On 6 August 2015 I’m giving a talk in a research seminar at the British Institute in Eastern Africa, based in Nairobi.
A Kenyan Queer Prophet: Binyavanga Wainaina’s Public Contestation of Pentecostalism and Homophobia in Africa
In January 2014, one of Africa’s leading literary figures, Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, came out publicly as gay by publishing a ‘lost chapter’ of his memoirs. He also released a six-part video, We Must Free Our Imaginations, in which he commented on the recent waves of socio-political homophobia in Africa. Since then he has become one of the most vocal critics of homophobia in Africa and the religious forces inciting it. This paper examines the style, content and political impact of Wainaina’s coming out and his subsequent socio-religious critique, with a particular focus on Wainaina’s criticism of Pentecostal Christianity. Arguing that Wainaina presents a decidedly queer performance, rooted in Afro-cosmopolitan imagination, the paper conceptualises him as a queer prophet contesting the Pentecostal prophets who are hunting the ‘demon of homosexuality’. Critically, the Wainaina case allows foregrounding African agency in postcolonial queer politics in Africa.