July 2011


Situational Ethics: Being on the DL (Down-low) (or not)

One of my favorite blogs is the “rants and raves of a kenyan gay man”, which is written by a man in Kenya who’s gay and, as far as I can tell, “out” in that one in Kenya is out, which is to say, not really.

Or, as he puts it:

In the wider scheme of things, I don’t exist. The Kenyan gay man is a myth and you may never meet one in your life time. However, I and many others like me do exist; just not openly. This blog was created to allow access to the pysche of me who represents the thousands of us who are unrepresented. I know its anonymous and thus contradicts the essence of what I am aiming to do. But if it does inform, educate and demystify the Kenyan gay man, then the purpose is served

I love the blog because it constantly reminds me that for all the complaining of first world gays about things like gays in the military and same-sex marriage, there are places where gays have much more fundamental issues like visibility, acceptance, and, in some places, legality.

Last week the Kenyan gay man tweeted about another blog out of Kenya, the “Attorney on the Downlow”, which is written by a bisexual (or gay) attorney in Kenya who has a girlfriend—and when she’s out of town, he gets busy with the boys.

I retweeted the tweet only to get a comment from somebody that they were disgusted by the attorney:

What bothers me is that he is lying to his girlfriend… not so much the fact that he isn’t loyal… but that he isn’t telling her that he is having sex with men.

I completely and totally understand… there are consequences of man-on-man sex, especially if unprotected (the same for man-on-woman sex): disease, often HIV. The Attorney on the Downlow never specifies whether or not he uses condoms—so it’s an open question as to whether or not he is putting his girlfriend in danger. But while it’s an open question, and one I pose here, I don’t expect an answer (even if you read it here, Mr. Attorney on the Downlow).

So ultimately I waffle:

As for the lying to the girlfriend thing — I have to confess that we get into situational ethics here — were he in Berlin or New York City I would be upset and write it off almost instantly as a closet case not worth bothering with — however this is Kenya. I suspect that in Kenya the consequences for coming out are much greater — and the stigma for being gay in Kenya is a known quantity: Per wikipedia it is “criminalised by the law and may result in imprisonment” — I think I’ve read that things have improved in the last few months – but coming out is hugely risky and if you come out to the wrong person could have unpleasant consequences. To quote a Kenyan newspaper from less than a month ago, “In Kenya, being called gay is worse than being called an adulterer.”

I’ve been thinking about this ever since – and I haven’t really changed my thoughts vis-a-vie being gay in Kenya, but I’ve been reflecting a bit more about being gay in America, particularly with respect to African-Americans.

More than once I’ve listened to discussions about being on the “down low” in the American African American community. It’s not an identical situation to being gay in Kenya, but there are some similarities. Being gay in some African-American communities has the social consequences of being ostracized, which, for many, might as well be the equivalent of a stoning; being kicked out of society and away from friends that they know.

I would hope that African-Americans in the United States are moving ever closer to this ideal of being tolerant of the GLBT community in their midst (we know it exists).

At the same time I recognize that the situation in Kenya is far different—that what I wouldn’t tolerate in Berlin or New York City, I would tolerate in Nairobi.

I’d also celebrate the fact that there are gay Kenyans blogging about their lives—incrementally increasing visibility, which, one day, will lead to an out, proud, and vibrant GLBT community.

5 comments to Situational Ethics: Being on the DL (Down-low) (or not)

  • This comment is just an indication I read your post, I often read and say nothing, so this is a change somehow this time. 🙂

  • I seem to remember you and I going to Africa and in the span of a few short minutes we left one country where being gay while not embraced was treated with some sort of legal parity with heterosexuality (more so than in the US) and entered into another country that if they had known you and I were gay, we would have been jailed for something like 4-years which oddly enough is the same length of time as a witch.

  • *ack* Please excuse all the grammar errors above. It’s late and I just got out of work.

  • I just hope he wears a condom in every situation. AIDS is nothing to mess with.

  • Martin Wisser – Awe Martin! Thanks!

    Cynical Queer – Global perspective on life. I wish the Tea Party experienced life.

    MT – I do as well.