Author: Kevin Mwachiro
Publisher: Native Intelligence and Goethe Institut Nairobi
Number of pages: 111
Year of publication: 2013
In which I review Invisible by Kenyan writer Kevin Mwachiro which gives tales from Kenya’s queer community.
Our friendly neighbour President Yoweri Museveni this week signed a new bill making homosexuality a criminal offence in Uganda. This followed an uproar everywhere an uproar could be had with people on either side of his remarkable action making their views felt very strongly. As the furore dies perhaps it is a good time to look at Invisible, a book launched at the Goethe Institut a few weeks ago with stories from Kenya’s queer community.
In his introduction Mwachiro explains that he used the term “queer” as opposed to LGBTI as the latter term is a creation of the NGO community which make sense.
The way I imagined the book was that it was a bunch of tales from people and their first sexual encounter. This was not to be as it was a bunch of tales that would make any erotica writer cringe as there is no sexual enjoyment to be had if you enjoy erotica in whatever form whatever sex you are. If you want gay erotica you would probably get more exciting fare at the gay section of literotica.com.
So its not a book on queer guys and gals banging their brains out. What I discovered was a book about a wide variety of people in Kenya who are queer and how they came to come to terms with their sexuality. It covers everyone in the queer spectrum; gay, lesbian, transsex, bisex and everything in between. Some have embraced it with zest like a Western Kenya born Rena Otieno in her tale Darling!That storyteller, who also happens to an activist on all things queer, refuses to be forced into marriage by her close knit family.
Others aren’t as forceful in their embrace of their sexuality. In some cases, people marry women to hide their real desires and it doesn’t end well. It doesn’t end well for the guy who marries in Turkana, Nothern Kenya or the Muslim guy from Coast who marries a family relative as it all ends in divorce. From my reading this “marrying to be normal” thing is quite a common phenomenon in the queer community and sometimes works.
Some of the people in this little book see drama as they go about their queer lives. A transwoman Barbra is almost lynched by a mob as they are moving to a new home as they realized that they were not safe anymore. There are also drama filled incidents with families not accepting.
The book also includes letters to authority figures with the writers seeking their approval.
Ultimately, I was not very impressed with the book. This is because it shows queer people going through the same emotions that the rest of us have; seeking approval from parents, betrayal from loved ones, yearning to be loved etc. Usually these kind of emotions are easy to find in most written forms in Kenya as every book I encounter is usually about a man and a woman having a relationship. The novelty for the reader is that this may be the first time (to my knowledge) these emotions where same sex relationships are concerned are seen in print on these shores. Sadly with the age of the Internet this really doesn’t blow my mind as it would have if I read it twenty years ago.
One thing, this book would have been much more fun reading if it had focused more on certain aspects of the gay lifestyle. We learnt from Mwangi Githahu that the queers are here and drinking their beer in his excellent piece in the star the other day. In this book there is an offhand comment in chapter 13 My beautiful tomboy where the anonymous writer talks about beauty pageants, movie nights, film festivals etc. I would love to have seen more of this lifestyle here. Maybe in Invisible 2: Naxvegas Edition perhaps?
Do I recommend this book? Yes. The poems aren’t very good but some of the tales will make you realise that being queer isn’t a choice any Kenyan in their right mind would wake up one day and state; “OK people, I do guys now.” The drama that many of these folks have to go through for their sexual identity tells me that for all of them especially in our conservative society one has to be in a serious corner to come out. We have little choice but to accept them in all of their weirdness. I refuse to be hit on though; I draw the line there.
Looks like there are now three things in life that are inevitable; death and taxes. And gayism.
Gayism is a Kenyan term for being queer. Leave me alone.