In the life of a Kenyan gay sex worker

July 18, 2010 12:00 am
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 18 – He is only 23 years old but his eyes look weary, shrivelled and downcast – like someone who hasn\’t slept for days; has been crying or has been through too much pain. I can\’t quite put a finger to it.

And then his voice… it sounds empty with no signs of hope or anticipation for the future. But after what he tells me, I begin to understand why.

"I am neither accepted by my family nor my friends but that is not even the problem. The police are. When they arrest us (gay sex workers) they force us to have sexual relations with them and without protection. On a bad night you might even have four policemen," Cinderella says as his voice trails off.

He is a gay commercial sex worker at the Kenyan Coast.

The 5\’ 6" skinny, dark skinned man fumbles with his brightly colored finger nails and his calm demeanor is replaced by a sense of uncertainty… almost despair. It must be hard for him.

So I stop asking questions and give him time to compose himself.

"Sometimes even having money cannot save you because the policemen refuse to be bribed and insist on intercourse. Negotiating with them is pointless because they will do what they want anyway and since being locked up means forgoing a whole night\’s business, you just allow them to do what they want," he explains.

"Other times you don\’t even have the money so if you get arrested on a Saturday night when business is very high you have no choice but to give in to their demands."

He goes on and on explaining his situation as if trying to come to terms with the challenges life has thrown his way.

Cinderella tells me that he knows how risky his lifestyle is for his health but he feels like he is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

He explains that his dilemma is worsened by the fact that there are clients who offer him more money provided no protection is used.

"I am worried about getting HIV/AIDS and I really try to protect myself but if you were me what would you do if you got a customer willing to pay you between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000 for your sexual services, as long as you didn\’t use a condom? Tell me," he says and turns his gaze on me expecting an answer.

"Please put yourself in my shoes and forget you are a journalist with some form of salary for a minute. Remember you have no idea whether you\’ll be able to afford dinner in the evening," he says before I can respond.

The Taurean? (Taurus) in me is tempted to open that debate with him. But then I remember at the end of the day I have a roof over my head, some pretty decent clothing and a warm plate of food when I get home so I let him go on.

"In the past month alone I think I slept with about seven men without protection and that\’s minus the police. I know how that sounds but I think I have come terms with my actions. I am still scared because so far I have been lucky and have not contracted HIV but I just don\’t know what to do," he says with a heavy emotional tone in his voice.

And then there\’s John (also not his real name). He is also a gay commercial sex worker.

His is extremely light skinned but with one or two pimples on his face. He tells me he uses skin lightening creams to attract more clients. I choose not to get into that – maybe save it for later.

And should he need medical attention, hospitals are not friendly for his ilk.

"Sometimes you get a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) maybe around the anal area. And you start wondering what to do because when you go to hospital the doctors start calling each other to \’come and see a gay person\’. So for most of us, rather than be humiliated to that extent, we prefer to either get traditional herbs, self medicate or wait for the infection to clear off," he says.

But then self medication does not always work. And he has seen a number of his colleagues and friends lose their lives because they were too scared to go to hospital to get proper treatment.

With John the same helplessness that I witnessed from Cinderella emerges. He also believes that there is no way out.

I dare not try tell John that there are other ways out because it will be like talking to a stone.

And I feel like their (gay sex workers) rights have been violated so much that it has reached a point where they feel they deserve the cruelty the world hands them. They don\’t even try to fight the system but instead resign their fate to it.

"It is very hard to use a condom because clients here believe that gay men cannot transmit HIV/AIDS. In fact they offer more for sex without a condom. And I don\’t have a job yet I have to survive so what should I do? There are even times when I am forced to use a nylon bag as a condom so you can imagine how hard things can get. I have to survive through each day as it comes," he says.

Then I meet Miss B. He looks more girlish than I do. He narrates how he was recently thrown out of his rented house, not because of defaulting on rent but because of his sexual orientation.

The landlords do not approve of his lifestyle and because of that he has been beaten, shamed, shunned and rendered homeless- many times.

"I think because of how we look sometimes people just get very cruel. Last month a friend of mine and I were attacked by some youth and given 24 hours to move out of the house. There was nothing we could do so we just moved. Then last week I was beaten by a mob yet I can\’t go to the police because it would only make things worse… I would get molested," he says.

Further, Miss B says that his newly found neighbors and landlord also want him out because they cannot stand his sexual orientation.

"My family wants nothing to do with me yet this is something that I can\’t change. Where am I supposed to go?" asks Miss B.

And all I can do is offer him a blank stare and a few words of counsel which I don\’t think he wants to hear.

"People attack us in broad day light; they steal our things – money, phones and everything else. But where do we go? Who do we tell?" he asks.

Of course that is not an easy thing for any human being. Somehow I feel like I know how the biblical lepers felt when they were shunned and exiled. But that pales in comparison to what John, Cinderella and Miss B feel. They are treated like second class citizens being denied some of the basic human rights.

Society may frown at them for their curious orientation but after interacting with them I start seeing them as human beings – someone\’s brother, someone\’s nephew …someone\’s son.
 

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