To Be Young, Gay and African

Published: March 23, 2014

When I first came out to my family, most of them stopped talking to me. My father, who I was very close to, stopped speaking to me for two years before picking up the phone late one night to let me know that my being gay was not only an amoral form of psychic and sexual corruption, but also an act of perverse, Western mimicry. I was not only going against my Islamic upbringing, but my African heritage as well.

I was born in Somalia, and I spent my formative years living in Nairobi, Kenya, before moving to London. Somalia and Kenya may have many sociological and cultural divisions, but both states stand firm on one soil when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. Any form of sexual difference is considered not only repugnant, but also devious precisely because sexual difference in Somalia and Kenya, like most African states, is a narrative best kept to oneself. If you want to spin this story publicly and share your experiences as an LGBT person, you had best buckle up and brace yourself for physical abuse, ceaseless harassment, imprisonment or death. Things are considerably more lenient in Kenya than Somalia amongst the cultural elite, but both nations still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring basic rights for their respective LGBT communities.
When I came out to my family, I did not flinch. I spoke my truth and stood my ground knowing that I would be punished in some way for having the audacity to assert my identity. What upset my family the most was the fact that I was proud of being gay. They could not configure the possibility that after years of silence, timidity and self-doubt I had finally cultivated courage and the kind of confidence that comes with a hard-won sense of comfort in one’s own skin.

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