We are in the second week of A o re Q with another attempt at capturing the queer blog world in recent weeks
We need to recognise violence in its most mundane and subtle manifestations. And challenge people, communities, leaders and structures that seek to normalise violence in all its forms and expressions over black women’s bodies.
Our language has to evolve. We need to stop giving abuse degrees of severity. Brutally murdered. Correctively raped. Viciously assaulted. Heartlessly beaten. This plants the idea that there are permissible kinds of violence that we can ‘live’ with, and others which we can’t. Domestic abuse. Gender-based violence. Language like this creates distance, and to a degree cushions a perpetrator’s actions and crafts a justifiable hierarchy of abuse, with mild to extreme indicators.
This post made the rounds weeks ago. It emphasizes the immediacy of the corrective rape crisis and that our responses to it need to go beyond reacting with shock only when it actually happens. The conditions that lead to these incidents bubble beneath the surface and every time a queer body enters the public space, there is tension. That tension collides with patriarchy and black lesbians have to bear the brunt of it. A physical attack is only a material manifestation of the subtle ways society continuously enforces its rules on black women who refuse to conform. So prioritising degrees of violence, whether it be verbalised in the streets by strangers or acted out physically, fails to recognise that all these instances are interconnected.
“But the exploitative mythologising of Black virility on behalf of the homosexual bourgeoisie is ultimately no different from the vulgar objectification of Africa which we know at one extreme from the work of Leni Riefenstahl and, at the other from the ‘victim’ images which appear constantly in the media. It is now time for us to reappropriate such images and to transform them ritualistically into images of our own creation. For me, this involves an imaginative investigation of Blackness, maleness and sexuality, rather than more straightforward reportage”
This past week was the retrospective of Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s work in London at Tiwani Contemporary to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the artist’s death.
Fani-Kayode’s audience was made up of mostly upper middle class white men and the consumption of his art is interesting when coupled with the production of images depicting the black male body by white artists like Robbert Mapplethorpe and George Dureau. Both production and consumption, although mostly situated around the 80’s (not much has changed since then anyway), seem to me to mirror the position of black queer people against whiteness, at least from their perspective. One could say that the apparent willingness to address and tolerate queerness in the white community – arguably evident in the patterns of consumption and production – shapes how black queer people relate to whiteness, complicated by what Fani-Kayode acknowledges as a persistent racial otherness. If it boils down to who has the resources to buy and produce the artwork, then it could be argued that it is indicative of the monopoly that white people have had in circulating ideas on what it means to be gay, trans, lesbian, attractive and so on.
Fick takes umbrage with the left being all liberal and awesome but conveniently isolates romantic relationships and friendships from the larger context of power dynamics involving class, race, gender etc. This also includes instances where the situation seems transgressive on the surface – “omg, I’m a white boy and my bf is black so how more progressive can we get?” – but it is still complicit in essentialising identity and maintaining a level of “otherness”. Sometimes the “other” is used to serve “liberal chic” realness.
Human relationships, even intimate ones, are political. They happen in the polis and reflect the worldviews of those in such relationships.
Delusions about what relationships mean – conformity, transgression, defiance, protection – reflect the delusions of people in them.
In racist femicidal homophobic anti-poor mediocracies like SA, loving relationships are pivotal to survival, but also well-nigh impossible.
Worse: even progressive SA activists on the “left” often believe their “aesthetic preferences” in sexual relationships are not political.
Too often “left politics” in SA around sexuality or gender covers over the racist & anti-poor “preferences” of those claiming such politics.
In the suburban SA “environmental activism” sector the fascism of other life choices are supposed to be overlooked, critics are told.
The “love” of the land in SA often meant to obscure the inability & unwillingness to “love” the people in it (paraphrasing Coetzee).
Fetishistic displays of so-called “transgressive” relationships often cover over deep conformity to colonial, capitalist, racist, misogyny.
The hierarchies of desire of the heterosexual racist erotic economies are un-ironically replicated in “left-progressive” queer South Africa.
Fetishised and categorical desire is often defended as “preference” on the Left, with refusal to acknowledge their complicity with fascism.
Relationships are not transgressive because of surface features of those in them; such relationships are defined by fascism’s rules.
Transgression occurs at the level of substance inside human relationships which refuse determination by dominant paradigms.
Transgression is lived through & in the body, not by its fetishistic display or arrangement alongside phenotypically “Other” bodies.
Desire or friendship isn’t transgressive because it “crosses the lines”; transgression is working to KNOW that such lines are imaginary.
It’s hard but rewarding work to establish substantive human engagement of equality in racist, femicidal, homophobic & anti-poor South Africa
Refusing categorical thinking in human relationships is not to deny difference or the power and resource distribution it effects.
Left-progressive South Africans too often elide power from analysis of difference, focusing on affectation of “radical chic”.
This perspective on racial fetishisation can be turned on the work of Mapplethorpe if one is not convinced that it addresses the complexities of black masculinity in the same way that Fani-Kayode’s work does.
It’s funny that HBO’s Girls should be the show that shines a bit of light – hilariously – on some of these points. In one of the few times the show has featured people of colour, when Hannah was dating that black guy – played by Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover – in the 1st episode of S2 and they end up arguing about how racial difference was a determining factor that brought them together.
Macharia, in a separate discussion, had something to say about the undercurrents of power when white gay men talk about non-white bodies.
Just an aside: I maintain that dismissing Twitter as a medium not fit for constructive engagement does not take into account the sheer versatility of grammar. It cannot be restricted by 140 characters. To be concise without sacrificing nuance is a skill that some like A. Fick employ to good effect.
I am seeing my straight male-ness allow me to navigate through worlds with a certain confidence. I’m seeing the person who has to answer yes. I’m holding places, and thoughts, in one light. And it isn’t looking pretty.
This piece is written by a straight man in Kenya grappling with his hypocrisy when given a chance to stand up for gay people. If there are any brownie points to be given here (and I don’t regard them as brownie points) it is for the frankness and how the writer weighs the significance of the moment.
The concept of the closet has a corporeal sense to it in the language we use to speak about it, a metaphorical space that confines or protects the queer body. We “step out of” closets and sometimes they are “transparent”. In this piece, however, what is concealed is not an identity but a suppressed ideology. Without a queer identity tagged on to him, do we extend the concept of the closet to his suppressed advocacy for equal rights?
The idea of the closet as a space that not only hides identity but ideology can be applied to how I’ve seen gay men who are technically out of the closet limit how far they can express themselves and speak frankly about their lives in the company of cis-het people.
We should play a game every week where we count the number of times “queer” appears in the post.