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Portrait of Mama G

Mama G

Sex, work, life and HIV


Mama G is a male sex worker and gay rights activist from Kenya who has been living with HIV for the past 10 years. Before moving to Nairobi, he lived in Kisumu in western Kenya and had limited knowledge of HIV and LGBTI-related issues. This is his story...

IASONEVOICE-MamaG

The situation for male sex workers in Kenya is challenging. Many of us have been abandoned by our families or physically and verbally harassed. The majority are still going through mental health problems. If you are living with HIV, you already face stigma and if you are gay as well, it doubles.

I was abandoned by my family because of being gay and my HIV status. I shared my status with a close cousin and he shared it with them. This is when I had to start earning a living from sex work. The situation for male sex workers in Kenya is challenging. Many of us have been abandoned by our families or physically and verbally harassed. The majority are still going through mental health problems. If you are living with HIV, you already face stigma and if you are gay as well, it doubles. The limited institutions available where you can report your case or receive psychosocial support make the matter worse.

“It has been a long journey for me. I was depressed and, at one point, I wanted to commit suicide. For nearly two years, I stopped taking my medications as I was overwhelmed by all the stigma and discrimination, coming even from within the LGBTI community.”

It has been a long journey for me. I was depressed and, at one point, I wanted to commit suicide. For nearly two years, I stopped taking my medications as I was overwhelmed by all the stigma and discrimination, coming even from within the LGBTI community. This was because I was open about my HIV diagnosis when people were still quiet about it and when nobody wanted to associate themselves with people living openly with HIV.

I am still experiencing stress, but I don’t want to go back to the situation I was in before. It still isn’t easy, especially when it comes to relationships. Even some people in my community will go behind my back and tell my boyfriend to stop talking to me or to stop having sex with me because of my HIV status. I am also active on social media and I have been on TV, so if he walks with me, people will know he is also gay. But in spite of the hardships, I have learnt how to manage the negativity and I have joined support groups.“

"Seeing more people living openly with HIV, being proud of who they are, and seeing my community happy is what gets me going.”

Today, I feel empowered and I am receiving good feedback from the people I work for, especially the LGBTI community. Seeing that rates of HIV are going down also in part because of my work and empowerment really inspires me. When I decided to be open about my diagnosis, it was not just for my benefit, but also to help people in my community come out and know more about HIV. Seeing more people living openly with HIV, being proud of who they are, and seeing my community happy is what gets me going. Additionally, last year, I became the head of the peer-to-peer support group for people living with HIV; that was one of the best moments for me. These are the things that make me sit down and think, “Wow, Mama G, you have made it.”

However, changes must happen for the male sex worker communities. We need more economic empowerment. We need to have psychosocial support institutions where people can walk in and get the services and counselling they need. We also need help concerning harm reduction. We, as LGBTI communities and sex workers, often face issues related to alcohol and drug use, and unless you have money, there is no access to psychosocial support. Often, people don’t use the money they earn from sex work for counselling sessions as their priorities are paying rent and buying food and sadly, many commit suicide.

Decriminalization of sex work will be an important step for our community and I have been at the frontline to achieve it. Right now, we are dependent on donors, but what if they withdraw? If the community is going back to the way we were, how many deaths are we going to see? Just by pushing for the decriminalization bill, we are raising awareness.

The IAS promotes the use of non-stigmatizing, people-first language. The translations are all automated in the interest of making our content as widely accessible as possible. Regretfully, they may not always adhere to the people-first language of the original version.