I was 17. I stumble and fall occasionally, I mean, human beings are bound to error and I am trying. My 21 year old self is trying.
Right now, I am so for love because there is got to be love. There has to be love. Genuine love between two women or two people or two men or a man and a woman is what we need because yo! Love always trumps hate.
God I call it queer. I call this love, my type of love, queer. Queer like escaping a definition. Queer like daring to be free and I am thankful because finally, I am free.