The National Institute of Mental Health in the US defines childhood trauma as ‘The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.’ Looking back, every one of us has at least one childhood event that isn’t worth reckoning. It could either be physical, sexual, and emotional abuse or physical and emotional neglect. You’ll know you have childhood trauma if you have problems with anxiety, trust, withdrawal, avoidance, and self-destructive behaviors. Worse still, you could have moments of reliving the childhood events that led to trauma in form of flashbacks or nightmares.
Nyawira and I sat on two opposites of a roundtable and tried to decipher one of her childhood events that could have probably been a trauma. Be the judge at the end.
It began when she dropped me a hello text and asked about a lesbian story titled ‘Redhead’ by Jackson Biko. It was an intriguing story of a lady who had dyed her hair red and had her first kiss in high school from a fellow girl. The kiss lingered in her mind for years until she reunited with the girl and they moved in together as girlfriend and girlfriend.
The striking part of the story of Redhead went like, “I knew I was a lesbian when I first got intimate with her.”
“What happened for you to be sure?”.
“It was different. It came naturally,” she says. “I didn’t struggle with the physical intimacy.”
“Is being a lesbian something that was always there lying inert, a part of you, or was it something about your socialization or your environment?”
“I believe it has always been there,” she says. “Always underlying. What I needed was a catalyst.”
The never-ending debate of whether people of the LGBT community are born or become is something that remains a puzzle. I believe they aren’t born but they become. But listening to stories from my friends from the community complicates the puzzle even further.
I asked Nyawira why she wanted to read the Redhead story one more time and she said she related to it.
‘How?’ I asked.
‘Just like you, I believe people in the LGBT community become. They are not born. It takes a trigger to activate a sexual nature that is strange to the human.’
‘I am not sure I understand.’
‘Look, let’s hypothesize that you are born and fed with porridge and pumpkin exclusively for say six months after weaning. Won’t your mind acclimatize itself with the fact that porridge and pumpkin are the only foods meant to be taken by humans?’
‘You have a point.’ I respond thoughtfully.
She went on to break down how there are neurotic pathways in the mind that hold the memory of first-time occurrences of human experiences and these lead to behavioral constants throughout life.
I found that intellectually stimulating.
‘I was a very small playful girl growing up,’ Nyawira started, ‘I enjoyed the company of my playmates. I especially enjoyed the company of one Ruby Chepchumba. She was quite older than me by about three or four years. I don’t recall whether she looked pretty or not because it didn’t matter to me anyway as a child. She was all nice and very accommodating to me. Again, it didn’t matter whether she was only nice to me or it was her nature to be warm to everyone. Any item that would thrill my childhood, she used to get it for me.’
‘Did you feel loved?’ I asked.
‘I don’t think so. I felt appreciated as a child.’
‘Did it happen that you questioned why she was so nice to you?’
‘Not at all! It is a good feeling as a child when you are accorded special attention. That is all children need. All children desire appropriate and abundant validation while growing up.’
‘Did she validate and appreciate you more than your parents did?’ I asked.
Nyawira stared at the cocktail of mango, passion, and orange she had just ordered for a moment.
‘I have never thought about that, but I’d say I got sufficient parental love.’
‘Could make a distinction between the love you got from your parents and the validation you got from Ruby Chepchumba?’
‘They are two different kinds of love. My parents had no choice. I was theirs. They had to love me. For Ruby, she chose to be nice to me. She decided to go out of her way to make me feel nice. Outside parental love, Ruby’s attention to me was a first of its kind. They are two different kinds of love that I found perfect.’
‘How did you reciprocate the love she showed you? I mean, it is human nature to reciprocate good for good.’ I asked.
‘Well, there wasn’t much I could do. I was a child. I probably was all smiles when she bought me niceties. I said thank you. I became her loyal follower.’
‘One day,’ she continued, ‘Ruby led me to their house, which was normal practice due to our friendship. Only this time, she led me to the inner chambers of her bedroom. We lay on the bed facing the ceiling while chatting incessantly. She then placed her hand on my tiny inner thigh. It felt electrifying. A new feeling. We kept silent for a while. I didn’t want her to get her hand off my thigh but she did. Later that day while in our home, I yearned for the following day to head for a chat in Ruby’s bedroom.’
I am amused at this point. Looking back at my childhood, a vicious fight would ensue with any guy who tried to hold my hand, let alone touch me. The fight would cease when an adult neighbor would show up with a bamboo cane.
‘He touched my hand.’
‘No, he touched mine first.’
We would be spanked Biblically and set off to the playground again to be on opposite sides of a football team.
‘At this point, I was so comfortable with Ruby that I trusted her fully. Besides, she was always nice to me. Things escalated fast and we used to lay in her bed, in her bedroom, with our panties off, fondling each other. This happened as many times as I could remember. And the feeling was always nice.’
‘Did you know anything about sexuality at this point?’ I queried.
‘No, I did not. As far as the outlay of means was concerned, we were playing games. I was however curious that she only played this kind of game with me. She didn’t play this game with either her siblings or my siblings.’
‘Any instance of these sessions where you were guilty?’
‘None at all except for once when Ruby’s brother found us on bed intensely fondling each other.’
‘Well, it is difficult to explain now looking at it but I’ll try. It is called scissoring. Scissoring is when two people with vaginas open their legs and rub their vulvas together.’
That is intense.
‘Ruby’s brother was stupefied when he saw us. He threatened to let our parents know. Ruby calmed him down in a way I have never known. I could guess by bribing or blackmailing him with a mistake he had also done in the past. The incident never saw the light of day. That is when I realized that whatever was happening was wrong and illegal.’
‘Was there any form of penetration?’
‘None at all. Not that I remember. I was a child.’
Nyawira went on to narrate how her mother never realized any strange thing despite her always getting back home without her innerwear that she used to forget on Ruby’s bed. She wished her mother would have asked then.
Are we justified to say that your first sexual encounter was with a girl?
‘Absolutely yes. I didn’t know then, but now I’m certain.’
Ruby happened to join boarding school and Nyawira’s family moved to a different place.
Fast forward to high school, Nyawira’s encounters as a child kept lingering over her head especially when she was warmly hugged by a form two girl at State House Girls when joined form one. While the form two hugged her to welcome her, she read more into it when there was nothing to decipher. The four years in high school went by without many personal incidents. Most of her colleagues were however suspended due to lesbianism and she always wondered what they were caught doing.
On-campus, Nyawira battled with her sexuality. At some point when she used to have girls’ sleepovers at her place, all she did was have these intense sexual thoughts with whoever the girl was spending at her place. Only that she didn’t know whether this other girl was like-minded in lesbian sex. She doesn’t know what would have stopped her if any of her girlfriends agreed to sex. Luckily nothing ever happened in those instances.
Curiosity upon curiosity led to watching intense lesbian porn in a bid to fill a void that had found space in her being.
Depression set in and a sexual identity crisis occurred. With the current atmosphere in our country, such topics aren’t ones to come out blazing for.
Being a beautiful lady, men approached her and it was all new. She gave in to one who came close to showing the affection that she received from Ruby back in the day. They kissed and touched and it was a whole new level of intimacy that she found equally exhilarating. It made her happy that she could also get attracted to the opposite gender. She finally felt normal.
‘Can we refer to you as bisexual?’
Sipping her last gulp of the cocktail, she said, ‘I don’t think so. A bisexual has regular sex with both genders.’
‘Where is Ruby?’
‘No idea. I once tried to reach out but she wasn’t willing to do closure. I hardly know about her life.’
There is a lot around lesbian and gay sex and people think and do different things. But that was Nyawira’s story as far as this issue is concerned.
“You’re wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah, you have that ability to be a modern-day Noah, you can preserve life. How many same-sex couples would you take from the animal kingdom and from humans to put on a spacecraft to perpetuate humanity and the wildlife kingdom?”