By Meron Tekleberhan
Addis Ababa, March 14, 2011 (Ezega.com) – For most Ethiopians, myself included, homosexuality is a rarely discussed act of depravity. It is generally understood that such acts are practiced by drug-crazed young people negatively influenced by western culture. Many lament the defiling of our Ethiopian heritage through movies, music, books and foreign tourists.
I started to read “Yesdom Nefsat” with such expectations. I, however, found the reality so starkly portrayed in this book far from my preconceptions. The book was written by Fares (a pen name), from interviews with the main character ‘Abiye’ and others that shared his lifestyle. The author repeatedly stresses that the objective of this book isn’t to promote homosexuality but to “expose” it. He shares Abiye’s desire to combat this problem by bringing it out into the open.
In the interview he had with Ezega, Fares, cautioned of the folly of ignoring this problem on the pretext of protecting our Ethiopian culture. He said that he battled with all the negative consequences of publicizing such a life style. He worried if it would be used as a manual by young people curious about this lifestyle. He also feared for his safety, from both ultra conservatives offended by the graphic language used in the book and active homosexuals threatened by the explicit disclosure of their life style, and chose to adopt a pen name.
Asked about why he employed such graphic details, Fares said that he felt shock tactics were the only means of jolting the general public from its haze of denial. He remembers that he was as unaware of this issue as most of our society continues to be. “I didn’t believe it was such an exaggerated problem when Abiye first called me and said that he wanted to share his life as a homosexual and reveal the sad features of this lifestyle. I only became interested in this subject after I learned from my journalist friends of previous articles, a book on this issue and of rumors of organized efforts to campaign for gay rights. I soon shared in Abiye’s objectives of increasing awareness, encouraging stricter legal constraints, and creating means whereby those already in this lifestyle can be brought out of it. Most importantly I felt that there was an urgent need to save future generations from being seduced into this life style. “
The main character in “Yesdom Nefsat”, Abiye, was introduced to homosexual intercourse when he was raped by a young son of family friend at the age of six. His childhood experiences with gay sex (including anal intercourse) in rural Ethiopia are detailed explicitly in the story. We follow Abiye as he moves to Addis Ababa and almost inevitably sinks into a life of male gay prostitution. He was warmly welcomed into a sub-culture that is almost impossible to believe exists in the Addis Ababa we know and live in. The community of male homosexual prostitutes has its own leaders, code names, protocols and etiquette. Clients encompass the gamut of society from all rungs of the economic ladder, religious affiliation and educational background.
In the homosexual world, which Abyie inhabited in his time as a male sex worker, gender is fluid, no longer a distinguishing characteristic. Male prostitutes engage in various acts of sex, including orgies, oral and anal intercourse with paying clients during the night. During the day they search for romantic partners with whom they pursue monogamous relationships extending to and including a form of marriage.
The overarching rule is complete and absolute secrecy as clients, and to an extent even the male prostitutes, have separate lives that can be irreparably damaged by exposure. Abiye chose to break this rule after years of shame and guilty when he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. His diagnosis accompanied by the similarly tragic fates of his friend’s made him see the importance of saving others.
Below is a short interview with Abiye and Atelele, one of the leaders in the homosexual prostitute world.
Ezega: Do you believe that homosexuality is natural or genetic?
Abiye: It’s not natural but a result of upbringing and spiritual oppression. But many of my homosexual friends believe it’s natural.
Atelele: It’s natural. I’ve decided that God has made me this way. It’s either natural or the consequence of childhood rape.
Ezega: Do you believe that it should be legalized?
Abiye: It’s shouldn’t and I pray it will never be legalized. But I fear that with time and increasing pressure from western countries that it will be.
Atelele: It shouldn’t be legalized but we have no choice except to insist it should be as most of us see no way out.
Ezega: How widespread is homosexuality in our society?
Abiye: Haven’t you read the book? It shows there exactly how widespread it is!
Atelele: Think of it in terms of HIV/AIDS. No one believed how widespread that really was until it hit full force. This is the same.
Ezega:Why do you think young people are increasingly attracted to this life style?
Abiye: Poverty, poverty and poverty. Some also have a foolish idea that it is modern and others just want to experiment because they can afford to.
Atelele: The internet, family upbringing and breakdown in morals are to blame.
Ezega.com: What are the emotional and psychological consequences of Homosexuality?
Abiye: Lack of peace of mind, regret, nervous breakdown.
Atelele: Alienation, nervous breakdown and countless other emotional and psychological problems.
Ezega: Would you come out publicly if homosexuality was legalized in Ethiopia?
Atelele: I don’t think so.
Ezega: If there was a cure for homosexuality, would you take it?
Abiye: Of course I would! And so would 90% of the homosexuals I know.
Atelele: Would I take it? I don’t think so…I might …yes, I would.
Ezega: Final thoughts?
Abiye: I understand that some Protestant churches offer Psychological counseling for homosexuals. I’ve also heard of an organization called “United for Life” that does the same. I call for other NGO’s and the government to help those in this life to come out of it.
Atelele: Did you read in the book how many times I’ve destroyed pictures of Jesus in despair? The only message I have for the Ethiopian people is to save us and to take heed of our warning. Nothing can come out of denial. Let’s look for solutions.
* I would like to thank Fares, Abiye and Atelele for giving me these interviews and for being brutally honest in presenting the homosexual life in ‘Yesedom Nefsat’.
Meron Tekleberhan is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.