One of things study abroad does quite bluntly is to put your life into perspective: living in another country, playing by other people’s rules, figuring out a system for dealing with a whole new way of life. And studying abroad in Kenya is no picnic.
I’m very happy for my experiences here and the assumptions about poverty, development, and Africa in general that I’m being forced to confront. But there are aspects of my life at home which are very difficult to reconcile with the life I’m living here- and most of them converge around this blog.
A huge part of my identity stems from my sexuality, my sexual expression, and the way I express my academic and personal interest in a sex-positive life. That encompasses a lot. Everything from my relationship, to my blogging, to the way I talk and relate to others. In the US, it’s not unusual for me to interject into a conversation about how mine or another person’s viewpoint reflects gender or sexual privilege. I wave the flag of my queer sexuality proudly as an explanation of how I view the world and the way people interact with one another. I bring up gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues and relate them to my own experiences, hash out political developments and the significance behind court rulings and newspaper articles. And finally, I bring my observations here, for feedback and debate with you.
In Kenya, this part of my life doesn’t exist. I am not queer, I’m not a sex blogger, I’m not…anything. I have been told time and again by my program director, a Nairobi resident of 9 years, that Kenya does not have the climate for a gay rights movement, that this is not my battle to fight, and that it’s best not to make waves. This is hard advice to swallow. Why? Not simply because I love being queer and talking about it, but because this is the silencing I’ve heard so many times before- all through the history of the LGBT movement and into today.
Why should gay marriage be an issue? We need to fix the economy first, win the war first, end poverty and homelessness first. One injustice is not an excuse to ignore another (in fact, this is a true logical fallacy, which I’m going to refer to as the “more pressing issue” fallacy, because I don’t have my high school Honors Argument notes with me in Kenya).
This is a problem for me, as person who is at the crossroads of deciding where her life will go and where her true passions lie. In Kenya, my identity as a queer blog writer is not valued. I dare say it isn’t valued anywhere in Africa. In the US, I have opportunities to express my identity, affirm my loving relationship, and do what I feel I’m actually good at: talk about sex! But is that reason enough to give up on the academic and social endeavors of development work which I have devoted myself to for the last 3 years?
I don’t honestly know. I haven’t made up my mind, and perhaps it’s not my decision to make. But this I do know- if I do work in development work, there are elements of my identity that I know must be part of the conversation:
• Sexual citizenship
If you aren’t familiar with sexual citizenship, there’s a brilliant article here from the now sadly defunct site, Carnal Nation. Sexual citizenship is crucial to the way I conduct my life- it is about acknowledging myself and others as sexual people and refusing to judge others by their sexual decisions, however unusual. It is also about helping to disseminate information, much in the way I do through this blog: in conversation, through workshops, and writing. Even if it is not in person, I want to continue to be a part of the discussion of sexual rights and sexual affirmation.
• My queer identity
I need to have a community around me with whom I can disclose my queerness- it may be a group of three or four fellow aid workers, it may be other LGBT activists in the area I work, or it may be with fellow “othered” populations in the world- people like BDSM enthusiasts, feminists, sex workers, and polyamorous couples who have been excluded from the world of sexual privilege and can welcome another stranger.
• This blog
I make a dedication here and now that as long as I have fingers to type with and something to say about sexuality (and I trust it will be a long time before the world runs out of things for me to comment on), I will continue to write this blog. It is the culmination of my identity as a sex-positive person, and I feel its importance reverberate in my bones. It has grounded me during my time here in Kenya, given me something to retain perspective through, and to help me remember what I value. I don’t want it to fade away.
And for those of you starved for reading material, this paper by my Sex, Gender, and Culture professor Harjant Gill, which talks about the queer diaspora community and his interpretation of their struggles through film, is a great read. Yes, it looks like something you’d get for class, which makes sense, because he’s a PhD student. But it’s also an incredibly well-written insight into the part of the queer community I can’t even touch with my experience; queer diaspora members suffer alienation from their home communities and often the juggling of two separate identities which are very difficult to reconcile with one another. While I can’t speak to those struggles, I feel their relevance to my own life as I navigate my own small version of diaspora here in Kenya. I understand the reverse of these feelings, trying to find my place in a new culture while maintaining both my queerness and my identity as an American. If you have time, I highly recommend you read his article, if not for the parallels to your life, then for an appreciation of what many queer individuals go through trying to find their own space in our community.