In the past fortnight we have seen two high profile stories from around the world of gay children addressing their parents. First, acclaimed Kenyan novelist Binyavanga Wainaina became one of the first and only high-profile Africans to come out as gay by publishing “I am a homosexual, Mum” – what he describes as the “lost chapter” of his memoir. Then yesterday, Hong Kong socialite and happily married lesbian Gigi Chao revealed an open letter to her father in response to his widely reported offer of $1 billion Hong Kong dollars to any man who succeeds in marrying her.
It seems noteworthy that both of these very different instances are framed as an address from child to parent. Of course, Chao has every reason to be addressing her father, but she has not, until now, issued her feelings this publicly. Meanwhile, Wainaina’s piece is a wider rumination on his experience, but very much framed by the act of telling (or not telling) his parents about his homosexuality.
One of the ugliest tactics of homophobes is discussing homosexuality in the most base terms they can imagine. In Africa especially, this often means sodomy, with lurid scatological descriptions and bestial comparisons worryingly par for the course, even in formal settings. Gay rights activists often counteract by emphasizing the opposite extreme – the romantic, dedicated, long-term love that they are capable of feeling towards the same sex.
But it seems that both Chao and Wainaina understand that another kind of love may be their best route to understanding. “I know it’s difficult for you to understand how I could feel romantically attracted to a woman; I suppose I can’t really explain it either” Chao tells her father. Wainaina, meanwhile, was never able to tell his parents that he was gay before their deaths. However, both he and Chao emphasize the love they felt towards their parents, with the phrase “I love you so much” explicitly directed towards each of their fathers.
I am not trying to force a reading of these texts which are as complex and messy and honest as the lives their authors have led. I simply think it is interesting to note how the love between parent and child plays such a strong role in each. While many people around the world clearly still struggle to comprehend homosexuality, there are equally many who find it impossible to understand how any parent could reject a loving child. Chao and Wainaina, each with one eye on a picture larger than their own, appear to understand this, as is heartbreakingly evident in this closing passage from Wainaina’s chapter:
I am five when I close my self into a vague happiness that asks for nothing much from anybody. Absent-minded. Sweet. I am grateful for all love. I give it more than I receive it, often. I can be selfish. I masturbate a lot, and never allow myself to crack and grow my heart. I touch no men. I read books. I love my dad so much, my heart is learning to stretch.
I am a homosexual.