ADDED ON: 02/13/2022

Queer Africa has always been an other

2/12/22 | Mail & Guardian

Religious studies scholar David Tonghou Ngong recently made the argument on the Africa is a Country website that the roots of African homophobia might be found in African indigenous religions rather than in the religions that followed later. I don’t necessarily want to offer a counter argument, but I do want to think alongside, and perhaps to trouble and extend, some of these contentions. What if our starting place is to claim that Africa has always been queer? This would be to claim a queer Africa that is simultaneously homophobic, drawing on a reading of queer that both includes alternative and fluid sexualities and exceeds them. To be queer is to be oriented away from the norm. To live askance. Borrowing from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, I cast Africans as queerly oriented to normative codes of being. Because to be normal is to be Western European, North American, male, white, middle class, able bodied and heterosexual, all our attempts at normativity fail. We live in queer failure. We are oddities to the Global North. We are barely human. We drown in boatloads while crossing the Mediterranean and the world carries on without missing a beat. So no, we are not normal. We do not aspire to normalcy. If we narrow the gaze and focus on sexuality, on this score, too, we are queer. To claim a queer orientation would require us to accept the proposition that a spiritual life of ancestral reverence can’t have been — and is not intrinsically — homophobic. Modern coupling is not a natural state but a social artefact popularised and propagated by organised global religion and modernity. To assume one partner of an opposite sex as default would be to think of history too narrowly and from a presentist lens. To suggest that indigenous African spirituality sowed the seeds of today’s homophobia is to unsee how pervasively queer we are. It is to turn away from our flow that eschews straight lines. Indigenous African spirituality is steeped in queerness. It defies centuries of derision.

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