I only made it to one session because I saw the sun come up over CT after a nightcap the previous night that went on longer than anticipated. How people survive conferences is a mystery to me- if I had known how intense they can be I would have prepared for this one like a marathon runner. As luck would have it, I picked a great session to be awake for.
Disclaimer: I’m going to write about the S-E-X now. Please move along if some pretty clinical talk about this aspect of human life might offend whatever sensibilities you have. Please click the hyperlinks if you're curious despite your sensibilities. I won't tell. Undisclaimer.
I attended the talk titled ‘Politics of Sexual Pleasure,’ featuring Kopano Ratele, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, ZaneleMuholi and Rudo Chigudo and moderated by the effervescent Jane Bennett. I highly recommend checking out Nana’s blog and Zanele’s photographs for the artistic element, the information and of course the inspiration.
There was a lot going on here since sexuality is a very big topic, but clear themes did emerge: how politics impact on our personal lives in amazing ways, such as regulating what sex is to begin with, who should have it with whom and what acts are punishable…not to mention the consequences of sex. Rudo Chigudo started us off with a performance piece about a woman who could not get an abortion in time after being gang-raped to ‘fix’ her lesbianism ‘problem.’ I leaned over and asked- naively- where this kind of thing happens only to be told that it is quite common in South Africa.
We talked about sexual identities and the apparent problems that Africans are having accepting non-heterosexual monogamous coupling and various other hot issues.
As interesting as it was to go down that road, I got uncomfortable because I was actually hoping- again naively- that we wouldn’t be bogged down by the pathologies. Here’s an experiment: Google ‘African’ and ‘Sexuality’ right this minute. Out of the top 100 hits, see how many of them manage to avoid HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, rape, Jacob Zuma (just jokes… sort of), homophobia etc. One could get the impression that sex on the continent is fraught with nothing but death, disease, danger and a hefty dose of clinical insanity.
There is another side to the story, one that needs to get told. As a friend likes to say, we have Victorian sensibilities*- I guess we were infected by missionaries during colonialism- that we haven't gotten over yet. Frankly I was kind of hoping someone would talk about present-day practices that manifest continuities with our pre-colonial sexual cultures, and the opportunities that some of them present for a much healthier, saner and happier sexual life in modern times. I wanted to hear the sex-positive celebrated and see our history understood for what it was so we can quit stressing about adopting or avoiding so-called Western behaviours. In particular I was curious to see if there are any incidences of people using the accepted practice of polygamy to make the case for polyamory. Early days, guess...
I was tweeting this session and only managed to find this one link to illustrate some of what I was hoping to see more of: Myths and Realities of African Sexualities. If I come across more interesting stuff, I'll post it because this is a conversation that needs to be had. But the conclusions were clear: Sex is good for you, human beings need to be touched with affection to stay healthy. Practice, practice, practice makes perfect. And definitely don't try to fix people's sexuality, bad things happen when you mess with something nature has been perfecting for a very. long. time.
*The Victorians were one hot mess when it came to sex. They were seriously repressed, which made them hella kinky too. Guess who invented orgasm machines to "cure" female hysteria so that housewives would stop bothering their husbands with their mood swings? Yeah. You could get one of those therapies at your doctor's office without involving the ethics committee. Happy times. And let's not forget: Sigmund Freud. Hard to tell if they were a blessing or a curse, those Victorians.