Book chronicles lives of local queer elders

Those aged 50 and above recount years of hiding in plain sight

In Summary

• Quietly launched book review charts silent battles of community to express solidarity

Just before Christmas, I was privileged to attend the top-secret launch of a magnificent book that tells the stories of Kenyan queer people aged 50 and above, including your humble columnist, in their own words.

The launch had to be a tightly controlled affair for security reasons because despite many years of activism by the queer community and its allies, it is still not safe for many of us to gather just anywhere we like and make our presence known in a loud and proud manner.

This despite the fact, repeated by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna during a morning TV talk show recently, that there is no law in Kenya against being gay. The criminal or the Penal Code puts a penalty on having sexual conduct that is against the order of nature, including between a man and a woman.

Of course, the fact that there is no law against being gay irks some people so much that they feel something must be done.

One of those in  this camp is Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma, who last year published his Family Protection Bill 2023, which aims to ban homosexuality, same-sex unions and LGBTQ activities and campaigns. It also intends to prohibit gay parades, assemblies, marches and public cross-dressing.

The book, entitled We've Been Here, is the first in a series of books telling the stories of the queer community, and it was compiled by three dear friends of mine.

This project is a chronicling of our lives for generations yet to come and younger people who may think they are alone, or the first of their line, as it were, to let them know, as the title of the book says: We've Been Here.

The book, aimed at adults, has recently gone on sale and in Nairobi at least, it is now available at Cheche Books in Lavington.

As the editors of the book point out, it is not “an exhaustive history of the LGBTQI presence in Kenya, but rather a snapshot of a particular time  and place told by people from all over Kenya”.

In the words of Kevin Mwachiro, one of the book’s editors: “This book celebrates a generation of individuals who navigated their queer identity and same-gender love or sexual expression in the shadows of daily Kenyan life.   

“They lived through a time when there was little access to information on sexuality, sexual health and a visibility that honoured LGBTQI realities. It also honours those who’ve died, which is a small way of telling them they are not forgotten.”

I was humbled and, if I may say so, ever so slightly amused, to have been asked to share my story, which I did by way of a telephone interview one evening more than two years ago.

In the book, I tell some stories that I have shared here in this column and in other interviews for other publications, and I mention some of the people who have supported me in my journey.

Out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t name any of these people, but on reflection, I think I should have at least mentioned my greatest supporter and cheerleader as far as my homosexuality and its impact on my family was concerned, and that was my most amazing and wonderful sister, Nimu. 

Meanwhile, I said at the start of this column that the book’s launch was not widely publicised, and that it reminded me of some of the very secret queer dances that some of my friends helped organise many years ago.

One of these took place in 2003 at a time when we, as the queer community, were hopeful that a change of regime might lead to a change in our legal and social circumstances.

The party organisers were daring enough to host the party at an institution that literally shared a fence with State House, Nairobi. How’s that for hiding in plain sight? 

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