I attended the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in Nairobi, held at the GoDown Arts Centre and was there before it even started at 2 PM! On of the main reasons I was so excited about going was that I look forward to any opportunity where I might get the chance to be around queer people and I was very lucky: there must have been at least 200 people in attendance! Outside the main hall where the event was taking place, I heard people say time and time again, “so many kuchus/shogas/gays/lesbians/queers in one place” and I had to agree with them, this was the biggest assembly of queers I had ever been in.
All through the event, I had this feeling that the space I was in was a queer space and it is a feeling I still have after having so much fun there. The artistic expression in the form of music, dance, poetry, cat walks, jokes and witticisms by the MC melded well with the gendered and sexual (queer) expressions by both artists and audience. I enjoyed this more than I could have enjoyed the speeches or the panel that addressed human rights, non discrimination and religion. I stayed outside the main event hall when the panel was on and when the consulate from the American Embassy was giving his address (but I stayed around for Eric Maqc Gitau’s speech about his “coming to” in support of LGBTIQ rights). Outside in what could be called a “lobby” on your way into the main hall I had double vodkas served at the set up bar and had wide ranging conversation with the participants. I took some around the “Kenya Burning” photo exhibition that was taking place in an adjacent room and talked about the 2007/08 violence sometimes extending it to the culture of violence that constrains queers then as it does today.
Earlier in the week, I had been uncertain as to whether I should go to the event or not. I knew the media would be there and I didn’t want to be filmed not because I have a problem with that but, as I explained in my last post, if there is a relationship between the media and queers in this country, then that relationship is problematic and I do not want my image to be portrayed in such a manner as to cause more hate and misrecognition of queers as already is. Thankfully, the media came and went without getting the opportunity of filming queers without consent and that the organisers of the event warned those in attendance to take extra precautions while talking with the media.
On this last bit, I would like to explain how, for me, this concept of queer space unfolded itself in the event. With all the people I talked to, drank with, laughed with and chatted up, I felt a sense of pleasantness that is hard for queers to find in this country. We are sometimes very lonely, without friends we can talk to or people who know about what we go through and though we may have sex sometimes, there is always a yearning to occupy a public (or is it counterpublic?). That is why coming out is so valued within the LGB community though it is merely a marginal event informed by other superseding ones which are not as visible*. What I mean to say is that we sometimes come out to people in an effort to make known our existence. In coming out, as it is understood today, we not only come out to the straight community in which our family and some of our friends are part of but we are also entering into a LGBTIQ community. The queer space I was in yesterday did not need all of its participants to come out before coming in the main hall or the lobby or even the gate to the GoDown Arts Centre and because coming out is sometimes very distressing to queer people, I feel this was a powerful aspect that made the event so successful. A queer space is a space of possibility within which those who participate in it do not have to do so in relation to the mainstream largely heteronormative community (you don’t have to come out to come in). Though the queer space is elsewhere defined as “the cracks in the social system where new styles of dressing and living become possible”, I, like the author of the blog I just hyperlinked in this sentence believes in the “empowering” space that these cracks are, simply because interactions with violent forces that constrain queer bodies are virtually non existent. But in today’s world, to make these cracks and to sustain them in a way that ensures that we do not become extinct or unheard, we must also help sometimes in the remodelling of this social system. This means that we have to help in any way we can, in ensuring a stable and favourable legal and political environment for the existence of queers, in the least.
I am thankful to the people who organised the Kenya IDAHOT 2012, those who performed and expressed themselves artistically, those who discussed various issues regarding rights and entitlements and especially those who participated in it.
*Though I haven’t read it Samuel R. Delany’s “Coming/Out” makes a finer, well written and well thought out claim but with the same central claim as I have tried to elaborate in this and the following sentences.