The truth is that the majority of African people have not had the opportunity to interact with people who identify as gay, whereas in reality, albeit unknowingly, they live with gay people in their homes, work in the same offices, attend the same schools and colleges, use the same bars, restaurants and public transport, enjoy sport and watch the same movies, pass them on the street, meet them in banks, post offices and many other public places. Many have friends they love who they don't know are gay. But because the gay people always keep their sexual orientation hidden - some even go to the extent of putting up a front by pretending not to be gay - the understanding of homosexuality by the heterosexual majority is limited to the general misinformation that they receive from the media, especially in Africa, and what is preached to them from the pulpit.
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
We are here, standing right beside you!
I am not a supporter of those African gay men and women who never tire of wailing about how miserably they are forced to live their lives, because of what they perceive to be oppression by the heterosexual majority and by society generally. When African gay men and women remain hidden and live their lives pretending to be anything other than gay, there is no opportunity for our heterosexual brothers and sisters to understand who we are and they cannot learn from looking at us and observing how we conduct our lives that most of the information that they receive about homosexuality from the media, religious texts and so forth, is misconceived and incorrect. Most gay men and women I have met are outstanding individuals in almost every respect and are liked and respected by their heterosexual counterparts. Many gay Africans reading this will at this point say, "well, yes they respect me because they don't know I'm gay". What I would say in response is, "well, that's you talking, not them. You have not given them a chance to respond to you, knowing who you are sexually attracted to. So how can you possibly tell how they would react if they knew?"
It is not uncommon to find two brothers who grow up in the same household, spend their entire childhoods together, become adults and remain very close as siblings, and yet one of them does not know that the other is gay. It would not surprise you that the one who is not gay acquires an intensely virulent and malicious homophobia from the misinformation that he has imbibed over the years, not knowing that this his own brother who he loves so much and with whom he has been so close all his life, is one of those homosexuals who he professes to hate so rabidly. If only he knew! Now tell me, who would you blame for the discordance between these two brothers? Is it the one who believes that all gay people are evil and must be killed, because he believes he has never met a gay person in his life and promises to strangle the first gay person that dares to make a pass at him? Or is it the gay brother who knows that although he is gay, he is not evil and that he is still the same person who his brother loves so much, regardless that his sexual orientation is different; and anyway he still loves his homophobic brother despite the hatred that he espouses?
Well, the way I see it, the responsibility for mutual understanding lies with both brothers. Homophobic brother needs to understand that homosexuals do not have tails and do not have horns on their heads. He needs to understand that homosexuals are people too, something like his brother who he loves so much. Homosexual brother on the other hand, has the responsibility to let his brother realise that there is in fact a homosexual person standing right next to him, who has slept in the same bed, eaten from the same plate, shared the bathroom with him throughout his childhood and remains supportive and steadfast in his fraternal love. I am of the view that we homosexual Africans are failing in our responsibility to demonstrate to our heterosexual brothers and sisters how wrong they are in their judgment of homosexuals and homosexuality. Endless whining and moaning serves no useful purpose, if all it seems to do is to perpetuate the perceived oppression by those who misunderstand us. This approach may even have the undesired effect of intensifying homophobia. It is hardly surprising that we see more draconian legislation being promulgated in jurisdictions such as Uganda and Nigeria, mostly in response to cries by a few brave gay activists. It is almost like the way people react to mosquitoes when they buzz around the ear. Generally, people take steps to silence them. Complaining is little more than an irritation at best, in my view. What is most required is an effort by gay men and women to be more forthcoming about their sexual orientation. What this will achieve is to create a situation where our people will start to see homosexual people in human terms, especially when they can identify us as people they already know. We will help to demystify homosexuality, insofar as it will become something which people can associate with individuals they know, people they admire, people they like, love and respect.
I was writing a post for this blog on my office computer recently and Doris, one of my colleagues came into my room for some clarification on a task I had assigned to her a few hours earlier. The approach to my desk from her room is from behind, so she could read what was on my screen before I even knew she was there. I don't know for how long she had been standing behind me, but I saw the expression on her face and I know she had seen what I was typing. Some time ago I would have been perturbed, but I find that nowadays, its almost like relief when I learn that someone has discovered I'm gay. Doris' attitude has not changed, she still behaves towards me in exactly the way she has always done. Indeed, I suspect that what she saw on my computer only served to confirm her suspicions and that of others in the firm. In truth I'm almost glad this has happened because even if nothing else, they will be careful not to make homophobic remarks in my presence or when I'm within earshot. And no more silly questions about my girlfriend at the office Christmas party! Its easy for people to turn this around and say that I'm only writing this because I live in the UK. What I will say is that I would still be gay even if I was living in Africa. I am not comfortable with living in hiding, or living a life pretending to be something that I'm not.