Art’s part in being African and queer

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10/03/2021

Three years ago the release of John Trengove’s Inxeba (The Wound) set tongues wagging in South Africa. The film, which portrays a troubled romantic relationship between two gay men against the backdrop of the highly regarded ulwaluko ceremony in which Xhosa boys are initiated into manhood, was met with a backlash from some conservative audiences who opposed its display of homoeroticism in African spaces. Such efforts at queer silencing manifest as one of the means through which heteropatriarchal societies attempt to erase queer identities and pleasures in sub-Saharan African countries, where the place and phenomenon of queerness is still very much contested. Despite efforts to humanise queer people across the world, living as a nonconforming subject in gender and sexuality remains life-threatening, even in countries that are seen as more progressive in granting gender and sexual rights to their citizens. The problem is more profound in sub-Saharan Africa where political leaders, religion, and traditional culture come together to police any form of deviance from heterosexism. As Nigerian scholar Senayon Olaoluwa reiterates, among other factors, the policing of gender variance can be attributed to “the purchase of Christianity and Islam in African societies, African conservatism, the burden of colonial memory and the anxiety of re-colonisation by the West, and patriarchal hegemonic leadership in most African nation states”. These ideological tools work together, in an almost similar fashion, to marginalise queer lives. Despite South Africa being the first country in the world to explicitly outlaw any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1996, individuals with nonconforming gender identities still face several challenges that threaten their basic rights to equality in the country.

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