At an early age, growing up in Tanzania, I knew that there was something intrinsically different about me, at my core; the first anxiety that came in a wave was a gendered one.
Somehow this identity that was in me, this thing that I was harboring, alone, this thing that differentiated me from the boys, seemed to have something to do with man vs. woman. I didn’t want to be a woman for two reasons; for one I didn’t feel like a woman and second my society was very clear that I shouldn’t feel as one.
In my early age, this idea of being a ‘shoga‘ which is the Swahili word for ‘gay’ had the ‘womanly scent’ all over it. I didn’t and I still don’t have anything against women, a gene of misogyny is not in me. However, I knew earlier on that I didn’t want to undergo sex change and become a woman. I was a boy. I was comfortable being ons. Even if it meant that I would slightly be different from other boys. Innately I was a boy.
But I remember defining homosexuality as men who wanted to be women. That is what my society taught me. The tabloid papers would be graced by stories of transgendered beings, notoriously stealing people’s husbands in Zanzibar or Mombasa. I remember being very perturbed when I was 12 or 13, by the fact that maybe this is what I would become, a transgendered being stealing people’s husbands.
My first gender identity conflict arouse from this dichotomy – I liked boys just like these infamous transgendered beings but I wasn’t feeling like woman, like how the society portrayed my identity to be. This social construct was troubling for me.
At the same time, I braced for the harsh reality of the 90’s on what it meant to be a woman in a society that largely regarded women as inferior to men. I was expected to be the head of the family, to protect and provide for them. I was also expected to be elevated based on my sex because I was the most powerful of the sexes.
You see this was a time when there was that notion homosexuality in boys transpired in boys that were closer to their mothers than their fathers; I was closer to my mother in some ways. I revered her and I disliked my father; both perfect ingredients for becoming a transgendered being stealing people’s husbands, at least according to my society.
I spent more time with the girls than boys, I had a brief period of playing with the girls and this added up to this idea that I might become ‘female.’
I remember one incident, a conflicting and defining one. I was 8 or 9 and in the school assembly they had separated the boys from the girls based on ‘football’. ALL THE BOYS were supposed to go to the football ground which was 100 meters away and girls were to stay back at the school compound.
You see, deep inside I didn’t want to go with the boys because I didn’t play football but just because I didn’t want to go with the boys it still didn’t make me a girl.
But apart from this gender crisis I was facing, I also had to face a sexual crisis. You see, around the age of 7 I had come to the realization that a boy puts his little penis in a girl’s hole called vagina. I wasn’t really keen on this because this idea of putting my thingy in a vagina didn’t attract me. In fact it was around this time when I debunked my mother’s ‘your young brother came from just-below-the-navel’ theory.
But at the same time as my attraction to boys grew I didn’t know what I was expected to do with them sexually. The only thing I remember was boys showing each other their little penises in the toilets. That was it. Nothing more.
By the time I was forming the idea of gay sex I became aware that it involved a guy fucking another guy. There was something humiliating to the receiving partner and the basis for the word ‘shoga’ comes from this. Passivity, womanly, penetrated, inferior, weaker, etc., etc. This exacerbated my confusion because the discussion was more about the fucked individual and I didn’t want to be the him because it meant I would become the female, and later the transgendered being, a thief of people’s husbands.
But it was also around this time when I knew that anal sex was frowned upon in Tanzania. One of the earliest story I heard, was of women being slapped by the nurses during childbirth because of anal sex. The stories would say that the nurses would find out through the size of the butthole when the woman is giving birth. In fact, I once overheard a group of women saying that the a woman might fail to push the baby or the baby might go to the wrong pathway, almost indicating that the head of the baby would try to come out from the butthole. It was a confusing time.
I was young and baffled by this. Anal sex was a sin among heterosexual and two men engaging in it would be double the sin.
So homophobia is rooted into issues of gender for one. This makes me wonder, if homosexuality would have been better regarded, if gender discussion was best explored, in a utopian world where there are no gender issues; where there is social, economical and political equality of the sexes.
I wander in wonder.