I live in the land of the veil. A veil which insists on hiding the beauty of diversity. I insist on seeing the beauty, so I keep finding myself beyond the veil, alternately alone or with a few defiant souls who might not quite see things my way.So here I am, standing at the door of the pub, thinking about neglected schoolwork, the new job, the old workmates and my mother’s disappointed face every time she tells me that I am shortchanging myself by choosing the life I live.
His name is James. He is 21 years old, a young sometimes vibrant young man, but more often a depressed soul. I am supposed to be his mentor as he endeavors to establish his skills as a writer. I say supposed, because half the time, he teaches more than I teach him. In the last six months alone, he has opened my eyes to a whole lot of issues that I might never have come to see. And yesterday, he opened up another door into a roomful of identity questions, matters that I have to face or run away from.
James, wrote in an email, ” I choose to have two faces rather than admit to the truth. High School taught me that there is no room for the truth.”
“Are you gay?” I insist. He took a while to reply to that. But when he did, he wrote, ” I am a man, who is feminine in a lot of ways, but who chooses to be heterosexual.” He goes on to narrate a time when he was in High School, and was beaten up by a bunch of schoolmates, then expelled by the school administration because he, ‘acted like a girl’.
I am quick to tell him that I accept him as he is, that I treasure him for his little gifts, that he is dear to me just as he is. Then I insist that he must face the truth about his identity, who he is. I have valid reasons for insisting on this. I think that James would be happier being certain about who he is, and that it would be quite unfair for the people in his life if he forms relationships with them on the basis of a false identity. He on the other hand argues that his personality, his demeanour towards those he cares about and his work preferences are not judged by his sexuality. Then he asks me to meet him at a pub for a drink and a chat. So here I am. Standing at the entrance of a pub, exhausted, worried, anxious to say the right thing, and secretly proud of myself because I am ‘open-minded and tolerant’. I refuse to admit that I am closed-in in self -imposed bias and prejudice. I will face all that later.
James always laughs when I show up, in my worn out, fade blue jeans which might be sagging at the hips, and complemented by rather mismatched color coded accesories. “I like you because you are different.” I watch him drink his Vodka, with a measure of craving for his drink, while I sip at a cold fanta. Feminine? He is young, muscular, plays rugby and I know why. He will go to any extent to be the picture of masculinity. Today, we talk about things that have nothing to do with his or my identity issues. We talk about politics, we talk about religion, and at one point he mentions, “When Kenyans do not understand something, they quickly label it Devil-Worship.” He cites Oriental medicine which when it did walk into the Kenyan scene and proved quite effective was placed on the ‘highly doubtful’ shelf. Now everyone who is in the know goes for alternative medicine which is not African. It is curious. I wonder if Kenyan society will yet come to accept things that they furiously denounce now. The problem I feel is that when you throw off the veil, the light is likely to be too bright for your eyes, so you end up being blind to certain other things anyway.
When James and I part ways, I get into a matatu and into a back seat. now I think about another of my friends. Tom is the opposite of James. He is straight, successful career wise, the soberest of all my friends. He is obsessed with romance and marriage. I keep telling him that his being in love with being in love is the reason he will likely make a mistake in the choices of partners. He tells me that I might not be the person to tell him about love and marriage seeing that I was highly allergic to stable relationships.
I think he is right. I chose his friendship and that of James, and all my other friends because I hope to gain something from them that I do not have. Selfish, true. But the other option I have is to stay in my safe box and never see beyond my veil. Seeing beyond the veil allows me to stare in amazement at the kaleidoscope of colors that life unleashes everyday, and allows my life to evolve every day, so that I have something to look forward to every morning, and something to accomplish every day.
I find myself wearing the veil anyway. But I insist on lifting the corners. It is beautiful beyond.