Prominent Kenyan Writer Binyavanga Wainaina Comes Out as Gay

Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo released by Wikipedia user  Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).

Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo released by Wikipedia user Binyavanga Wainaina at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. CC BY 3.0

Kenyan novelist and short story writer Binyavanga Wainaina has released a chapter that was left out from his 2011 memoir “One Day I Will Write About This Place” titled “I am homosexual, mum“. Wainaina, who is the founding editor of the East African leading literary magazine Kwani?, is an award-winning author whose memoir made the reading list of Oprah's book club in 2011.

Wainaina recounts events prior to his mother's death and his struggle to reveal his sexual orientation to the people he cares about. In what he calls a lost chapter from “One Day I Will Write About This Place”, he revealed:

I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five. I have never touched a man sexually. I have slept with three women in my life. One woman, successfully. Only once with her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was not able to.

It will take me five years after my mother’s death to find a man who will give me a massage and some brief, paid-for love. In Earl’s Court, London. And I will be freed, and tell my best friend, who will surprise me by understanding, without understanding. I will tell him what I did, but not tell him I am gay. I cannot say the word gay until I am thirty nine, four years after that brief massage encounter. Today, it is 18 January 2013, and I am forty three.

The revelation came shortly after Uganda's parliament passed legislation that would jail homosexuals and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria approved a new law that criminalises homosexual relationships and imposes prison terms of up of to 14 years.

Wainaina is quoted by Kenyan newspaper The Star saying that the anti-gay law in Nigeria was one of the things that made him decide to come out.

He has also released a six-part YouTube video titled “We Must Free Our Imagination” discussing his decision to come out, homosexuality in Africa, the church and anti-sodomy laws on the continent. Below is the first part of his video series:

Following his public declaration of his sexual orientation, Cal Advocacy blog asked, “Where are the voices of African lesbians?”:

Can lesbian women publicly and proudly raise their voices without fear of reprisals from conservative, patriarchal systems of silencing and oppression? And if we can- then why aren’t we? What systems of oppression still keep us muffled and quiet? When homosexuality is spoken about in Africa, the voice, rhetoric and overall emphasis on either affirming or disputing the rights of non-heteronormative people is more often than not the voice of gay men. Binyavanga is a gay man and he has ‘come out’ and publicly said so. But what does this mean for bisexual, trans and lesbian women? Does Binyavanga’s coming out also give us a voice and a space to claim our rights to exist in spaces that are hostile to our otherness? Can a lesbian woman in Africa copy-paste and edit his letter as a telling of her own story? Has he, in essence, spoken for us all? Women’s sexuality as a whole is a completely side-lined and unacknowledged part of womanhood, where societies, cultures, traditions and religions refuse to recognize women’s sexual rights and bodily autonomy. In this light, lesbian women struggle for legitimacy in a phallocentric world, where the absence of the penis means the absence of sex and sexuality. It can even be argued that colonial laws never took lesbian relationships to account because the very thought that two women, or women alone, could have sexually gratifying relationships was seen as ludicrous, and therefore unaffected by any kind of laws.

The post continued by praising the writer and pointing the way forward for African lesbians:

Binyavanga has helped push an already happening conversation into a public, heterosexual space. The energy around unapologetically and honestly stating our sexuality should not lose momentum. And the voice he uses in planting, firmly, his homosexual identity, is admirable. He makes no apologies, and offers no explanations. And neither should we. We need more lesbian voices, and the voices of gender non-conforming women, asserting ourselves and owning our place on the continent. It doesn’t have to be a coming out story, and you don’t have to be a literary giant. It just has to be your truth as a lesbian, bisexual or transgendered woman, but it has to be spoken out loud, because like Audre Lorde said-your silence will not save you.

On Twitter, many people praised his courage, while a few voices condemned him for his choice:


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