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Nairobi Queer Visibilities/Invisibilities and Forms of Queer Ambivalence

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Nairobi, despite limited opportunities for overt public and visible displays of same-sex desire, nonetheless has become a site of queer livability tied, as I argue here, to forms of “queer ambivalence.” While the legal framework and wider social discrimination against queers in the country is well documented and often indicates a refusal towards queer desire, ethnographic fieldwork among queer communities in Nairobi reveals diverse lived experiences and inventive uses of urban space. This paper speculates how Nairobi’s queer residents enable an animation of spaces in which they occupy in ways that not only allow for, help perpetuate, and relate to forms of ambivalence but also offers an alternative reading of “queer visibilities” in a city where legal protection is absent, social discrimination is very severe, and safety is often at best transient.

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  1. These are restaurants/establishments in the city of Nairobi. Names have been changed. I made a revisit to these sites in early 2022. Elements of this empirical work draw on a wider project I am undertaking, see for example Ombagi (2019).

  2. Ken (name changed) is a constant figure within the queer community in Nairobi.

  3. Cleo (name changed) is not active in the queer scene but maneuvers the city to suit his need.


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Correspondence to Eddie Ombagi.

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Ombagi, E. Nairobi Queer Visibilities/Invisibilities and Forms of Queer Ambivalence. Urban Forum 34, 169–177 (2023).

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