Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sexual taboos in Africa

There are male gay people in Africa, regardless of what nonsense some of my African brothers - and I mean that genderwise, as women tend to care much less, unless it is their son - want people to believe. These are not people that have particularly been in contact with Europeans, although when they come to the realization of their homosexuality, news articles have shown that they often have no alternative to live their lifestyles, other than to interact with Western homosexuals, who live in Africa: It is much less risky socially, and the chances of getting caught and jailed are greatly reduced. In addition to that, they tend to get married to women, to hide their homosexuality.

There are also women and men who enjoy the pleasure of sexual acts, regardless of what some people would like us to think. Africans may be outwardly puritans, but that does not make them any less of freaks in the bed. There is a reason why powerful African men multiply the number of "wives" they have: they are as horny as the best of them. And the taboos on sex, and pleasure that was imposed on women is also - slowly - fading away (with the exception of those areas that practiced FGMs). So the taboos on sexuality - all sexuality - are bound to be eroded at some point. The question is how fast, and what consequences will - does - that bring on the society.

For the first time, today, I saw an article about an African gay male, actually talking about being Gay in Africa. It made me think how good I had it, to be straight, to be able to have a girlfriend, and few people would even bother to give us a second look. Why would they? After all, we are... "normal".

BBC NEWS | Africa | Being gay, Christian and African
I have an uncle who is gay, and has always been so as long as I can remember. And in every African family, whether they are aware of it or not, there are gay people. The difference is that being gay in Africa is a much more complicated thing today, than in Europe. So they are VERY closeted. A friend of the family passed away, recently, and only then did my parents tell me that he was gay. And I knew his partner too. But they always came inseparate cars to our parties, and when we went to eat at their place, the partner always came in at the same time, as if he was a guest.

The general homophobia in Africa, has to do with social stigma, that tends to portray all homosexuals as depraved, acultured Africans, that have bowed to the evil Western/European ways. Strangely enough, some of those stigma come from... Western missionaries!! In fact, one could argue that African homophobia (like in many other places) is due to the particularly conservative brand of Christianity that the Europeans established there.

With some exceptions, much of what is now known and written of old sub-Saharan African traditions - positive or negative - are products of the Western colonialists, Africans mostly having an oral tradition. And some of those writings were tainted with a religious bent towards the Christian church, and its more rigid teachings. That is why, for example, Africans who - for some - wore loinclothes, and went bare-breasted (which was climactically more appropriate), are now some of the biggest proponents - especially in cities - of Victorian-like "body modesty" in the world, under a 35C sun, and heavy humidity!!! (i.e.: in the DRC, there was once a rule against mini-skirts, and tight jeans. It didn't last long, but older people - who have a lot of sway in Africa - were generally in agreement).

Now, unlike some others, I will not claim that homosexuality was widely accepted in pre-colonial Africa. In fact, just as I believe that homosexuality existed there, like everywhere else, something tells me that some homophobia existed too, there like everywhere else. What I have qualms with, is this notion that homosexuality is somewhat "unAfrican", and that we were the "exception" in the World. I do not believe those who are homosexuals made a choice, because if they did then they are really masochistic. One would have to be, to make a choice that you know, will alienate you from much of the rest of the society. Because I do not believe it is a choice, and because I have seen quite a few African homosexuals, male and female, I must then conclude that they have always been there. And they are there to stay. Making the argument that homosexuals perpetuate "unAfrican" practices, is in my opinion hypocritical, and "unAfrican" in itself, because it stems from a broader attitude of "inferiority complex" that has it that the standards brought in by Western tradition, and religion, are somehow better.

And even this, we only apply selectively. See it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has gotten to the point when we have been so entrenched in Western standards of the beginning of the 20th century, that we have intertwined it with our own prejudice, values and traditions. To the point that we now see this new colonialism-based value system, as inherently African. And we now use it to criticize the Europeans and Americans of the 21st century, and those who we see as immitating them, as immoral, depraved, and lost... the same adjectives that the Westerners were using to describe us black people, 200 years ago (and some still do)!!! So we want to dress in a suit-and-tie, or an African outfit that fits the same purpose (i.e: cover us from top to bottom), but we don't want our son marrying a White girl. We have multiple concubines, yet we claim to reject premarital sex as a Western, "unAfrican" practice. We claim to be super-Christians, yet we are the first to go to the witch-doctor when we are desperate. We want Western democracy, but we don't want to give women equal rights (not that the West has done that much better. But here I meant at least in principle). The same people that reject prostitution as a Western depravity, are seen at night in the red-light districts of Lagos, Abidjan and Kinshasa. Our leaders claim to be so African, yet they have adopted the most vile trait of the Western colonial system: Exploitation of our people.

So this is all relative. There is a lot of hypocrisy and nonsense to go around. I am a "live and let live" type of person. If two consenting adults want to have sex with one another, it is their business, not mine, nor anybody else's. What is more my business, and the reason why I write this - obviously - provocative post, is that with all our taboos on sexuality - homo or hetero, we are letting our people die to AIDS, and other STDs. Because we place so many barriers on speech about sexuality, and because we stigmatize some people for going against these barriers, we are failing our people, and the future generations, by not gearing ourselves up adequately to fight against these deadly diseases. This is somewhat true in the West too, but much less so. We are all wound up so tight, no wonder there are soldiers raping men, women and children in all the warzones. It is the only place where they have no social constraints, and so their inhibitions go out the window, and the result is a tragedy of violated people all over the continent's conflict areas. We need to stop, and reexamine ourselves, and start deconstructing some of these things that we see as so inherently African. We need to give more importance to the permissive and constructive aspects of our traditions, and be less in the business of being systematically forbidding.

Being Christian or Muslim is not a bad thing at all. In fact, most of the time, I consider myself a Christian. But we must also understand that these are religions that are to some degree foreign to us, and that wherever they have gone, they were adapted to fit only one purpose: the interests of the group that was bringing them. Therefore claiming Christian and Muslim principles as inherently African, is a bit erroneous. One thing, however, that I know about African traditions, the whole continent over, is that we were largely in the business of bulding communities, not destroying them. In the business of fostering understanding within the community, not hate. I know this from my Grand father who lived to be 114 years old, and who was a youngster when White people arrived in his village for the first time ever. Let us remember that. For now, I leave you with this very interesting article, and I am still wondering...

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