MWACHIRO: To be gay, gifted and ill in this place we call home

Friday May 31 2019

Binyavanga at the 2015 TEDxEuston. FILE PHOTO | NMG


I first heard of Binyavanga Wainaina in 2006, when I had just come back to Kenya from doing my Masters.

It was thanks to Kwani? and I was fascinated by the journal, the writers and the stories.

I am grateful to Kwani? because it assured me that I could survive being back in Kenya. It was full of free thinkers, creative minds and outspoken personalities.

When I met Binya for the first time he was all those things and as I interviewed him, I knew that I would be sawa (ok). He could talk about anything.

He had long dreadlocks then, probed you with his huge eyes and insightful questions and he made you laugh. He was always humorous.

As I had been abroad for a few years, I was keen to meet new friends who weren’t going to ask me about marriage, land, children or what car I drove.


Binya and the many writers that I met made my settling in Kenya easy.

Our paths crossed again, when I launched my book in 2016. It came out after his as coming out and the newspapers were afraid that the gays were about to take over Kenya.

It was reassuring to know that there was another publicly gay man in their 40s. I was not alone. Little did we know that life’s twists and turns would weave events in our respective lives.

I was diagnosed with blood cancer multiple myeloma soon after his first stroke. The gays and their maladies.

We both had fundraisers for our medical expenses, and he kindly attended mine, coloured hair and all. I made a point of reaching out to him later to share our ‘‘war stories.’’ That evening, he and I talked about how lonely it can be to be gay, single and ill. We were going to be ok.

Binya was bold, boisterous and brave. Bold enough to wear a tutu, boisterous in a way that left one edge, and brave enough to declare that he was HIV positive. Binya’s three Bs, that Kenya was not too sure how to deal with.

I will miss his words. I will also miss his colour. I will miss the fact that Binya knew he was no saint, for all that he was he was unapologetic about who he was. Such honesty in this place he called home is rare.

One thing is for sure, even though we may not have agreed with some of his decisions, dress or otherwise, the space that he occupied will not just be quieter, but a little blander.

Kevin Mwachiro is a Nairobi-based writer and journalist