Kenya: Touching Tales of Coming Out Queer in Kenya

Published: June 4, 2014

Like the first words of a confession rushing out unevenly as they break through the barrier of a long-held silence, Invisible: Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community often reads like a series of breathlessly revealed secrets.

Through essays, poems and letters, contributors tell their stories of coming out in Kenya, and the light editing touch of Kevin Mwachiro, the Kenyan radio producer and journalist who brought the project together, leaves readers feeling like they are reading intimate diary entries or interview transcripts.

This style, somewhat voyeuristic in effect, may make readers who prefer their non-fiction remote and rhetorical feel a little uneasy, but it won’t fail to move with those who recall the mortification of explaining their suspicious celibacy to family members themselves.

The poetry misfires a little in terms of craft – if the style of the book is that of breathless revelation, the poetry feels a bit like a laboured wheeze – but the prose rings clear and candid.

For example, in ‘Darling!’, Rena Otieno details her experience of coming out as a lesbian, starting with a matter-of-fact chronology of her sexual encounters. Other stories, such as one about the confusion of a rural Turkana man who abandons his wife, ring true and, just like in reality, offer no conventional resolutions.

Far from didactic, Invisible’s stories swirl around themes of first kisses, plotting co-workers, family rejection and acceptance, with little analysis, which would be out of place here.

The narratives, told from the points of view of diverse characters, erase distinctions between young and old, secular and religious, and urban and rural, dispelling the fiction that homosexuality is an exclusively metropolitan predisposition. Invisible proves once and for all that Kenyans from all walks of life can be L, G, B, T or I, and that all stripes of people may sometimes like to engage in a bit of debauchery.

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