WHO ARE MSM?

Many people believe that men who have sex with men (MSM) are a marginal group in our population however male to male sex occurs throughout Africa, in all cultures, societies and even geographic locations. Keeping Alive Societies Hope(KASH) organization has in the past been in the fore front advocating for better health care services and human rights for the same and it was due to this that I developed interest in finding out more who MSM were and what are some of their challenges.

Many research in kisumu and Kenya as a country have been conducted by different organization’s both none governmental to government institutions and it shows that many MSM 50% may identify as heterosexuals and have female partners, this means in addition MSM being particularly vulnerable to HIV infection themselves, they are influenced by and are influencing the broader heterosexual HIV epidemic.

Despite our progressive constitution, MSM face stigma and discrimination across communities in Kenya and kisumu to be precise and are thus often discouraged from seeking help for their health and well being. Through some of my interactive discussion with the said during my field visits I realized that MSM face specific sexual health risks in comparison to heterosexual’s populations.Understanding these difference’s will help health care workers provide prevention and treatment services to MSM.

Who are MSM????????

MSM are men who have sex with men and not all see themselves as homosexuals or gay, many maybe married, have children and even engage in sex with other women.In fact in most cases they have masculine gender identity and cannot be identified as being MSM by their dress chords, mannerism or social roles.

The divers collection of men included in the term MSM are men who are heterosexuals, bisexuals or homosexuals and who can be either relatively masculine or affeminite in their dress and mannerism. What one should know is that the term MSM does not refer to sexual identity but identifies a group of men who practice a particular behavior irrespective of whether they identify as heterosexual or bisexuals.

HOW AN MSM GROUP IN KISUMU ARE DEALING WITH MULTIPLE PARTNERSHIP ACCOMON PRACTICE AMONG THE MSM COMMUNITY

Multiple concurrent sexual partnerships among the MSM has been an issue not only to the MSM in Africa but the entire world. It is a common practice among the same to have multiple partners with low consistent condom use among MSM that is driving of high HIV rate prevalence among them, however through some of the organizations interventions like keeping Alive societies Hope (KASH) MSM in Kisumu can proudly say that at least they are a step ahead and gearing to the beyond zero campaigns.

In Kisumu there is a group whose name will remain confidential for the obvious that registered itself as a self-help group and vowed to serve their MSM community and has seen the fruits bore in the past one year, group of men who have sex with men who from diverse background came up with strategy on how to deal with the common issues that affect their community at large and Kisumu to be precise for a start. During an interactive session with the men in one of their meeting these were my findings.

So how why did you guy’s come up with this kind of group? I asked Daddy not his real name the chair person for the group. He said the group was started after almost each member had encountered blackmail and drama by the community; we sat and thought of how to come up with a group that can serve protect and serve our interest he said. That seems like movement right? I asked which he confirmed yes that their agenda but want to start as group. Daddy said most MSM tend to have multiple sexual partners which puts the at high risk of contracting HIV/STI.He added as group they have strategies of handling few common issue that affect their community and especially to the new MSM in Kisumu town and its environs. Here are some of their strategies

• Each new MSM in Kisumu should at least be identified by any organization that he feels comfortable confiding in, this would ease faster referrals to health facility in case one falls sick, it would make you identify with the community not necessarily branding or exposing you as these is done by professionals in the same organization’s and one can at least trace you from your past bearing in mind that most of these organizations work as team.
• When getting to the city of Kisumu before you are incorporated in any of the said groups or organizations one has to be referred by a person whose record is clearly known to the MSM community in Kisumu and incase of blackmail or theft cases one would be traced and victims saved.
• All are encouraged to join support groups in cases of those who are HIV positive and learn how can live longer with the virus and protect their loved ones from reinfections those would also help them know their fellow MSM who are living positive without guesswork’s and if decide to go intimacy they have safe sex.
• Establishing unlimited number of sexual partners which these MSM are encouraged to develop asmall,closed network of known sexual partners as opposed to having frequent anonymous sex with strangers.
• Educate on sero-sorting a strategy whereby HIV negative men may choose to only have sex with HIV negative partners and HIV positive men with the HIV positive and this strategy removes worry about infecting a negative man as their partners are already HIV positive.

My session ended with the team highlighting on the importance of their group encouraging the negotiation for safety relationships which they said most MSM in committed relationship’s either with men or women often engaging in clandestine sex with others and that such should be encouraged to consider their primary partners sexual health. Daddy however summon all our talk that unless partners can allow each other the freedom to discuss possible HIV exposure with others, correct and consistence condom use within the confines of the relationship must be protected.

MALE SEX WORKER IN KISUMU

In most cases we do believe that women are the only sex workers and each time we talk about sex work all attention is given towards females, well this is not true as we have men who also sell sex for money. Who is a sex worker to begin with? A sex worker is anyone who provides sex for any favor either monitory or materials now that we know you’ll realize that so many have at one point been sex workers without their consents haha…..!
It was on Friday night when we had a moonlight outreach HTC in one of the busiest sex dens in kisumu that I managed to meet Robert (not his real name for the obvious) at first I thought Robert came for our services little did I know that he was on duty and was out to meet other men who buy him for sex. I posed like a potential client and soon he joined me, a jovial ever smiling man who is between 25 to 35 of age then engaged me in a discussion.

My name is Robert and am here to meet people like you and make you happy in return of cash he told me. Mmhh! So do you sing or tell stories to people or how do you make them happy I asked him jokingly to jog his mind to open up. He said no am here looking for male clients who can sleep with me in exchange of money he said. Since we were in an open place where many could hear us talk I asked Robert to join me for soft drink in the nearby pub after I was done with my duty and he shared his story with me.

I was born and grew up in nyanza in polygamous family am the eldest son in a family of ten. While still in school our father could not support all of us and particularly my mother and my siblings but had dreams of working hard and being someone important and financially stable to take away the misery we found ourselves in he lamented! I came to kisumu to job hunt and ended up in a sex den pub where I worked as a waiter. I also exchanged sex for money and that’s how I ended up putting my family and myself through school and paying for their up keep he said. Did any of your family members know what you were doing or your sexual orientation apart from knowing that you were working in a pub I asked Robert? Hell no how could I tell them that but one day I met client who was a friend to my father who then exposed me to them he said.

What happened then? My father got angry and threw me out of the homestead and chose to direct his anger to my mother. He blamed her for giving birth to gay and prostitute man and then denied me as his son this hurts me so much Robert said tears rolling his cheeks……so did you stop or what next I asked? No! I continued with my sex work and supported my family. In 2010 I decided to build for my mother a house and still pursued my education which really ashamed my father having treated me so hostile like that. It was one Friday morning when I heard my phone ring on receiving it was my father who wanted me to come and reconcile with him which I gladly did as there is nothing so precious to me like seeing my parents happy. So what would you tell people who believe that sex work is for women a lone? Hahahhhhah……anybody can be a sex worker and nobody should point finger at any sex worker before they realize what pushed them into same.

Robert said as male sex worker he faces a lot of challenges which he believes affects many male sex workers he said. Our profession faces constant harassment and insults.We are arrested and often and harshly judged by many. This brings us out from the closet prematurely and am a victim of such exposure. What could be your wish I asked him? I can only hope and wish that we can develop ways to improve our lives, get access to health care and find ways to invest and plan the future of our lives and that our families just like everyone else he said. Since time was running and Robert was out to get clients I had to let him go on with his work as I proceeded to my own.

BEING GAY MAN IN KISUMU

It was on Wednesday night when I went out during the famous ladies night in one of the hotspots in kisumu and met this famous gay man who is also a peer educator in one of the LGBTIQ organizations in kisumu county, we had a brief talk with him as he said he in the past had looked for an opportunity to share his plight with someone who intervenes for the MSM community being one in our organization I had to give him all the attention.

Otieno (not his real name) said he is gay man who lives in kisumu town with his elder brother who works in a health care facility in the same town and very homophobic. In my county, he said (Kisumu) the law has not made it easier for us the LGBTIQ community to protect ourselves however we have some few organizations that intervene for gays and female sex workers’ such as Keeping Alive Societies Hope (KASH) but still the there are challenges as the media for instance does not at all time play appositive role in raising awareness. This has made many remain in the closet and sexual activity taking place in the dark he lamented as HIV/AIDs keep spreading at an alarming rate.

As a peer educator in an organization we won’t mention for the obvious reasons, Oteino says he help people to accept who they are. Being Kenyan and in the luo community he sticks to his culture which he says Kenya is amulti cultural and diverse country. The way people react to person’s sexual orientations also depends on their cultural backgrounds for instance being African and homosexual is viewed as not embracing africanism he said. In luo community being gay is problematic to accept especially if you are the first son in your family as the family will have their expectations with you of getting married to a woman which can be challenge.

Otieno who admits that a lot of sensitization should be done in the rural set ups confess that it may not however be easy as younger generations learn from their elders and the judgmental attitudes carried over and as for the older generations the subject of gaysm is a taboo this he says particularly in some communities such as the luo’s.Otieno went on and said that stigma is also attached to LGBTIQ community and people with HIV/AIDs are still perceived as the cursed lot from the LGBTIQ community.

What are some of the challenges that affect you here in kisumu being gay man? Oteino said most public health facilities are not sensitized to work with LGBTIQ community which is challenge when they visit to seek health care. Very few people can access condoms freely and information especially the ones in towns and coming out to either friends, colleagues and to even relatives is also a big challenge he said.

I must say kudos to organizations like Keeping Alive Societies Hope (KASH) which also offer opportunities to MSMs and FSWs to serve in their organization as peer educators, health activist, paralegals as this is privilege to the peers as they can share information on LGBTIQ issues freely and reach out to different peers with awareness and education activities through various methods like health talk forums and even through their word press page kashtalesofmsmsinkisumu he concluded.

My Identity – “I am a bisexual”

It was a Wednesday (ladies’ night) when I went to enjoy my night with a friend. Normally one expects to find couples dancing and enjoying themselves to the music. Music played on Wednesdays in most clubs are those soft music (probably because it a ladies’ night

This Wednesday night, my friend and I hoped form one club to the other. When the music in a particular club became monotonous, we moved to another club. After we had visited two pubs in town we decided to settle for one famous club loved by many middle class persons. We chose to sit at the far end of the club as am accustomed. Being a ladies’ night out, there were several couples. Either the men had their girlfriends or wives.

Right opposite us, there were two men who were having a good time. Am a music lover so I kept going to the dance floor each time they played my favorite songs. Each time I made sure to dance with my lady friend who had accompanied me.

Each time I went to the dance floor I realized that there was this middle aged man who kept coming to dance next to me. Being a social place I danced with me and we connected and exchanged numbers. He asked if we could meet the following day and I agreed. I suggested that we first have a chat to know each other before the meeting. He Introduced himself as Patrick* after a long time chatting he said, “I believe you are a grown up and whatever we will talk about will be kept a secret.” I assured him of the confidentiality.

“I was born and brought up in a small town in gem in Nyanza and I lived there for many years before I moved to the Nairobi. The family life was good and I had a happy childhood. My parents worked hard to give us education opportunities. My mother was not Kenyan. They always advised us to think of our future. We are four and am the first boy, family of two boys and two girls,” he said smiling…

He continued, that time trying hard to get him because of the loud music, “My sexuality was never an issue until I left high school. School made me very occupied with studies that I never had time to think seriously about my romantic life and my parents also taught us good values. I never really thought hard about to have girlfriends because I knew I would have them after school. However I was very social and made many friends.

After school I found myself attracted to both men and women. I found this very strange.” I asked him how he coped with this. “I was very confused about the mixed feelings and used the internet to source information so as to understand what was really happening to me. After a lot of reading, I realized that I was a bisexual.
I asked him if any of his family members were aware of his sexual orientation and their feelings towards it. He said that a few of his family members were aware and had different opinions about his sexuality. I asked him if he was an open bisexual and he said no. he explained that he loves his life private because of security issues which surround gay men.

During this discussion I explained to my new friend what our organization does and asked him to attend one of our health sessions. He got interested and even asked if KASH was purely for LGBTIQ. I told him that we also work with sex workers.

“How sure can I be that I will not be exposed? Being African, gays are not allowed,” he posed. I explained to him that we work with men who have sex with men and he needed not to worry. I assured him that I would link him with other MSM group where he would learn how to live as a gay and how to protect himself from HIV. I also explained to him how our health sessions are conducted. I also explained to him our empowerment program where we encourage MSMs to form groups and link them to finance institutions where they are given loans to start up businesses. I told him that most MSM are youth and are jobless which increases their vulnerability to HIV. We ended the conversation since our friends were now becoming impatient. Patrick agreed to meet me in the next health session.

“I had many questions about my sexuality and life while growing up. I feel I like I had a forum to air these views without fear of punishment or disapproval many things would have been different he said”

TRANSGENDERS COMING OUT STRONG IN KISUMU

Making new friends is my hobby and as a young energetic man, I also love clubbing. I recall one day when a friend invited me to a house warming party. Being a Friday (and I wasn’t going to work on Saturday) and at night I gladly accepted the invite. I was also given the chance to invite another friend. When we got there, we met a group who had already gathered for the party. Paul, who had invited us to the party, introduced us to the other group. Some of the men were dressed like women and had ornaments and makeups done.

Paul told the gathering to interact and get acquainted with each other and this was the time I had eagerly waited to ask the several questions that had occupied my mind from the time I had entered the party. I quickly moved next to one guy, ‘Younky’ who was seated in a corner silently. “Hi,” I said to him/her. He replied in a soft tone and the conversation went on. “So tell me about you,” I asked? “mmmmh,” he hesitated….”I was born and brought up in Nairobi and must confess that my childhood was not bad. I was about 8 years old when I began to feel differently and my mum did not notice anything yet. I would play so much with girls and I loved my sister’s dolls. I enjoyed playing girlish games; hardly played with boys in the hood I grew up in,” he continued.

“I heard about gays but I knew that being gay was not my identity. I grew up knowing that I was different but did not really understand myself until I discovered that I had a gender identity disorder. I did a lot of research in the net and that is how I became convinced that I was suffering from GID.
“So what exactly did you feel?” I asked stupidly. He said, “Growing up, I felt very confused about my identity because I did not fit in as a boy, in fact I was never one actually,” he said smiling. “Everything I did was girlish and I struggled each day trying to cover my behaviors and act like a man. There were times I would pretend to act like a man but this caused me so much anguish that I even developed ulcers. I was constantly teased and ridiculed and told off for “behaving like a girl”,” he said sadly.

“So what’s your future plan? Do you intend to marry and have children like other men out there?” I teased Younky. “Hell no!” he busted me. “right now am in the process of transitioning and I think that once you make the right step to transition you are technically out of the closet,” he explained. “However,” he continued, “there are a few people who know that I am transgender but to the rest of the public think I am a woman and they have no clue if judging from my appearance. But again I don’t go about announcing publically or telling people of my status.”

He also explained to me that he had met several transgenders in Kisumu but who actually still do not understand. He also said that many are not ready to come out open about their situation because of the stigma and society who do not also understand these that these issues are biological. “My mum even brought me a girlfriend for me to date!” he laughed. I also laughed.

After we had talked a while, he questioned why I was asking him so much and my interest in knowing those issues. I explained to him that I work for an Organization which intervenes for MSM. I explained to him what we do and he kept nodding his head, probably in agreement with me. He confessed that he had heard of the Organization but doubted if there were people who could come out open about being MSM and attend the health sessions, let alone identifying as MSM in public.

“So how do you think you can help people like me?” he asked, laughing. I told him that I hoped the Kenya constitution would emphasis on non-discrimination against persons with gender identity problems. I asked him to attend one of our forums and he agreed. “Don’t lose hope,” I said, walking back to the party silently hoping to see policies allowing for change of name and sex. Before I left the party, I asked him if I would address him as Mr. or Ms. “Miss,” he laughed loudly. I also insisted that I wanted to meet him in one of the health forums, and he assured me that he would attend.

MY ENCOUNTER WITH A MALE SEX WORKER IN KISUMU

In most cases we do believe that women are the only sex workers and each time we talk about sex work all attention is given towards females, well this is not true as we have men who also sell sex for money. Who is a sex worker to begin with? A sex worker is anyone who provides sex for any favor either monitory or materials now that we know you’ll realize that so many have at one point been sex workers without their consents hah…..!
It was on Friday night when we had a moonlight outreach HTC in one of the busiest sex dens in kisumu that I managed to meet Robert (not his real name for the obvious) at first I thought Robert came for our services little did I know that he was on duty and was out to meet other men who buy him for sex. I posed like a potential client and soon he joined me, a jovial ever smiling man who is between 25 to 35 of age then engaged me in a discussion.
My name is Robert and am here to meet people like you and make you happy in return of cash he told me. Hmm! So do you sing or tell stories to people or how do you make them happy I asked him jokingly to jog his mind to open up. He said no am here looking for male clients who can sleep with me in exchange of money he said. Since we were in an open place where many could hear us talk I asked Robert to join me for soft drink in the nearby pub after I was done with my duty and he shared his story with me.
I was born and grew up in nyanza in polygamous family am the eldest son in a family of ten. While still in school our father could not support all of us and particularly my mother and my siblings but had dreams of working hard and being someone important and financially stable to take away the misery we found ourselves in he lamented! I came to kisumu to job hunt and ended up in a sex den pub where I worked as a waiter. I also exchanged sex for money and that’s how I ended up putting my family and myself through school and paying for their up keep he said. Did any of your family members know what you were doing or your sexual orientation apart from knowing that you were working in a pub I asked Robert? Hell no how could I tell them that but one day I met client who was a friend to my father who then exposed me to them he said.
What happened then? My father got angry and threw me out of the homestead and chose to direct his anger to my mother. He blamed her for giving birth to gay and prostitute man and then denied me as his son this hurts me so much Robert said tears rolling his cheeks……so did you stop or what next I asked? No! I continued with my sex work and supported my family. In 2010 I decided to build for my mother a house and still pursued my education which really ashamed my father having treated me so hostile like that. It was one Friday morning when I heard my phone ring on receiving it was my father who wanted me to come and reconcile with him which I gladly did as there is nothing so precious to me like seeing my parents happy. So what would you tell people who believe that sex work is for women a lone? Hahahhhhah……anybody can be a sex worker and nobody should point finger at any sex worker before they realize what pushed them into same.
Robert said as male sex worker he faces a lot of challenges which he believes affects many male sex workers he said. Our profession faces constant harassment and insults.We are arrested and often and harshly judged by many. This brings us out from the closet prematurely and am a victim of such exposure. What could be your wish I asked him? I can only hope and wish that we can develop ways to improve our lives, get access to health care and find ways to invest and plan the future of our lives and that our families just like everyone else he said. since time was running and Robert was out to get clients I had to let him go on with his work as I proceeded to my own.