We all have secrets. Bravery is what makes the difference between all of us, and those who recounted their real life stories in the book by Kevin Mwachiro: Invisible – Stories From Kenya’s Queer Community. “Being gay is not a crime in Kenya. However, there is still the penal code that outlaws homosexual acts or acts against the order of nature between men,” notes Kevin in the prelude.
In just 18 chapters, the reader is welcomed into a world unimaginable, but one that we live in and is a reality. From the corners of Turkana, the shores of Mombasa to the big bad Nairobi city, this book cuts across different regions in Kenya, painting faceless figures from all tribes, professions and of varied religions; telling stories we’ve heard before, but not like we’ve heard them before.
Many people will relate to these stories. I related with the narrators as many times as I despaired with them. I guess that’s because experiencing up and downs in all sorts of relationships, and being able to share compassion and empathy is only humane. However, these stories don’t leave the reader in pity but in awe at how some gay people have dedicated their lives to the struggle of understanding and fighting for their rights, sexuality and their relations, despite societal prejudice and discrimination.
“I can only be who I am and be the best that I can be,” reads a passage in a letter titled Dad, from Your Son. I enjoyed Qat’s poems and most accounts, especially that of Jackson, a bisexual living in Nairobi, whose experience in digging both sexes has brought him scrutiny from both from the straight and gay community. “I guess I have to fight this on two fronts. It is easier being gay than being bisexual—though people believe it is easier to come out as bisexual.” The story of a Turkana boy from an ordinary family, growing up with feelings of liking boys, even without knowing that the term ‘Gay’ ever existed, among other earlier discoveries of queer feelings among the narrators from both sexes, indicate that being a homosexual isn’t really a luxury, or choice, or a western phenomena, or city thing, as some people insist it is. I randomly wrote down the following 10 things and themes I felt emanating from the book as I was reading: selfless, brave, strong, letters, freaky, naughty, information, insightful, interesting and myths.
There are many quotes that I want to share from the book, but I also want to hoard a lot so you can all read it. Nevertheless, will share some: “There are lots of Kenyans who are gay and all we want is that our rights be respected, be granted freedom of association and have easy access to basic amenities.”- Yash. The letter, “To the Father of my Sons” was charming. Here’s an except, “The things I want to do to you will make you spineless with pleasure … I think you are the one.” It’s almost like while reading it, you want to hide, as some stories make you excited or very sad.
Kevin Mwachiro’s first book is powerful and can’t be put down until completion (I read it in hours). Whether straight or not, trust me – you will enjoy this book and reaffirm your faith in the notion: information is power. Voiced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Kenyan individuals, this book really is a queer compilation and not like anything you’ve come across, in reading.
This book couldn’t have come out of Africa at a better time; with the recent Ugandan anti-gay bill, Kenya’s Maendeleo Ya Wanaume protest among other anti-gay campaigns across Africa. I am not an activist but a firm believer in love, respect and equality for all human beings. Plus nobody but can really dictate or direct who or what you love, and want to be with.
BONUS: I am having one of those “Proud Mama” moments, looking at how my big-hearted buddy Kevin used his journalistic skills to help people, otherwise shunned by the society, tell their story and have a voice. That is selfless and part of making history.
You should also read my review on Harper Lee’s classic: To Kill a Mocking Bird