Men Holding Hands


adam_blog Adam Chen

As I walk down the driveway of the Kigali Memorial Centre (where I am currently doing my internship) alongside my friend and fellow coworker Serge, I immediately begin to think to myself — why are we holding hands?

A second thought runs through my mind — why shouldn’t we?

We linger at the entrance to my office for a few seconds, still clasping one another’s fingers. He wishes me a good morning at work as he heads down to the centre to start his day (He works as a tour guide for the centre). I pause to think a bit about what just happened, then snap back to reality and continue on with my workday.

Before any whistleblowers begin to cry out “I knew it!”, I assure you all that no inner closet of mine has been breached. Rather, it seems my relaxed and easy-going demeanor has encouraged Rwandan male friends and coworkers to exhibit physical acts of affection towards me.

In Rwanda, as in many other non-American countries, affection between males is not limited to back-patting and high fives. Indeed, as I have experienced so far in my month and a half in Africa, gentle touching, hand holding, and whole-hearted embrace are also conventional gestures of friendship.

I’m sure many would agree that in a North American context, men holding hands in public might indicate the presence of a homosexual relationship or just plain mockery. One begins to wonder why this mentality has not yet been adopted by Rwandans, a people who often consume American pop culture and music.

In a conversation between myself, fellow RI Intern Amy Dempsey and another good friend of mine from Rwanda (who asked not to be named), I began to find some insight into the situation. According to my friend, homosexuality is a very taboo subject in this highly Christian society. In fact, its existence is often flat-out denied. For many, including homosexuals themselves, homosexuality is beyond comprehension. Homosexual men here usually marry and have families, forcing them to develop their same-sex relationships in highly secret liaisons. It is therefore not surprising that the concept of homosexuality does not figure in the minds of men here when they engage in physical acts of affection and comraderie.

When Amy began to discuss the issue of bringing up homosexuality in Rwanda, our Rwandan friend told us to exercise extreme caution. He predicted that public responses are often highly negative, possibly even violent. He explained that now was not the time in Rwanda, or even in Africa, to worry about these types of social movements. The challenges faced by Rwanda today include corruption, poverty, economic development, and disease-prevention, just to name a few. The last thing needed is a potentially polarizing emergence of gay-rights issues in public discourse.

However, the women’s movement in Rwanda stands in high contrast with this mentality. Rwanda recently held a conference for group of female politicians from Sierra Leone, who came to learn why the majority of elected officials in the Rwandan parliament are women. I predict it has something to do with the constitutional requirement for at least 30% of decision making positions be held by females. Thus, this particular movement gained momentum despite the economic, political, and cultural barriers it faced.

I understand the sensitivity and contrasting views on the topic of homosexuality, and it’s place in society, even in Canada. It is not a question of when Rwanda will join Canada in the legalization of same-sex marriage. It’s a question of when is the appropriate time to begin acknowledging it’s existence, and for civil society to take it up as an issue to be debated.

Simply, when and how does homosexuality enter into reality?

One Response

  1. Bill Bartmann Says:

    Excellent site, keep up the good work

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.