The Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina came out over the weekend in an essay titled “I am a homosexual, mum,” to coincide with his forty-third birthday.
Calling it the “Lost Chapter” to his 2011 memoir “One Day I Will Write About This Place,” the essay focuses on his regret at not coming out to his mother as well as his lifetime struggle with his sexuality.
The piece is nonlinear and partially imagined, partially his memory.
He opens the essay with “This is not the right version of events,” before beginning to describe the imagined way he would come out to his mother on her deathbed. Immediately after we are met with the “right version of events,” which describes his inability to return from South Africa in time before his mother’s death.
The essay ends with the statement: “I am a homosexual.”
For all those who responded in confusion to the essay, he tweeted: “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.”
According to Wainaina, he has received thousands of messages expressing support from Africans all over the continent.
Notably, Kenyan journalist, Otieno Owino praised Wainaina in an open letter where he told the author, “I can’t imagine how free you now feel. How liberating must it be to know that you are now true to yourself!” However, Owino also expressed that “to me you have always been out here.”
Wainaina told the Global Post on Monday, January 20 that his friends already knew about his sexuality, but he “had been toying with how useful it would be to make a public statement for close to eight months.”
He said that he was uncomfortable with the levels of ease he felt as a homosexual whilst a large number of countries in the continent criminalized and oppressed other homosexuals.
Wainaina’s decision to come out is specifically significant due to the oppressive legal homophobia resonant in Kenya, as well as Nigeria, a place he calls his other home.
He told the Global Post: “There was the anti-gay bill in Uganda first, but the Nigeria one! Nigeria is a country I go to — I was there three times last year — it is a place I love, it’s like a second home to me.”
According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 96 percent of Kenyan residents believe that homosexuality should not be socially accepted. Nigeria showed 98 percent disagreed with the social acceptance of homosexuality.
In 2011 non-governmental Kenya Human Rights Commission published results of a survey, which suggested that among those who came out to family members, 89 percent reported that they were disowned based on their sexuality.
Despite these figures the constant international exposure of the LGBT community in Africa has, according to Wainaina, has forced the issue into the public to be scrutinized, debated and considered.