I was standing outside the 10 by 5 feet room oblivious that this night, more than 12 years ago, would be remembered for the rest of my life. It must have been in the middle of a blink that those viciously powerful hands grabbed me by my shirt, swung me across the room and hang me on wardrobe door.
“You will speak, you will tell us everything,” came the threatening words accompanied with hard hitting slaps. I swear I leaked piss at that moment. Fear had made its way to my bladder and out through my penis.
Things were going too fast. I didn’t know why I was there and moments later when the beating would stop, I would realise that my other classmates were kneeling to my right and left.
We were witnesses and the bulky prefects, most of them from the rugby team were determined to do this faux pau interrogation for their diabolic entertainment.
When I saw Jessy and Njoya Kneeling on the other side of the room, I immediately knew what the violent madness was all about.
12 Years Ago
At 14 years old and a first year in high school, Jessy was one of the tallest guys in school. He had Long legs, and a rugged masculine face with perfectly patched stubble colonising his boyish face.
But there was also another side, there was something suave about him, something I always found fascinating. It was the twang in his English, the way his spectacles rested a little lower on his nose bridge and then the walk. In another life he must have been some kind of model.
His was a firm frame of a masculine man who had embraced a side that mirrored some form of femininity.
In that high school, boys like Jessy were given the name chichi – meaning gay or one who acts like a woman.
I cannot fully remember how my path with Jessy crossed. Maybe it’s because he stayed the next door to me in the dormitory but it’s likely it was our shared love for poetry. He would write and share them with me and I would occasionally do the same trying to outdoor him.
He was a brilliant writer and a lover of literature. His world was that of love and words and he was always eager to share it with our English teacher and sometimes with me.
Most people were uncomfortable around him and some repulsed by the way he tied his towel from his chest downwards when leaving the shower rooms. It was something he must have done from his early years but in this all boy’s high school, an environment charged with negative masculinity and homophobia, the tallest form one became the talk of that little town.
If there was anything, I remember from that night is the lack of mercy, the abundance of brutality, the ignorance and sheer disregard of human life and someone’s freedom to be.
Two fourteen-year-olds kneeling in front of at least eight bulky eighteen-year-olds while others streamed in the room to have a taste of the violence of stamping out “machichi” in school.
There were whips, slaps, jabs and incessant loud shouts hitting brutally at Jessy and Njoya. It would take a long time, long after the lights were off and the entire dormitory was dead silent that the beating stopped.
Even though the news reached the teachers, they too became complicit in perpetuating the homophobia. The brutes who mercilessly beat the young boys were never questioned or even punished. It seemed as if they had done a noble duty.
It was the two boy’s parents who were summoned to school and made to feel as if their children had done a great crime. The crime of being oneself, the crime to have a teenage crush.
The following weeks would be harder and more painful for Jessy and Njoya. With a gay tag on their backs, Stigma and segregation was the order of their days.
No one would talk to them and even a desk mate in class would ensure their desk is a foot away- perhaps a move to prove to the other homophobes that they are a committed homophobe who doesn’t want to sit anywhere near a presumed homosexual.
The loneliness was ice cold and it was even difficult because the two young boys who had been accused of being gay couldn’t talk to each other for fear of experiencing the violent fate again.
If I remember correctly, Njoya transferred to another school the same term but Jessy would have to wait another term before he left an environment that probably created the most traumatic experience any teenage would ever go through.
People fear that which they don’t understand
Later on, I have always sat and thought about Jessy. About how life turned out for him. If he ever got any therapeutic help from the trauma inflicted on him. I wonder if he has been able to fully live as his authentic self.
At that young age I came to realise that the problem was never with those who are gay but those who hated them and would even resort to violence to fight something that doesn’t concern them and worse of all something they don’t understand.
It always shocks me how a construed belief can turn young men to vicious androids of violence.
The situation always reminds of Jonathan Kent, the father to Clark Kent AKA superman. When Jonathan found out his son has superpowers, he knew that because of his differences, the world would not accept him and so Jonathan told him something that always applies to those who are in the minority.
“People fear that which they don’t understand.”
It also proved to me how ignorance is our worst enemies as humans. Anytime heterosexuals think about gay people, they think about two men or two women having sex but that is far from what it really is. It shows the pervasion of our minds and how we pigeon hole homosexuality to sex and only sex.
We forget that sex is just one part of human intimacy and in most cases it’s not the corner stone of the romance setup. It is love and affection that most humans crave. Experiences of connection, emotional support and a feeling of belonging is what really fulfils our specie. Many are blind, ill-informed and self-righteous to understand that these things are not limited to a relationship between a man and woman.
Its not our culture; Its Un-African
I blame many things for this kind of thinking and top of the list are the religious beliefs (not limited to Islam and Judaeo-Christian beliefs) that are interpreted by the ignorant to be against homosexuality. Another is the belief that homosexuality is ‘not African’.
If you say it is not African, then you don’t know African history and are speaking from a much-uninformed position.
My great grandfather told my father that even in their days, before the white man came, there were men who lived with men and that they have always been part and parcel of the community.
In the Buganda Kingdom, part of modern-day Uganda, King Mwanga II was openly gay and faced no hate from his subjects until white men brought the Christian church and its condemnation. Though King Mwanga is the most prominent African recorded as being openly gay, he was not alone.
In a commentary by Bisi Alimi in the Guardian, he talks about In Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, a book examining homosexuality and feminism in Africa. The researchers found ‘‘explicit” Bushman artwork that depicts men engaging in same-sex sexual activity. There have been other indicators that the transition from boyhood to adulthood within many African ethnic groups involved same-sex sexual activities. So what accounts for the current dismissal of homosexuality on the continent?
If there is anything that is not African, then it is the religions we so dearly hold onto. True African cultures celebrated diversity and promoted acceptance.
It is time for the new generation to wake up and uproot the tree of hate and discrimination planted by biased and uninformed traditions and religions. It is time to plant a new seed of knowledge, love, tolerance and understanding.
A seed that will free one from useless hate and bigotry and usher us in a new world where everyone is equal and free ‘to be’.