No. 2

We are in the second week of A o re Q with another attempt at capturing the queer blog world in recent weeks

Before Another Black Lesbian Is Murdered In South Africa

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.

A Retrospective Of Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s “Black,
African, Homosexual Photography” In London

“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.

Angelo Fick’s tweets on the politics of desire and preference

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.

When We Fail

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.


No. 1

This is my first “issue”, so to speak, of A o re “queer”?, with a roundup of South African queer blog activity in the past week or so.

Rethinking Gay Pride & Chutzpah Beyond Fashion, Sex, Hook Ups and Ciders – Sipho Maga:

But you know what else has no place there? Queers with disabilities, without fancy clothes to fit the brief, money to purchase the alcohol and even non gender conforming black feminists. If you imagine Pride to be a place where every queer, despite their racial, cultural and class background, finds refuge and relief from a hostile world through whose heteronormative eyes they are bizarre

Pride will be returning to Johannesburg soon and Sipho Maga provides reasons why we need to reconsider its meaning in light of what happened two years ago with the 1-in-9 activists and its thorny issues of class, race and gender. It is also worth reading because he avoids the puritanical shaming of sexual expression and superficiality at pride events to make his point.

Follow Maga

Queering Postcolonial Reality – Lwando Scott:

The convoluted nature of postcolonial reality is revealed when draconian anti-homosexuality laws, which harken back at puritanical anti-sodomy laws, are being created by Africans to oppress fellow Africans in the name of a colonial Jesus. The messiness of postcolonial life is also revealed at burials where priests and church leaders preside over mutilated bodies of African lesbians in South Africa but fail to link the church’s hatred of homosexuality and the consent it generates for the murders of African lesbians. The Christian obsession with people’s sexuality and “how” homosexuals have sex knows no boundaries, to a point where gay pornographic videos are shown in church.

Scott exposes the hypocrisies of anti-gay movements that claim to preserve “African culture”. He laments the unbearable irony of African countries being “rough drafts” (damn!) of Western countries in governance and the inability to recognise that Christianity is, strictly speaking, un-African but it is mixed up with questionable ideas of a queer-free pre-colonial Africa to condemn non-heterosexual people.

Scott imagines how queer identities could provide a template for fashioning new post-colonial African identities. He suggest that with the little that African queers have to draw from in creating their identities, they are able to create something new, especially in defiance of Christianity and therefore, the colonial legacy. In that sense, they are authentically moving beyond colonial influences, possibly more so than leaders the anti-gay Afrocentrist rhetoric.

Elsewhere, Scott says:

In the tirade against homosexuals many are oblivious or look the other way at African men and women who are not ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ but engage in what sociologist would call situational homosexual sex. This is the sex between people of the same-sex that would occur in prisons, in boarding school, in the mines, and in woman only spaces, not because these people necessarily identify as homosexual but the opportunity for same-sex sex presents itself. With this then I would echo Michelle Foucault’s assertion that people are not really affronted about homosexual sex per se but are unsettled by the audacity of people to actually love each other.

Follow Scott

African Queer Studies – Keguro Macharia:

What figures “failed” to achieve “full” personhood? In my cursory reading (okay, some quite extensive), a few figures keep cropping up. One study claims that bachelors could exist because their married status depended on the economic status, but that “spinsters” were unthinkable. Other work singles out loners as “cursed people.” While yet other work speaks about people with disabilities. In an African studies still dominated by the importance of communitarianism and kinship, we might ask about the figures who fail to appear on genealogical trees and the figures who fail to repopulate those trees. Paying particular attention to how diverse communities organize their senses of self and community, confer personhood and status, we might look for those figures excluded from these designations.

This post is complete with fully cited references, so we mean business, y’all. Macharia is in pursuit of an African Queer Studies that sets itself apart from the mainstream Queer Studies and the Black Queer Studies done in the African diaspora.

He describes the scholarship on African Queer Studies and is clearly exasperated by the repetitive mentions of how “homophobia, not homosexuality, is a Western import”. I suppose he would concede with Lwando Scott to a certain extent that it is necessary to point that out. However, he asserts that scholars need to look beyond the idea of homophobia based on the more Western classifications of “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex”. The more perceptive ethnographies in Africa do show that these are not reliable classifications and so may not enable us to describe a specifically pre-colonial African type of marginalisation that can be distinguished from the kind of homophobia brought in by Western colonisers.

He proposes that we ask the question of queer existence in relation to African conceptions of “personhood” – akin to Ubuntu – identified by studies of African metaphysics as a prevalent feature of African thought found across the continent. Personhood, in simple terms, is the fulfilment of one’s role as a member of the community, including their duty to bear children. In a scenario where a queer person does not fulfil that aspect of their personhood, what can that tell us about how queer people fit into African society? Are queer people also those figures that do not fulfil their personhood?

A conclusion then would be that if there is or was marginalisation, homophobia would not be the best descriptor for it and that even though colonisers brought homophobia, we may need to describe a pre-colonial version of anti-queer marginalisation.

Let us work with Macharia’s proposition that we relate queer identities to the concept of personhood. If these two are not at ease with each other, they could be integrated and so there is potential for creative African queerness that Lwando Scott argues for in his post.

There is so much to grapple with here, I suspect this post will reappear in the future.

Follow Macharia

I am an imam, but I’m also gay. And I’m prepared to die for this – Sertan Sanderson:

I learned that homosexuality was just the first avenue to address a lot of other injustice committed in the name of Islam. And now you’d be amazed at the amount of straight people that are attracted to our organisation. So I realised that I’d taken on something big. I’ve taken on the patriarchy that sits behind Islam. It’s not easy, and it requires a good amount of faith to do that work. But thankfully, I am in the business of faith.

Hendricks’ approach does not isolate his sexuality as an issue but also connects it with other aspects of Islam as an institution that need confrontation. His work strikes me as courageous and humane, especially in the face of such intense backlash from his community.

On Sunday morning when I had doubts about whether to go ahead with this project, this came up on my Twitter timeline. I had doubts about it because I could foresee reaching a point in the future where my synthesis of entries gets repetitive. The immediate uniqueness to me of this entry, however, speaks for itself. Perhaps the novelty of a Muslim perspective highlights how either my experience with queerness is rarely presented from a Muslim point of view or that I personally need to seek it out where it may be lying in abundance.

It does not seem like Hendricks is on Twitter but you can follow Sanderson

Why I’m not here for the mainstream gay rights movement – Sian Ferguson:

I’m not here for the mainstream gay rights movement, because it’s not here for me. It’s not here for my trans* siblings, my asexual and polysexual peers, people of colour, or the working class. The reason why I identify as an intersectional feminist is because this movement aims to end oppression of all kinds: it aims to support people oppressed based on their race, gender, sexuality, abilities, language, nationality, culture, religion, ethnicity, and so on.
Sorry, gay cisgender middle-class white men, but I’m not going to call myself a part of your movement if you don’t have my back.

This entry from Sian Ferguson is a few months old but I thought it needed to be put on here because it succinctly takes homonormativity to task and points out the problems with the idea that LGBTI people having to assimilate with the rest of society for acceptance. She identifies the similarities between the gay rights movements in America and South Africa, and how both try to attain standards of heteronormativity while avoiding issues of intersectionality, like how it plays out in the phenomenon of corrective rape.

Follow Ferguson

Expect No. 2 in a week or less.

If the post seemed a bit lengthy (around 1600 words) for what it tried to achieve, do let me know if you feel it needs to be shorter in the comments.