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I’m A Lesbian And A Human Rights Activist

My Story: The life and times of a woman trying to find love and meaning in present-day Kenya

BY Joan Thatiah

May 11, 2021, 10:59 AM

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“Which part of my story do you want me to tell?” 30-year-old Marylize Buibwa shoots when we sit down for this interview. 

She is wearing black jeans and a white chiffon top. She has her locks piled at the top of her head in a bun. She has a confident handshake.

“All of it,” I say.

“I will try my best,” she says leaning on the table between us. “I am a lesbian woman and a human rights activist,” she starts.

Marylize spent most of her childhood in Nairobi and Taita Taveta. Growing up alongside three sisters and two brothers, she remembers always being the tomboy. The girl who preferred running outside to playing with dolls, who favored shorts to frilly dresses.

It was not until high school that this, her demeanor, became an issue. 

“I found myself in the principal’s office many times having been accused of being a lesbian. I had never made a pass at another girl. I struggled to see what it was that other people saw in me, which made them label me as different, that I didn’t,” she recalls.

She knew she was different. As other girls her age raved about boys, she remained disinterested. She had a crush on a girl or two but she couldn’t dare admit it, much less explore her feelings.

“I couldn’t admit my feelings to myself much less act on them. I couldn’t dare. My mother is very religious, we were all raised this way,” she explains.

Trying To Fit In

Soon after high school in 2009, still, in a bid to fit in, she got into her first and only relationship with a man. It was non-sexual and he was a gentle, kind man and he was very good to her but being with him felt like denying her true self. So, towards the end of 2010, she came out to him. 

“I owed it to both of us. He was the first person I ever told. He was afraid that I was leaving him for another man. I told him I was struggling with my sexuality. I had expected that he would be angry or revolted but he was accepting, compassionate even. I thought I was surprising him but he surprised me. We are still good friends,” she says.

A younger Marylize was curious about what was going on in the community around her and was unsettled by the inequalities she saw in her everyday life from girls in poor communities exchanging sex for sanitary towels with grown men to victims of rape being piled on the blame.
Marylize Biubwa
By the time she came out as a lesbian, she had already begun her activism work and was involved in events fighting for the rights of women and children. She likes reading so when she took a break from dating, she took to reading to get to understand why she felt the things she did and whether there were other people out there like her.

“This journey to self-discovery took three years. It wasn’t until 2013 that I came out to the rest of the world as a lesbian,” she says.

All along, as she had fought her feelings, she was very afraid of failing the people around her. This time, she decided that it was better to fail other people than to fail herself. She describes the experience as liberating.

Coming Out Of The Closet

“In 2014, I lived in a closet of sorts. The people I interacted with would see that I am queer but nobody said anything. I was in a good place emotionally. I even went back to school to study journalism,’ she recalls.

As fate would have it, she lost her laptop which she used to do online work to pay her bills and her fees later in 2014 and she couldn’t finish her course. She decided to go into full-time activism in 2015.
Marylize Biubwa

In 2016, she founded BI KIND INITIATIVE the vehicle through which she mentors school-going girls and does food and fund drives for women living in the streets.

 “On August 5th, 2017, I got into my first ever relationship with a woman,” she says.

She describes it as a beautiful relationship with a beautiful human being. The only downside was that she couldn’t introduce this woman to her family as anything more than just a friend. She was also overly aware of how much homophobia is ingrained in our community.

“I lived with my brothers and sister at the time and I knew what they felt about gay people. I could hear their comments whenever there was a gay scene on the television. It broke my heart not to be able to be my authentic self with them,” she says.

As fate would have it, this relationship ended in July 2018 and Marylize plunged into depression. In August, while still in this depressive state, she came out to her mother and siblings.

“My mother took it very hard. She just couldn’t accept the fact that I am attracted to other women. She suggested she takes me to church. Then she suggested we try therapy. I declined,” she says.

There was a fallout that saw her leave the house she shared with her siblings and spend two weeks out in the cold on the streets of Nairobi before a friend helped her rent a house.

Picking Up The Pieces

Two years later, Marylize is thriving.

“I am happy that I can live without hiding. I am rebuilding myself and working on going back to school. Five months ago, I met and got into a wonderful relationship with an amazing human being. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to jinx it,” she chuckles.

While she is openly queer on social media, she admits there are times that she feels unsafe. Times when she is around unfamiliar people and she worries that if they knew her truth, then someone might be provoked enough to attack her.
Marylize Biubwa
Other than decriminalization of homosexuality, an ideal Kenya for her is one where people of all sexual orientations do not live in fear of being attacked for their sexuality. A country where diversity is embraced.

“I know that every time I feel safe in a situation, it is because someone else spoke out and worked hard to make sure I was safe. So I am doing the same for the vulnerable women, children, and people in the LGBTQ community. I speak out every chance I get for the voiceless. My social media pages are evidence,” she says.

About her sexuality, she says that there are still things that are misunderstood.

“I do not hate men. I am also not trying to be a man. I am just a woman who is attracted to other women. I do not want to have children. My sexuality has nothing to do with it. I just do not want to bring another human being into this cruel world.”