Pride Past Prejudice

September 20, 2023

Monica Roberts Essay Contest 2023 Runner Up
by Aliela Wanjiru

Tuesday, 13th June, 2023.

After the first Pride weekend this year, the virtual streets of Nairobi are awash with vitriol and concentrated spite. I feel a sense of calm snaking lazily down my shoulders; the afterglow of good friends and fine spirits. There is often a sense of restlessness that takes a hold of me when I am away from my community. Even though we are perpetually miles away from each other, we stay in a constant hum of digital communication. However, nothing touches a real Nairobi night out. Smoke swirling around bodies pressed atrociously close together, pretty boys drunkenly laying across the exit stairs, DJs whose genders are as mysterious as whichever oontzy underground song is playing. It is irreplicable. When I get home, I text O, who might be my soulmate in a different complication from this one. “I’m home. Being around you was so healing.” At the party, O had accused me of being happy. At that moment, I staggered. Thoughts of the previous week came crawling back, fresh memories of hurriedly searching for a handkerchief to stop the snot crawling down my face as I tearily disowned my father. My mother was already sitting in a church pew a few miles away, our twenty-three year old relationship dissolved like a fizzy tablet in a styrofoam cup. No more prejudice. I back-tracked. I couldn’t possibly be happy. I couldn’t, but I was. Never have I felt so much uninterrupted relief. I am finally at the place I had dragged myself through sharded concrete to get to. I have my own little hobbit hole; a bowl of citrus in a sunlit kitchen; and soon, my goblin creatures that identify as cats. “I am happy,” I had said. “Glad to hear that,” Asali had butted in, voice throaty and ethereal. They were a new person I met at the party, and also O’s best friend of ten years. Asali, Swahili for honey.

Monday, 26th June, 2023.

I wear a binder, waist beads, a pencil skirt, a blazer and stilettos to work. I have never felt so feminine. I am a creature in corporate drag. My lungs are squished together and my trapezius shoulders the compact strain of it. It is a good day. After work, I idly look through O’s following on Instagram, keeping an eye out for Asali’s profile. O had mentioned that Asali could get me in touch with an endocrinologist. It feels like the universe gift wrapped these people specifically for me. The only wish I pre-made for my birthday this year was to get on testosterone after I turn 24. It suddenly feels like something I can touch. I conclude that Asali is not on Instagram. The community is pretty tight, and I haven’t seen them around so they’re probably out of the country a lot. Ergo; a lost cause. I roll on over to TikTok, where a white lady talks about getting botox done for her wedding. But get this; it isn’t lip or cheek fillers. She’s getting her trapezius dissolved. Hurrah! I immediately log off. In the terrible little apartment I live in, the tap water is as moody and disparaging as Nairobi weather in July. It refuses to run hot. I set a pot of water to boil on the stove. As tiny bubbles form on the edges of the sufuria, I come across a picture of Kim Kardashian looking glamorous in a pool, but her trapezius is entirely edited out. Something curdles in my stomach, insistent like the bubbles on the stove, or the millions of trolls on Twitter last week. Despite my better judgment, I end up by the mirror, watching my worn out red lipstick avoid the corners of my lips. I study my broad shoulders and non-existent hips; masculine. My larger than usual chest and ass; feminine. I wonder what I will look like when I transition. A sharper jawline, an ironic mustache? There is little representation of a transition to non-binary. On the other hand, the pressure to conform to feminine standards is appalling. In the background, the water boils loudly, and I remember to get back to doing the dishes. But first, my most herculean task; getting undressed. I wiggle like a worm out of the binder. A big fat worm with 38D cups (or whatever these are, I don’t know a single trans guy who knows about bra sizes). It’s not a wiggle, it’s a shimmy and a dig and a dance and a thwack of my elbow against the wall; and a dizzied retreat to sit on my bed and contemplate how to get out of the taut flesh-colored fabric. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing my only binder in public like other queers. The Caucasian color of it is an insult to my deep brown, but my anxiety won that challenge when I got too scared to ask for an exchange at the binder giveaway. Maybe the NGOs will have another. And maybe I’ll get a better job and be able to afford one, plus the ridiculous shipping fees. For once in my life, I allow myself to have hope. When I get the binder off, the relief is instant. It drags me to the floor. The feeling of my shoulders regaining mobility makes me tingle, static dancing across skin. But then my underboob touches my stomach and the sensory revolt reminds me why I wore it. I curl into a ball in bed; dishes forgotten, scrolling past more beautification videos before falling into a void of sleep.

Wednesday, 28th June, 2023.

It’s a public holiday; a surprise one. The queer pages I follow post ongoing events. Pride Month is winding up and I have only been to one party; my mind is still stuck somewhere in the chill of February. I want to stop time. I worry that next year we won’t have Pride because of politicians, and that I have wasted this June on work and rest. I remember attending all the events last year and being chronically wiped till September. I have a funeral to attend on the thirtieth, and there goes my last chance at Pride.

Saturday, 1st July, 2023.

It did not matter much that I missed the last day of Pride because I am so ridiculously filled with queer love that my heels are bouncing from it. My god, I am in love again. It was so sudden that I still haven’t caught my breath yet, but I can feel infatuation like vines stretching through the spaces in my rib cage. My heart beats wildly at the thought of them. I haven’t felt this strongly for someone since I fell haphazardly into a lesbian relationship that lasted eight years. I beg myself not to look at Asali’s updates on social media. They are a biker, nice. They have eight tattoos that I can see, splendid. We both skate. I should ask them out on a date, I think. They’re so pretty it hurts, and I’m laughing my bed with tears streaming down my face because I can physically feel the longing for someone again. It’s so silly. I’m so scared and happy and elated that I can still feel this much for someone new. It almost makes me sorry for the straight men I rejected. Is this what love is? Probably not. But it deserves a shot. I start typing. “ Hey Asali…”

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