Sub- Saharan African Culture and Homosexuality

african itimacies

The book African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality, and Globalization by Neville Hoad, was created in 2007. Hoad is an associate professor for English and women’s studies at Columbia University. Some of his research interests are queer theory, psychoanalysis, and lesbian and gay studies. The book gives a history of sexuality in Africa.  The book goes through about 100 years of African history specifically dealing with colonialism, how “homosexuality” came about through change in African politics. He explains what sexuality is and how we can’t apply the terms that we use in our culture in the United Stated to Sub-Saharan African culture. Hoad, does an overview of time in Africa starting from the blossoming of a Christian nation in the late 19th century, into the current 21st century Africa views on sexuality.

The book discussed Africa in 1886 (before Christianity became their main religion) the last indigenous leader killed men for refusing to have sex with him. This indicates that men having sex with men was not viewed as a negative homosexual experience but instead as a masculine thing to do. If you fast forward to the 1990’s, leaders from Kenya, Uganda, and Namibia expressed how unnatural it is for anyone other than a man and a woman to get married. HIV had become an important reason for why homosexuality is looked down upon but they don’t acknowledge how HIV is mostly transferred through heterosexual contact in Sub-Saharan Africa. The book then begins to delve into what the term “homosexual” truly means. Hoad states that homosexuality is imaginary because he studied its discourse. This came about in their history and “homosexuality is a small and not obvious thread in this wider tapestry of space, desire, and identity. Race is the big one.” Sometimes it is seen as a negative thing where other times it is not.

This book relates to queer culture because it talks about how homosexuality can be viewed differently depending on the culture you are immersed in. Quoted in the book, (Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray) Murray and Roscoe argue that telling people to use caution when using the word homosexuality because that word doesn’t always fit into people’s practices.. In the 1980’s, when lesbian and gay studies became a field, there was a controversy over the idea of homosexuality being socially constructed. In America we tend to throw around the words “homosexual” and “gay” but fail to realize what amount of power that word has or does not have. In the case of Africa culture, before Christianity, men having sex with other men was not forbidden or looked at as odd. After Christianity appeared, rules came in place and relationships were viewed about differently. This is important because it points out how cultural change affected the outlook of the people within African communities. Christianity is that something that was projected onto a large group of people and it ultimately changed aspects of societal views on sexuality which once was not an issue.

In class we discussed Freudian and Foucault views on sexuality. Freud identified inverts as people that are lesbian or gay. He believed that inversion could be observed in childhood so it must be a result of unconscious drives common to all people. Foucault on the other hand did not like Freud at all and had views of his own about homosexuality. He believes that your sexuality becomes your identity through understanding who you are based off of a concept that was created by a medical, psychiatric discourse. This discourse is part of the colonial project, transforming Sub-Saharan Africa to a Christian nation. For example, a person identifies as gay or lesbian because we put a bunch of terms together that go under the category of the terms “gay” or “lesbian” and then we take the term and apply it to ourselves. Race is also participating in the same discursive system in Africa because race once did not matter but now it has come to the people’s consciousness partially due to this colonial project.

I believe that points made by Freud and Foucault can be comparable to the book. Freud believes that homosexuality is something in people’s unconscious and anyone is capable of it. This goes along with the idea that homosexuality is innate but it is only expressed through the culture we are in. If our environment is accepting of the behavior then it is acted upon and in Freud’s time period, homosexuality was viewed as disgust. Foucault offered a socially constructed view which the book also tried to make a point of since the term homosexuality only exists due to our society. Just as Hoad mentioned, we can’t use that term everywhere because it may lack meaning depending on the culture a person is in.