kenyan male sex workers serve “politicians and religious leaders”

Nanjala Majale (BTM Correspondent)

MOMBASA – 26 January 2009: Panning out to Mombasa, the second largest city
in Kenya, a young good-looking well-groomed man sits on a bamboo chaise
lounge. He is a male sex worker, who caters only for male clientele.

He has a slightly bored expression on his face, but is willing to talk about
his lifestyle and line of work.

“I don’t know why they think there are only a pocketful of homosexuals in
this country”, Brian* mused before the interview even started, staring
absentmindedly at his nails.

“Our main market is not the white tourists who come down here. We cater for
people in Nairobi, Meru and even Mandera!”

He went on to say, in a slightly feminine tone, that last December he spent
the entire month, fully paid, in Nairobi. “I had fun!” Brian enthused.

Brian is one of many male sex workers who cater exclusively to male clients.

He regularly attends one of four health centres that serve MSM in the
coastal town, set up with the help of the International Centre for
Reproductive Health (ICHR) an institution that teaches men about safe sex
practices and offers occasional counselling.

In a study published in the June 2007 edition of AIDS, researchers estimated
that at least 739 MSM were selling sex to other men in and around the city
of Mombasa, a “sizeable population that urgently needs to be targeted by HIV
prevention strategies,” the research said.

24-year-old Brian says he initially got into the business to make money.
“Nowadays sometimes I do it just for pleasure, but mostly it’s for the
money. I work only five times a week,” he declared.

Asked whether he is a homosexual Brian confided “I was raped by a neighbour
when I was about eight years old and from that time I started getting sexual
urges – more for men than women. I didn’t take any action after the rape,
because I was threatened”, he revealed, explaining that he suffered
emotionally for a while before coming to terms with it.

“I started actively going with boys when I was in secondary school. I was in
a boarding school and I had about 40 boyfriends during my four years of
studying there,” he said with a seemingly shy but proud expression.

“I didn’t have sex with all of them, but I liked the romance. After college
is when I came out and from then I would look for people who want serious
relationships.”

Brian revealed that his first few relationships did not work. “Most people
just wanted to have sex and then they would often cheat on me. I have never
desired to have a sexual relationship with a woman though. Maybe one day I
will, just to try.”

“In my business, I charge about KSH 1,200 per shot. But that’s on the lower
side for the younger clients. I only give two shots, once at night and once
in the morning. I don’t stretch myself.”

“I don’t like old guys,” he confided with a low voice, “so with those ones I
charge a bit extra, about KSH 2,500 and that is just for the night.”

Brian says that despite the stigma that faces homosexuals, more specifically
from society, police, and the church, their clientele is made up of people
in these very segments.

It was revealed at a June 2007 conference on Peer Education, HIV and AIDS,
in Nairobi, that MSM face high levels of stigma and discrimination.

Agnes Runyiri of ICHR said at the forum that homosexuality is considered
taboo, un-African and anti-Christian.

“It [homosexuality] is very common. The only problem is stigma. That is why
we are scared to come out. But in real sense, our clients are politicians,
businessmen, religious leaders – I’m very sorry to say – but it’s true,”
Brian pointed out.

Since every business has its own down sides Brian narrated that “sometimes
you get bad customers who pay you less than the agreed amount or disappear
with your money.”

“Luckily, I have never had a violent customer although I was in a violent
relationship once. He used to beat me up and say that it was because I had
become naughty, that is why I had to break it off”, he said shrugging.

He also underlined that safe sex is key in his line of work, and even
generally with men who have sex with men.

“There is a safe clinic [ICHR] that I work with. I started as a peer
educator, but since I have a background in journalism, I now work as a
counsellor. We have very many gays, who are messing about and they don’t
know that they are. We deal with prevention of HIV/AIDS and it is helping
because many of us were dying.”

He says it’s unfortunate that homosexuals are mistreated in most health
institutions, an issue which he thinks the government should look into.

“I wish that the government would sensitise the whole country to accept that
this thing [homosexuality] is there and we have to help these guys out. The
more we push it under the table, the more we are going to die.”

“What we need is health rights, not even marriage rights because I don’t
think even my family would allow me to do that [be a homosexual]. They need
sensitisation. People don’t understand that we are normal human beings, it
is just that our sexual preferences are different”, he concluded.

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