On coming out: Full disclosure, by Kevin Mwachiro

First published on medium.com

 

I was having a conversation with my friend Ndunge, and she said, that many people (more so men) lack courage and she proceeded to describe me as a brave. I’ve never really thought of myself as brave. I’m just doing me. But I realised just being yourself does make you brave.

This piece has been in my head for a long time and my conversation with Ndunge was a kick in the butt to finally get it done. But in being brave, we have to face our fear straight in the eye and deal with the consequences. There is still fear in me, even as I write this, I’m asking myself, ‘why make myself so vulnerable? Why put my s**t out there?’

Well, for starters, I can, and I know stories have power and I have been built and continue being built through, and thanks to, people’s stories. After living with silence for many years, I realised that I was not experiencing my true self. Coming out as gay (breaths) wasn’t easy. You get the looks, the judging, the weird to almost rude questions or remarks. For instance, ‘si, you just get married and do your thing on the side’ or ‘you are too open for me’ or ‘aren’t you afraid of getting lonely’ or ‘ woi, your poor parents, you don’t want to give them grandkids?’ or ‘ you just need a chick and then you’ll be sawa’.

But I am sawa. I’m ok with whom I am. That journey to get here has been long, painful and arduous. You face rejection, assault, bullying, and self-hate. I contemplated suicide at one time, but I was too scared and thought the entire process would be too messy. Then I asked myself, ‘What was wrong in being me?’ After so many years of being in the closet, at that time I was getting to know that feeling of being on top of the world, where your heart feels warmer and your being is alive. That giddy feeling is brilliant isn’t’ it? I got to learn, and are still learning the importance of self-love and self-care. Because, I know, that I’m beautifully and wonderfully made, just like the next person. So, I’m very sawa.

Another interesting thing that I’ve learnt over the last few years is that my people, aka us, sisi Wakenya, are a lot more comfortable talking about cancer than sexuality. We do like our woiye stories more than ‘real’ stories. Why do I wonder? Is it because it’s easier putting someone with an illness in a box rather than someone who dares to say they love differently or have a different way of expressing their gender identity. Life has too many greys. Black and whites are only for zebras and even on those zebras, those stripes aren’t the same. I’m learning that the grey areas force you to question, and hopefully, learn and grow. Though unfortunately, for some people grey areas are uncomfortable and unsafe. That is still a choice too. It takes courage to face the grey.

Telling people that I had been diagnosed with cancer, was like coming out again. There is the uncertainty of how people will react. As you are dealing with guilt, you also have to deal with the prospect of rejection. Rejection is real even within these circles. I know of many survivors who’ve been shunned by partners, family and friends because ‘cancer is expensive, and cancer means death’. So, it’s easier to bail than deal. The absence of courage. Hearing those stories hurt but made me all the more grateful for the support that I’ve received during the course of my battle. Yet, I live with the knowledge that myeloma doesn’t really go away and it does strike back. Will the acceptance and support still be there? Will I have the strength to fight? Will the chums (money) be enough? Will I be sawa? Will there be that someone to hold my hand and see me through? Being sick and alone isn’t pleasant and it doesn’t matter whether you are ‘a gay’ or ‘ a straight’. That feeling is universal. But it takes courage to admit that we do get scared and we are afraid of the unknown. That should not stop us from trying, asking for help, being vulnerable, or real.

The closet isn’t a wonderful place to be in and you end up living in fear. Worse still, you don’t get to experience your true self. Silence, shadows and secrets thrive in the dark. I’m taking a leaf from my friend Nguhi, who says, “We are here for a good time, not a long time.” So be brave, it won’t always be sawa, but it will always be real. Bon courage.

Health update: I’m still on maintenance treatment (low dose chemotherapy and on my 25th cycle), still in remission. and living and the loving the moment.

 

Kevin Mwachiro is a Kenya based activist journalist, writer, podcaster and cancer fighter. He is the editor of the anthology, Invisible – Stories from Kenya’s Queer Community.  He was elected to the new PAI Board at the Conference on the4th of June. He can be found Twitter: @kevmwachiro.