“When I am around men, I feel insecure and vulnerable. I feel like they have bad intentions because of my past experiences with them. But when I am with girls, I feel more comfortable…”
This is the experience of one woman who has opened up about her homosexuality after the ban on Rafiki film was lifted by the court.
‘Rafiki’, Kiswahili for ‘Friend’, is a movie directed by Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. It revolves around a teenage lesbian affair between Ziki and Kena.
Initially, the movie was banned in Kenya for “glorifying homosexual behaviour”. But after Wanuri challenged the ban, the court allowed Kenyans seven days to see it.
One woman who spoke to the Star agreed with the court’s decision. “The lift of the ban was really good news, for it gave Kenyans a chance to finally go watch and understand homosexuality better,” Catherine Wanjiku said.
“Though some people didn’t watch it, most who did, got a new perspective on same-sex relationships.”
Asked why she supports homosexuality, Wanjiku (not her real name) opens up that she is homosexual herself. She feels that homosexuals face problems that need to be aired in the public.
Opening up about sexual orientation is probably one of the hardest things she has had to do, and sharing her heart-breaking experience with the world.
‘LOVE IS NO CRIME’
But Wanjiku decided to tell the world that “love is not a crime. Neither is it an abomination. It should be embraced rather than condemned”.
Sitting at her one bedroom apartment in Dandora, Wanjiku says she was only 15 years old when she realised she was different. While other girls in her boarding school had boy ‘crushes’, she was drawn to girls — one particular girl — in her all-girl boarding school.
“I had no association with boys and everyone around me was a girl. I did not know what I was meant to do. So I asked my mum if it was right to have feelings for a girl and she told me it was wrong,” Wanjiku recalls, saying it was the first time she tried to seek help from her very devout Christian mother.
From then on, Wanjiku kept her confusing feelings to herself, thinking it was a phase she was going through. She tried to be like other girls to the extent that she tried to date a boy.
“Things were okay for the first year. But everything fell apart the following year,” she said.
Ziki and Kena during a shoot of 'Rafiki' /Courtesy
Wanjiku was in Form Two and her boyfriend, Shawn John, had just completed Form Four. While attending a birthday party together, Shawn spiked her drink and attempted to force himself on her.
Her screams alerted her friends, who were in the next room on the same floor. One friend, only known as Miriam, 21, came to her rescue and escorted Wanjiku to the Lang’ata police station.
The police said there was no evidence to arrest Shawn, despite the bruises and other defensive injuries she suffered as she tried to fight off Shawn.
Wanjiku was taken aback when she told her mother about the incident. “She did not believe me. All she did was to warn me to keep off boys!”
Soon after the incident, the family relocated from Nairobi to Mombasa. “I changed. I became fearful of men,” she said.
A new study published on October 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, noted that sexual assault survivors have much higher risks of developing lifelong health issues, like insomnia and depression.
The study noted that more than one in three women have experienced sexual assault, one in five is raped, and up to 75 per cent have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
To deal with her ordeal, Wanjiku started abusing drugs. She first started with drugs to make her sleep so she could not have recurring nightmares of the attempted rape.
The young woman, who is now looking for a job in production companies, said she resorted to using drugs just to make her forget.
Catherine Wanjiku./The Star
“I started using hard drugs, and it felt so good because most of time, I was able to forget about my life. This went on for sometime, until I met Miriam again a few weeks later in our estate,” she said.
A smiling Wanjiku said Miriam, who also seemed to be a ladies’ woman, became her friend, and that they could share secrets.
“Miriam told me I do not have to indulge in drugs, but rather face life head-on. She encouraged me to go for rehabilitation, which I did, and I finally stopped using drugs,” she said.
Wanjiku noticed that Miriam had feelings for her, and so she asked her if she also liked girls. “Miriam said yes. I felt love. I felt as if this is what I wanted. I told her about me and we finally got into a relationship in December 2016,” she said.
“She told me she started lesbianism in school and she did not know her sexuality. So she experimented and she found that she likes women. And ever since that day, she has been with girls.”
“Miriam told me she started falling in love with me when we she took me for the therapy sessions and counselling, plus the rehabilitation.”
LACK OF ACCEPTANCE
Contrary to popular belief in Kenya, homosexuality is not a mental illness or disorder. Rather, it is a sexual diversity experienced within the society. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the psychiatric disorders list.
This was followed by a decision to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases in 1990 by the World Health Organisation.
While the Constitution of Kenya criminalises homosexuality, it affirms inclusiveness and protection of the marginalised as valued tenets of the Kenyan state. Further, it prohibits direct and indirect discrimination against any person by the State or other person.
This arguably includes sexual orientation and gender identity, since the grounds for non-discrimination are an illustrative open-ended list.
For Wanjiku, her mother became uncomfortable with her relationship with Miriam, but she maintains she had no choice.
“My mum was really mad at me and she even forced me to be in a relationship with other guys, which made me really uncomfortable. After two weeks, I could break up with the boys because I did not find anything fancy in them,” she said.
Catherine Wanjiku./The Star
Wanjiku said her mother has never accepted who she is and keeps on telling her she wants children, not “another woman” in the house.
“I have never thought about having my own children because the stories I hear from other people is that giving birth is really painful, and I would not want to go through that pain. They normally tell me about the labour pains,” she said.
Asked what her father thinks of the whole situation, Wanjiku smiles, saying her father is okay with the “boyfriend” she has.
“My dad said there is nothing much he can do, adding that he will support me in every decision I make. He is my stepdad. He has had a chance to fall in love and he does not want to make the decisions in my life,” she said.
REJECTED BUT STRONG
As she walks across the room where we are doing the interview, Wanjiku says she has been able to face rejections from her own friends.
“One actually started vulgar abuses, and the others made me get out of Facebook. It’s like they formed a group and started attacking me for who I am. They were my friends,” she said with a bitter tone in her voice.
Wanjiku says she is not afraid of the woman she has become, adding that she has decided to open up to allow her to have a peaceful relationship.
“I can’t live in my own shadow. One way or the other, the society will come to know. So I said there is a point in life that such questions will come up and I must have my own reasons why I don’t love men.
“We are living our own lives. We are not different. We work, eat, wear clothes where you buy clothes, and there is no difference,” she said.
“I am 19 this year. I am turning 20 in October. We are not sexual. She is not attracted to me sexually. We do sex once in a while. Guys love sex and they get attracted to you because of sex. In our relationship, we are not that sexual. If you want penetration it’s up to you and your partner.”
Miriam, on the other hand, said: “They say love is love… if you find someone who makes you feel special, no matter the gender. No one knows if one day they would be lesbians or gays. It just happens like dÃ©jÃ vu.”
She said when she met Wanjiku for the first time in the party, she made up her mind that she wanted her.
“The dimples on her face made her even more beautiful. Every time she smiled like that was the time I realised really that I wanted this girl. But I did not know what I wanted to do with her,” she said.
After the attempted rape, Miriam said she held Wanjiku tight, comforting her, adding that it was then that they had their first kiss.
“To me, it felt special, but I knew to her it was just a kiss, so I never bothered to think much about it. Days passed and the kiss was on my mind. Every time I tried to forget her, it became impossible,” she said.
“I don’t care what people say but what I care is what our hearts say.”
STOP JUDGING, IT'S NOT MENTAL
In the wake of the debate triggered by lesbian love film Rafiki, Parklands-based clinical psychologist Liz Gichimu notes with concern that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.
"My experience is that the issue is not about their sexuality but more about the society and the judgement that surrounds these people," she told the Star.
Gichimu said the people who say they are homosexuals do not want to be fixed. Rather, they want to find out ways of living peacefully in the society without all the talk about how good or bad homosexuality can be.
"They don't want to be fixed but to know how to live in the society with the rest of the people without being branded names, without being asked to be like other people, yet they can be their own people," she said.
She said people who have been assaulted and resorted to be homosexuals should be asked how much they know about themselves.
"If you are confused about your sexual orientation, it is easy to find out. What you do is ask the person about settling down. Ask her or him: where do you see your future? Do you see yourself with kids or what exactly do you envision?" Gichimu said, adding that homosexuals will have different answers from straight people.
"This is all about love, commitment and trust. With this, you will be able to know what kind of person you have before you."
The psychologist said when a person resorts to engaging in homosexuality after abuse, they need to seek help. "Let her get a therapist and explore what is taking place in her life. There can be confusion, but as long as she opens up, she will know exactly where she sits with this," Gichimu said.
"If there is trauma, she or he needs to explore all possibilities and process the information. If there is more going into the background, lurching onto a relationship or someone will not fix what is going on in real life."
Gichimu said the therapist should be able to create a space where she or he does not judge the patient.
"When you get judged, you tend to shut down. It's unfortunate that that is what happens to some people, but a good therapist should create a space about what is going on with the patient and what he or she feels," she said.
"Let the therapist ask about how the person is dealing with the trauma and relating to members of the opposite sex. This can happen when you are in a safe space."
DEALING WITH GENDER CONFUSION
Gichimu said if one is confused about their sexuality or when they think they are homosexuals, they should look at what they say about themselves.
"What are their thoughts? Is it that he or she thinks 'I am broken, I am silly'. What is the talk you have with yourself? Write that down," she said, adding that the person should examine what they have jotted down in their diaries and ask themselves, "Is what I have written true?"
"Break this down and ask yourself what is making me condemn myself, or is it because I was hurt?" she said.
Gichimu said the more a person unpacks herself and gets to know herself better, the likelihood of the person healing is 100 per cent. "At the end of the day, it will ease some of the things she or he is dealing with," she said.
Above all, the psychologist said a person should be kind to themselves. "You are human. We are trying to live life with the little that we have."