“As the plane took off from John Glenn Columbus International Airport I knew I had given up my dream. We were going to Kenya, Africa for a vacation but deep down I knew that it was a punishment. I had come out to my parents and even though they didn’t show it I knew they resented me.
When we landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, my mom took me aside and said, ‘Look, no one can know about your secret. You can’t tell anyone that you think you’re gay. They wouldn’t understand.’
I nodded, I knew the consequences and I knew no laws protected me here. Two weeks in and my parents made an announcement, they had decided that it was best if we stayed in Nairobi Kenya for a while. I told them that I didn’t want to stay, I was a sophomore and wanted to finish my education, but they said I had no say. I was sent to live with my aunt in Garissa which is a desert, while my siblings stayed in the city. I was put into 7th grade in a school that wasn’t a school. It was small, had seven rooms and the teachers weren’t experienced. We lived in a small ‘apartment’ that had two rooms.
Garissa is heavily populated with old-fashioned Somali people. Everyone acts the same, looks the same and lives the same. The school I was put into had 80% religious teaching and 20% academic teaching. Everything I thought I knew about education had shifted, I was in a place where you were beaten severely whether you did something wrong or not. When I would complain to my aunt she would just say stop acting like an American and grow up already. I was called “Dhaqan Celis” which means someone who is being culturally rehabilitated.
Everything and everyone around me made me hate myself. Made me feel like an abomination, a sin. One day my aunt approached me and gave me a beating while calling me a ‘Qaniis’ which is faggot in Somali. I tried to get away and deny it, but she said she knew because my dad had told her. I felt betrayed, I felt alone, and it made me hate myself even more. If my own parents didn’t value my life enough not to mention it to my aunt, maybe I really was a mistake. I tried to change from that day on but as I fought against who I was, I slipped deeper and deeper into a dark place.
I started to learn the Quran and the teaching of the prophets, but it just made me hate myself even more. My aunt would ask me to come into her room and she would do an Islamic exorcism, where she would read the Quran on me. My parents decided to go back to the US and they brought my siblings to my aunt too. They had bought a nice piece of land with a big house and asked my aunt to raise us. With my siblings around it was even harder because my aunt would compare me to my twin, who was manly and strong and handsome. She would make comments about how I acted feminine, and yell at me to walk straight or not talk with my hands. I was even almost married; my aunt had arranged a marriage with me and the neighbor’s daughter. Luckily the neighbor’s daughter defended herself against the religious teacher, which is not lady like, which made my aunt end the engagement. I slipped deeper and deeper into a dark place and one day I snapped and finally decided to end the suffering. To get rid of everyone’s problem, me. I went behind the house with my blankets and tried to hang myself but luckily the branch broke.
I got up and went into my room, I cried and cried. Why did I have to be different, why did God make me this way? I felt like a coward, a sinner, a mistake, I felt like I let everyone down and that everyone hated me.
Suddenly it was like someone flicked a switch and I started to feel anger not sadness. I started to look at myself from another screen. I started to think about my future goals and happiness.
Who would lose everything? I started to think to myself.
It was that moment that Jethro was born. Jethro is who I want to be, I want to be proud of my sexuality, I want to be happy, I want to travel the world, see different cultures and foods. I want to become a Marine Biologist and discover something new. Jethro didn’t need anyone, he is strong and independent.
I put on a mask (Jethro), I acted like I didn’t care for anyone or anything. The mask that allows me to hide my identity, the mask that makes my parents think that I’ve changed. The mask that got me my freedom, it allowed me to come back after four years and drove me and protected me. The mask helped me a lot I still wear it, it’s glued onto me; something that I can’t remove even though I’ve tried.
Although this mask has helped me to survive my time in Kenya it seems to be hurting me now. It allows me to speak my mind without filters and ends up hurting people I care about. I have a hard time opening up to people or trusting them, because I feel like I don’t need them. People think I’m shy, but I really am not, I just don’t like talking to people that can’t see me for me.
I’ve been learning lately that not everyone or everything is against me. When I got back here (USA), I noticed that I had to work twice as hard to catch up with my friends. I was put back into an environment that I had completely forgotten. I had to study hard, and for the longest time, I felt like my path was foggy. I still live with my parents, the people who put me through all this, because I still love them. I’m waiting for you the day that I’m stable enough, independent enough, to tell them that I’m still gay and I haven’t changed. They can either accept me or they can choose to not be apart of my life.”