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.
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.
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.