You Aren’t Homophobic, You’re Just An Asshole

It never started with the hockey-stick blows. Those would take a while to appear. Here is how the scenario normally went:

Someone would spy on the couple, spread the word, and then a small crowd would form and force them out of the sanitary block they were taking refuge in. Or out of their respective classes escorting them with jeers, whistles, stares, shouts of faggo, skuzi and amfung’ae. Faggo was a corruption of faggot of course, but I never got to know where the other two names came from. Escalation would begin with a shove, a slap or a badly aimed punch then the situation would quickly descend into a full-blown mobbing

by the time the hockey sticks appeared. They always did. And they always left a bloody mess. After that, the suspected homosexuals would be carried to the neighbouring hospital by their friends or good Samaritans. That was the same way we dealt with thieves during my first two years at Nkubu High School.

As with the latter, the students were usually suspended after treatment if the administration believed the stories about their frolicking. If that didn’t happen, everyone would avoid being seen speaking to the suspects or hanging around them, at least until the fuss fizzled out. According to our understanding, being sexually attracted to members of your own gender was wrong and anyone suffering from such a malady deserved a heavy downpour of well intentioned blows to set them right.

I suffered somewhat similar shame when about 72 of us were suspended for a variety of things the school considered as wrongdoings. Mine was being caught asleep during morning preps. A skill I had perfected by then. Sleeping, not being caught.

Unfortunately, there was an AGM that weekend and the new principal, eager to show the moves he was making to straighten out the boys, gave a speech about rooting out homosexuals from the school. One of the media houses present didn’t bother to do any further research and so a headline the next day read, “72 students suspected of homosexuality suspended from Nkubu High” or something like that.

Suddenly, my 15 year old chin, formerly help up in rebellious pride, fell under the weight of worrying about whether people would start thinking I was gay.

Six years later, attending an open mic event organized by AFRA — an organization that backs queer artists in Kenya — a discussion on the importance of ending homophobia (or lack of) is held. I ask myself exactly where my own started. I can’t remember. I just happened to think that being gay was wrong — thanks to my friends, my religion and the environment I grew up in. I can’t pin-point one exact moment where it ended either.

All I know is it just stopped making sense to me. I also came to realize that I had friends, good friends, that were queer all along. But it definitely was after I changed religions (again), read more and moved from where I grew up. I had an option, to maintain my prejudices and terminate our friendships or consider the fact that they also did not care whether I got freaky with my hands, blow up dolls or hollow trees to achieve emotional and sexual satisfaction.

One of my close friends is convinced that switching from being homophobic to (eeerm) tolerant (?) is being a hypocrite, but here is the thing, we all learn to unlearn and learn again. Truth changes according to your perspective and whoever is telling it, and it is terribly hard to shake off things that took root under your skin growing up. I am totally comfortable with my lesbian friends, whether butch or femme, but that has never been a problem really, has it? Most of us men consider that kinky. We would burn all gay dudes, but leave the lesbians. Girl on girl action, even the mere thought of it turns us on. It is the male equivalent we find disgusting.

I don’t know if that explains the unintentional uneasiness I feel whenever I’m around openly gay men who aren’t my friends. I keep wondering whether they are hitting on me subtly and I have no idea. Which is ridiculous really, that the basis for most of the homophobia I’ve seen around is founded from that, “If a man hits on me I’ll just punch him”… “I can’t hang out with those guys bana, you turn kidogo and find a nigga staring at your ass”… “Mi msee akianza kunikatia ni war”… Why are straight people convinced that they are extremely attractive to gay folks?

I work with one of those partially open-minded people who are vocal about certain freedoms — all about black supremacy, #BlackLivesMatter, equality and supporting the revolution, but are rigid as mortar block when it comes to other freedoms. It makes me wonder what makes them so. Are you scared of being infected? Are you worried that you might have some gay in you just waiting for some acceptance to sprout take over your life? Is gayness (Neo, I know you just face-palmed when you saw that word) that horrific?

Also, what qualifies as homophobia? Is it being scared stiff (or limp? Maybe? Hehe) of queer people? Is it being revolted? Does my automatically taking “that’s gay!” as an insult qualify as homophobia? Am I homophobic because I unconsciously set my posture in certain ways because other posture may be considered gay? These are questions I need answers to.

At the end of the AFRA event, a group of dancers from Uganda took the floor, shaking their hips with a fervor that sent the ladies wild (mostly with envy I suspect). Kimani, one of my very opinionated friends, was sitting to my left. At some point, it was more fun watching him suppress the cringing and shock than the performance. I kept thinking of how, after asking what the opposite of “homophobic” was, someone in the audience shouted “human” and giggled.

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Originally published at on April 17, 2015.