It is 2013 and we are still having the same conversations and not making any nation building progress. The content of one half of these conversations seeks to separate and cultivate hatred and intolerance while the other half seeks to establish acceptance &/or tolerance, equality, dignity and unity. Queer Afrikans are still not accepted in most Afrikan societies and the justification for this hatred of the other used by homophobic Afrikans often finds its rooting in ignorant and irrational fears, adulterated and bastardized cultural beliefs and religious dogma, mainly in the Christian and Muslim faiths. Because I generally do not believe in organized, monotheistic Abrahamic religion – as they are generally infamous for encouraging hatred/oppression and the exclusion of the other e.g. black people, women and “heathens/kaffirs” – neither do I acknowledge the perceived infallibility of their respective texts of instruction, I will not bother with tackling the issue of religion as a contributing factor to the persistence of homophobia in Afrika. That and it would require an entire post of its own.
When heterosexual Afrika says that homosexuality and transgenderism are unAfrikan I often wonder where they are getting their information from and on what authority? Let us suppose for a second that it is in fact a western import, are the people positing this argument living purely indigenous Afrikan lifestyles? Are their public and personal politics authentically Afrikan I wonder? They are more willing to adopt what can be argued to be harmful imported cultures like consumerism, (in my opinion) capitalism and ecologically detrimental technologies than they are a harmless and allegedly unAfrikan “practice”.
When we speak of the Afrikaness of sexuality and sexual orientation, I question the logic, or lack thereof, of those who argue that it is not Afrikan because I do not believe that these arguments come from a place of truth. Why? Well other than the fact that there is vast historical evidence available to prove otherwise I am also of this opinion because I am a young, albeit urban, Afrikan; half Zezuru and a quarter Karanga and quarter Matebele; who recently answered a calling from the ancestors to be a healer and spirit medium. I am also bisexual. I am not an exception. There are loads more sangomas * I have encountered over the years from various cultures across the Southern Afrikan region that are queer, from transgender/sexual to homosexual or bisexual. According to my understanding of ubungoma, you are chosen before you are even born to carry this gift and by the time you enter this world, you already have the gift, even if you may not know it. Because I, like many other queers such as myself, was born queer, I did not learn it, inherit it or “contract” it from other queers along the way (as though it’s some sort of infectious disease), and in spite of this, the ancestors chose me. Not only did they choose me out of other heterosexual kin in my clan or lineage but other queer people’s ancestors have chosen them too. If the guardians and custodians of our heritage can accept our natural way of being why do mortals who have long lost their way feel that they have any authority to call us unAfrikan or unnatural? Mind you, these same self proclaimed defenders of all that is Afrikan, the majority of them have long since renounced their ancestry as something evil or primitive and clung to other people’s ancestors brought through the religions imposed on Afrikans over the centuries as a tool for oppressing and subduing the Afrikan. The ancestors of the very same people they accuse of bringing about the “scourge” that is homosexuality to our people.
Sexuality and sexual identity are naught but human constructs aimed at controlling the masses and not only that but it is also becoming more apparent that our understanding and definition of gender and gender roles today is different from those of our ancestors, particularly prior to colonialism. In the South of the Limpopo, a sangoma will be addressed as Gogo* be they male or female and in the North as Sekuru*, again, be they male or female. In South Africa, one is not permitted to let their ancestors walk around “naked” and this means when one communes or communicates with their ancestors, be they male or female, they have to wrap a cloth around their waist if they are not already wearing a long skirt or dress. Also, a sangoma embodies the spirits of their ancestors, both male and female and depending on the dominant ancestor at that time in that moment, they will adopt their personality and mannerisms regardless of their sex or gender or that of the ancestor. Basically, sexuality and sexual identity in the culture of communing with the ancestors is very ambiguous. Of course some sangomas in their human personalities have their own (learnt) prejudices such as homophobia but their ancestors do not bother themselves with these things (well at least the ones I have encountered anyway) so why do self proclaimed gatekeepers of all that is Afrikan?
We say that the reality of homosexuality never existed or was never accepted on the continent and yet we have cultures that even coined words such as “chirambavarume” in Shona or “umazakhela” in isiNdebele for women who never married a man but in most cases, co-habitated with other women “friends”. Anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe in their publication Boy Wives & Female Husbands reported that women in Lesotho engaged in socially sanctioned “long term, erotic relationships,” named motsoalle.In Northern Congo, Azande warriors routinely took on boy-wives between the ages of twelve and twenty, who helped with household tasks and participated in intercrural sex with their older husbands. Among the Dagara in Burkina Faso, homosexual and transgender people were considered to be very spiritually gifted and responsible for maintaining the society’s psychic balance and were believed to be the gatekeepers between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
In a conversation started by a “friend” on facebook a few days ago, the recurring theme was what the law states in a lot of Afrikan countries and democracy i.e. what the majority wants. It is interesting to note that female same sex sexual activity is legal where as male isn’t in quite a few Afrikan countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Seychelles, Sierra Leone to name but a few. In a few more, same sex sexual activity, be it male or female is legal, just not the relationships. However, what is most interesting is that these are not even Afrikan laws but colonial laws that still exist today. Homosexual expression in native Afrika always existed – it manifested itself and was understood and accommodated in different ways in different communities across the continent – and was instead quelled or suppressed by colonialists. Anti – gay legislation is the western import not homosexuality and it is this import that informs and perpetuates contemporary Afrikan homophobia and persecution not authentic indigenous identity and values. We need to know our history and to quote Cameroonian anthropologist Patrick Awondo “Knowing historical truths lets us avoid unhistorical (sic) lies.”
As far as democracy is concerned, I think one of the biggest problems democracy faces today, especially in Afrika, is that people do not understand what democracy is meant to achieve. Yes it is supposed to represent the majority but not at the expense of the minority. The minority also has a voice that counts. With that in mind, the present state of things robs Afrikan queers of their rights as human beings to enjoy freedom, citizenship in their homelands and countries of birth and now with all these anti – gay laws being passed on the continent, their right to life. In one conversation recently some argued that they did not have a problem with homosexuals but they believe that if homosexuals want rights they should leave their homes and go to countries whose legislation accepts homosexuality, never mind that these same countries may not be as accepting of immigrants. Basically a lot of Afrikans believe in forcing their queer brothers and sisters, daughters and sons into exile even if they do not wish to leave and they call this democracy. This is especially tragic and infuriating given that for a lot of us less than 50 years ago, under colonial rule, people were forced to leave their home countries because of another form of oppression that did not view “their kind” as equals or completely human.
In addition, is a continued brain drain really what Afrika needs? Even today, the continent continues to lose huge chunks of her resources to the East and West and this is not limited to the natural resources but also includes human resources which in turn has an adverse impact on our socio-economic advancement as individual states and as a continent in the global arena. The outflux of human capital from the continent into the Afrikan diaspora is one that has been bemoaned by many (more so self proclaimed Pan Afrikanists) and yet our states continue to feed into the push factors that force the children of the soil to escape to foreign lands to go and contribute to the further enrichment of our former oppressors simply because we so naively choose to fervently hold onto the hatred they instilled in us through divide and rule as part of ensuring that we will never unite and reclaim our heritage and glory. Homophobia, like patriarchy and tribalism, is yet another red herring that has been planted in our psyche so as to distract us, preventing us from keeping our eye on the ball. Instead of focusing our common energy on the true problems, wrongs and injustices that plague our continent like corruption, genocides, wars, disease, famine, GBV, land, access to food, water and quality education etc, we’re expending it on a victimless crime that shouldn’t even be a crime and fueling division and entrenching oppression.
What Homosexuality Isn’t
Now, there is a terrible and ridiculous rumour making the rounds stating that homosexuality is contagious or a form of brainwashing. I would like to ease people’s minds by saying that this absolutely false. I can attest to this and tell you unequivocally that I did not “contract” my bisexuality from some “unwholesome homosexual fiend” as I was neither exposed to nor did I fraternize with any (this not taking into account those on the down low as there are many) other homosexuals until my late teens. In fact, in our household, homosexuality was something that hardly ever came up, save for the rare occasions when my very educated and mostly open minded grandfather would express his disgust at the idea of male coupling, and yet I was fantasizing about kissing other girls from a very young age. Actually, I discovered my sexuality and sensuality to thoughts of girls and not boys despite having attended co-ed schools throughout my primary school years.
Some pontificate that homosexuality is unnatural… well of course it’s unnatural, to heterosexual or even asexual people, much the same way heterosexuality is unnatural to queer people. Others still, claim that homosexuality is synonymous with sexual predators and yet if we are to be honest with ourselves, heterosexual sexual predators are more rife than homosexual ones. I am 28 years old and I have been in a lot of queer social and professional spaces and I have never been raped or sexually assaulted or harassed by any queers. I have however been sexually harassed dozens of times and have been sexually assaulted by straight men. I also can count on one hand people I know or have encountered that have been violated by a queer perpetrator but I know scores of people; friends, family, colleagues and clients (both in the gender and child protection sectors I work in) who have been sexually violated by heterosexual people, mostly men.
There is especially a fear by a lot of heterosexual males that they will be “raped” by homosexual men. Perhaps this fear in these men comes from a place, be it conscious or subconscious, where it is to be expected and perhaps even acceptable for women to be violated by men but it is an unfathomable abomination for a man to direct that sort of violence towards another man. I don’t know. All I know is a lot of these men I have heard express this fear are often quiet or nowhere near as vocal when it comes to sexual violence committed against women. The thing people do not take into account is that sexual violence is no more a heterosexual thing than it is a homosexual thing. It is a pervert and socio-path thing and you get those across the spectrum. It is a stupid argument and it just makes you look like an ignorant male chauvinist.
Homosexuality or transgenderism do not contribute to the moral degradation of society. Society itself does. Last I checked majority of television and radio programming, music, main stream literature, religious doctrine, legislation and policies and educational structures are very heteronormative and cisnormative and humanity and her societies have been well on their way to moral degradation long before Senzo and Jason’s controversial kiss on Generations a couple of years ago or homosexual couples in New York started signing marriage certificates the same as straight people. The differences between heterosexual members of society and queer members of society only go as far as the sex and gender of our chosen partners otherwise the same rules apply to us. Murder is still murder, the sky is still blue, we love the same way and for some God is the same God you worship and for others like me, our ancestors are the messengers of Umdali*. Heck! We even have sex in more or less the same ways. I am bisexual remember, I know what I am talking about *wink*. However, a lot of people don’t see or appreciate this. They will still scream the Armageddon of human morals at the hands of “homos”. It is heart breaking that we live in societies where it is more acceptable for a husband to beat his wife, a man to rape his neighbour in order to “cure” her of being lesbian, a pastor to sexually assault female members of his congregation in the name of God than it is for a law abiding, compassionate and hardworking woman/man to be queer and yet the former is more unnatural than the latter is. To most people, the former does not represent a threat to the moral fibre of society and yet the latter does. If you think the state sanctioned murder of your gay nephew or lesbian neighbour or trans colleague who has not hurt or violated anyone else is right and just then it is your own moral fibre that should be questioned, not ours.
What Homophobia Is
First and foremost, homophobia is a message of hatred, deprivation and exclusion, plain and simple. You can try and defend it and explain it whichever what way you please but at the end of the day it is just plain hateful. Homophobia is also unnatural. It is taught and learnt and seeing as we are trying to do away with all things unnatural, I suggest we start with that and leave the natural be i.e. being queer.
Homophobia is also a remnant of a time long gone by when it is was vital to encourage population growth be it in a family, a village or kingdom due to systems such as agriculturalization, pastoralism, expansion and occupation. We are presently living in a world where it is again no longer necessary to churn out as many babies as possible. Instead we live in a world where we are faced with overpopulation, hunger, famine, global climatic change and economic melt downs. So no, homosexuality will not bring about the extinction of the human race. Heterosexuals (and modern science) will make sure that human production continues with no interruptions.
People ask us “why all the noise?” Why we don’t just go about our “gayness” quietly and stop making a song and dance of it. The answer is simple: until I can legally fall in love in my Motherland, until I can legally give my girlfriend a kiss in public, until men stop raping us in order to “correct” us or until they stop beating us and killing us for being queer and until communities and governments stop baying for our blood as though we have actually harmed anyone just by being gay we will continue to make a big deal about it. We will shout and march until we realise as Afrikans that homosexuality really doesn’t seek to eliminate or replace heterosexuality and that it is in fact heterosexuality that seeks to eliminate homosexuality. We really need to check ourselves and the things we stand for and against based on falsehoods and ignorance. Being queer is neither unnatural nor unAfrikan, the sooner we realise this the better it will be for all of us.
*Sangoma – Traditional healer & spirit medium
*Gogo – Grandmother/ elder
*Sekuru – Grandfather/ elder
*Umdali – Creator
© Doreen Victoria Gaura/ Colouredraysofgrey, 2013