Revv22's Blog

May 26, 2012

IT’S ABOUT WHO YOU LOVE, NOT WHO YOU SLEEP WITH

While still in school, I once asked my Paleoanthropology professor why it was compulsory to take that unit at third year level even if you never intend to venture into that field of study. (For those who don’t know, Paleoanthropology is a field of study that deals with human pre-history; looking at evidence and explaining chronological human evolution from its link with the larger primate community. Just think of Louis Leakey and you will get it).

The old man started with an answer but before he got two words out, some of my classmates started laughing because they thought that my question was a mischievous attempt at embarrassing the mzee that we all loved to hate.

So here is an old guy who is world renowned for his life-work in the scientific field, who now thinks that a twenty-something year old undergrad intends to rubbish it all as irrelevant.

What could have been a meaningful debate that would probably have him shade some more light on my reservations of the field as a “rock solid” explanation of human pre-history, turned into a one sided hurling of insults. Simply put, I was told my question was “stupid”.

I however learnt valuable lessons from this “encounter”: when you want to start discussions on matters that touch on worldviews, values and ideology you have to not only consider the reception of the people you are engaging, but also of the surrounding community. It’s also important to realize that most times the aim should not be to change the value and ideology, but to broaden the worldview of the people you are engaging and hopefully to help them see points of entry into your own value and ideology.

Currently, the debate about LBGTI and Sex Workers rights especially with regard to health care provision, decriminalization and protection had been ignited by the KNCHR report dubbed, “Public Inquiry into Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Health rights (SRHR) in Kenya.” The report has been the lauded by various Human Rights, LGBTI, and Sex Work organisations as “great work” and, in equal measure, been condemned by varying religious fora as a promotion of “perversions to Christianity and African values”.

The position taken by the religious enthusiast has, as expected, been informed by biblical interpretations of famous verses in both the old and new testaments that touch on “the practise of sex”. One such text is Leviticus 20:13 “if a man lies with another man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” In this text alone a number of issues arise; firstly the cultural context of the writer and his audience that finds male homosexual sex “detestable”. Secondly is the issue of privacy and disclosure that would either prevent or promote public knowledge of such sexual encounter, and thirdly, there is acknowledgment that a violent, blood-letting response is not right before God and as such someone has to take responsibility for it: “their blood will be on their own heads.”

In the verse and others surrounding it, instructions are being given to the Israelites to avoid doing the things that the natives of the land are doing; they are urged to do as much as possible to remain “clean” and maintain their cultural identity. Homosexual sex was to that ancient Israeli community, as detestable as the thought of eating baboon hands and dogs causes gurgitation for most Kenyans even now. For the simple reason that we are unaccustomed to it as we are to such “foods” that may be delicacies in other African and Asian countries.

As a culturally unaccepted sexual practice, incidences of homosexual sex could never be publicly tolerated. The mere fact that there existed laws condemning it means that the leaders, who were both religious and political, were aware of such practices happening in the shadows (as all forms of sex should be anyway: in private).

A careful examination of such texts will show that they all speak to sex as a behaviour and practice, “if a man lies with another man as one lies with a woman…” and never explore the possibility of love between a man and a man, or a woman and another woman so as to read, “if a man loves another man as one loves a woman…” This is because it is all in the context of a society where identity and sexuality are a limited within a heteronormative perspective.

This is perhaps why the conservative Christian leaders adopt such homophobic tendencies and attitudes; they view it from the perspective of “who you sleep with” as opposed to “who you love”. Maybe this should be the banner under which LGBT rights advocacy should engage the religious sub-sector of society. The “fight fire with fire” approach that has been used in the past, where both sides take a hard stand, has only lead to unending impasse that prevent progressive dialogue. Failing to acknowledge others value-system has lead to unfortunate situations where even now, some enthusiast would quote this verse and stress the “should be put to death” part in preaching, while many Christian LGBTs have abandoned their faith since they simply feel ostracised.

There is also need to clearly show that acceptance of LGBT members in the society is not in competition with the role that religion plays, for LGBT members have always been part of the society and/as members of the church community. The only difference now is that there is much greater need for their rights to healthcare and security. The HIV/AIDS demon that has tormented humanity since the late seventies has claimed more men who have sex with men MSMs than any other form of sex due to its physiological nature.

The church should speak to the promiscuity in the general and encourage monogamy. If monogamous same sex relations and their social acceptance are promoted by the church, imagine how many gay men won’t have to be in “pretend” marriages, and by how much the risk of HIV infection would be reduced for both them and their wives. With this in place, the church will be better placed to address the dangers of fornication across all sexual orientations and practices, especially since in the modern era it will speak to adolescents and young adults.

The message of love and acceptance over hate and discrimination against all can also come from the church only when they include all human identities without distinction. The ability to be attracted to and love someone of the same sex is something a person is born with. It is not something you learn and certainly not something you can unlearn. This may be hard to understand for someone who isn’t born this way but still it is there duty to humanity to be tolerant in the very least.

To persecute a person for being born this way is no different from killing a person on the highway because he comes from a different ethnic community. To persecute a person, because of who he/she prefers to sleep with, is no different from chopping off ones head because you think he will vote for someone you don’t like.

Even as the church continues to provide the moral compass for the Christian faithful, they need to remember and be reminded that in this country, there is a separation of church and state; that arguments such as “obey gods law first before considering the laws of man” are blind to the teachings of Jesus Christ who when asked about paying taxes said, “give unto Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is Gods.”

If I had, the opportunity to debate with my Paleoanthropology professor, I would tell him that I have a great respect for his work and the scientific field; that I understand the importance of history in knowing where we are and mapping where we want to be in future but I just don’t think I should be forced to abide by pre-historic laws that have no place in the contemporary cultural context.

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