Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kisii, Part 3: I want to hold your hand, man

Kenyan men are very physically affectionate with one another, especially outside of the big cities like Nairobi. I especially noticed in in Kisii, and it always caught me off guard. I saw so many males wlking down the street holding each other's hands--boys, older men, and macho-looking twentysomethings. I also witnessed two secondary school teenage boys sitting with the smaller boy leaning into the larger one while the latter had his arm around the former. (Does that make sense?) And most bizarre of all--for an American--was seeing straight (inebriated) Kenyan men dancing together at a club. This wan't men dancing near each other, checking out the ladies. These were men dancing WITH each other, holding hands, looking into each other's eyes, and making smooth hip and pelvis motions that American men would reserve for a woman. It was so unusual to me that I was mesmerized...

I also experienced this male touch firsthand. Malloy, the ICROSS guy in Kisii, often would take me by the hand when he was showing me around. I never knew how to respond. Do I grab back? Or do I leave my hand limp? I tried to do something in between. Not too hard. Not too soft. Just right.

What makes all this so interesting is the fact that Kenya is so extremely homophobic. A couple of weeks ago, there was a motion in the Parliament to outlaw homosexuality! Yet there's so much physical intimacy between men. Why? The only explanation I can come up with is that homosexuality is so far removed from daily thought that non one would think that two men hodling hands is "gay." It's as if there's this common societal belief that everyone is born straight and some random people in the cities choose to be gay. That's probably why I haven't noticed the hand-holding as much in Nairobi.

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