Friday, July 26, 2013

This fixation with sexuality is unhealthy

This was published in the Sunday Nation's Barometer column on 07 July 2013, but I did not upload it on time as I was traveling. Apologies for delayed posting, but I hope it can still be a useful discussion point!

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 07 July 2013

American President Barack Obama ended his Africa tour this past week, leaving in his wake varying opinions about the success or otherwise of his trip. In his own country, eyes are focusing on the business opportunities he opened up in this formerly “dark continent” that is now said to be on the rise. The discovery of numerous mineral resources across the continent is perhaps one draw for world superpowers into this continent, and Americans are arriving here hot on the heels of the more aggressive Chinese.

Kenyans, however, have for the most part been preoccupied with reasons why Obama did not visit his motherland and, indeed, whether it is even important for him to do so in the first place. As is usual in Kenyan social discourse, we shall soon move on to the next big thing, and live happily ever after. Except that we shall not be happy for long.

Already, pundits have latched onto the American President’s exhortation to African governments to decriminalise sexual behaviours between consenting adults. In this regard, many Kenyans are miffed about the talk of “legalizing” homosexuality. It is being argued that he is urging Africans to start engaging in “unnatural”, “unAfrican” and even “unChristian” sexual acts.

But what is it that the Americans are actually telling us?

In summary, we are being told that blanket criminalisation of consensual homosexual, or any other consensual sexual behaviour, results in more harm than any purported good such moves are meant to achieve. We expend lots of resources fighting individuals whose behaviour directly affects no one other than themselves. We are being asked to leave these individuals with sexual orientations different from ours alone.

Pseudo-intellectual arguments have been advanced to counter this advice from our American benefactors. “Homosexuality is unnatural,” they say.

If this is true, and homosexuality is all bad and counter-evolutionary, one would expect that this behaviour would gradually be wiped off the face of the planet in time, given that same-sex relationships do not result in any successful transfer of genetic material from one mate to the other. How does this harm those that are opposed to it and do not practise it?

Secondly, it is argued that this behaviour is “unAfrican”. I do not know what this term “unAfrican” means. At some level it is insulting as it assumes that all Africans have the same behaviour and proclivities across the continent. All the available evidence tells a different story.

Even within our borders, behaviours vary as one traverses the country from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean, from Loitokitok to Mandera. The assumption that there is such a thing as “African culture” must be classified in the same category as the ignorant assumption by some non-Africans that Africa is a country.

Finally the argument that homosexuality runs counter to established religious norms is the weakest, in my view. If your religion outlaws homosexual behaviour, you are best advised not to practise it yourself.

Given the threats of celestial punishment prevalent in most of the major world religions, it does not make sense for a religious person to persecute another on behalf of their shared deity. Religious leaders need only declare that among other prohibited supplicants (such as corrupt politicians, killers and liars), they also prohibit those that are attracted to same sex partners!

This fixation with sexuality is patently unhealthy! 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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