Binyavanga Wainaina, the acclaimed Kenyan author and journalist, has come out as gay in response to the growing oppression of LGBT people in Africa.
Described as one of the continent’s leading literary figures, Wainaina used a new short piece, titled I Am a Homosexual, Mum, to reveal that he is gay.
The moving semi-biographical piece consists of two alternate versions.
One is a re-imaging of what might have happened if he’d come out to his mother on her deathbed and the other is recounting what really happened when she passed away in 2000.
“Nobody, nobody, ever in my life has heard this. Never, mum. I did not trust you, mum. And. I. Pulled air hard and balled it down into my navel, and let it out slow and firm, clean and without bumps out of my mouth, loud and clear over a shoulder, into her ear.
“I am a homosexual, mum,” Wainaina wrote in the scenario that never took place.
In reality, he never made it to his mother’s side before she died. He was living in South Africa at the time and returned to Kenya too late.
“I am twenty nine. It is 11 July, 2000. I, Binyavanga Wainaina, quite honestly swear I have known I am a homosexual since I was five. I have never touched a man sexually. I have slept with three women in my life. One woman, successfully. Only once with her. It was amazing. But the next day, I was not able to.
“It will take me five years after my mother’s death to find a man who will give me a massage and some brief, paid-for love. In Earl’s Court, London. And I will be freed, and tell my best friend, who will surprise me by understanding, without understanding. I will tell him what I did, but not tell him I am gay. I cannot say the word gay until I am thirty nine, four years after that brief massage encounter. Today, it is 18 January 2013, and I am forty three,” Wainaina wrote in the second, true version of events.
On a continent with few openly gay public figures or celebrities, Wainaina’s coming out is of great significance.
“Of course my friends knew, but I had been toying with how useful it would be to make a public statement for close to eight months,” he told GlobalPost on Monday, after the story was published on a number of blogs.
When it comes to the state of LGBT rights in Afrtica, Wainaina said that he still has hope. “It seems like doom and gloom but my feeling is that the law is a reaction to a thing that they know has traction. And that’s a good thing. There’s no way to put that shit back in the box.”
He added: “The idea that there is no such thing as gay in African culture is a mixture of an inherited Victorian puritanism via the first churches, mixed with sloganeering and fear.”
Wainaina was born in Nakuru, Kenya, and later studied commerce at the University of Transkei in South Africa. His first book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011 and was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her coveted book club that year.
He won the Caine Prize for his short story Discovering Home in 2002 and has written for National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), the New York Times, Chimurenga magazine and The Guardian (UK).