Saturday, October 31, 2009

Applauding the few brave women of Malindi

Sunday Nation 01 November 2009

Almost unheralded, a revolutionary act was committed by a few brave women at the Kenyan coast last week. During a Sunday sermon in Malindi, female members of the congregation protested loudly when the priest suggested that men were becoming homosexual because women ‘‘had failed to do the job that God gave them’’.

This statement was made in the context of the reported ‘‘marriage’’ between two men of Kenyan descent in the United Kingdom. The local media was awash with the story, interviewing distraught parents and villagers in a bid to contextualise the matter and, of course, outdo their competitors in the process. Some radio presenters on the more raunchy shows were heard suggesting that these (gay) guys should be ‘‘slapped’’ out of their misguided behaviour!

While everyone has given their two cents’ worth on this matter, some more passionately than others, very few have gone beyond simply expressing their disgust to examining the serious underlying issues. The Malindi priest tried to explain his ‘‘disappointment’’ especially with Kenyan women for ‘‘allowing’’ their men to ‘‘go gay’’, but only succeeded in earning their wrath instead.

Suggestions have been made that homosexuality is dangerous because it puts small boys at risk of being sodomised. Others have argued that if allowed, the practice risks spreading rapidly and interfering with the cosmic scheme of things where man (and woman!) was meant to procreate and fill the earth. The bigger issue that needs to be examined is this: are the reasons given above sufficient in and of themselves to justify the extreme outpouring of emotion over private sexual preferences of individuals? Let us examine them in a little more detail.

The contention that homosexuality puts young boys at risk of being sodomised is severely flawed, for it assumes that all homosexual men have no control over their sexuality and will prey on unsuspecting members of the public and practically rape them to satisfy their sexual urges.

Followed to its logical conclusion, however, this argument implies that heterosexuals will similarly put young boys and girls at risk by the mere fact of being sexually active! At the core of this argument is the assumption that people do not have control over their sexual impulses, an assumption that does not find support in empirical evidence.

A similar argument was exposed in Franz Fanon’s writings about the attitudes of colonial Europeans towards the sexuality of Africans, and was thought to be at the core of ideologies such as apartheid that sought to keep white women away from black men for their own protection. African men were thought to be savages with no control over their sexuality, and it seems this argument is now being applied on African homosexual men!

The assertion that homosexuality must be checked to reduce the risk of its rampant spread in this country suggests that all men are susceptible to homosexual impulses and therefore need protection from rampaging gay men who may just convince them to play ball.

The natural conclusion from an argument such as this is that those complaining loudest fear that they may be ‘‘converted’’ themselves and their protests are some sort of self-inoculation against the practice! In psychological terms, this is an ego defence mechanism known as reaction formation, implying that those feeling so strongly about the subject must first examine their own attitudes towards it before going out and causing such a ruckus.

Finally, the Malindi priest attempted to examine the causes of homosexuality among Kenyan men, and came to the conclusion that Kenyan women were to blame for not taking better care of their men. He also suggested that parents had abdicated their responsibility and were therefore also to blame for their children’s transgressions.

Homosexuality is often a very personal experience, and its prevalence in Kenyan society may never really be known as a result. Homosexuals do not clamber onto rooftops to proclaim their sexual preferences, and most practise their sexual behaviour in the privacy of their homes. The decision to practise homosexuality is therefore made privately, and has very little to do with what other people think or feel about it.

Blaming women collectively for the choices of individual men reeks of a form of parochial sexism that has no place in the sort of society we are trying to build in this century. We must therefore applaud the women of Malindi for rekindling the hope that a better future is possible if we are willing to stand up to hypocrisy and destructive leadership. Let us learn from this epochal act and start saying ‘‘No’’ to ethnic chauvinists masquerading as leaders when they attempt to herd us towards inevitable conflict. We must speak up for what we think is right, and maybe then we shall save this country from self-destruction.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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