Friday, February 12, 2010

Is That My Elephant in The Room? The big fat Valentine's weekend rant

Yeah, yeah, Valentine's Day: big and fat and pink and lurking in a tutu in the corner of the room offering Ferrer Rocher truffles alongside a single red rose. A couple of years ago, some ladies of my acquaintance (Sisterhood of Men, woohoo!) used to celebrate the other kind of V-Day: the local production of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues. The last one I attended was very, very good- it was presented as a Kitchen Party celebration complete with TMI advice given to the young bride. Let me tell you- there are talented actors in Bongo and no, they don't seem to be appearing on Africa Magic. If anyone is hosting or knows about a V-day event this year, speak up! Because folks, this is a project that is worth its weight in Hallmark cards.

So, back to celebrating love, and the freedom to love. I was wandering through The Black Snob and having a good time right up until I came across her post about violence against homosexuals in two African countries. This, good people, is what I call a double-edged sword. Its complicated. On the one hand, I understand and appreciate her desire to lend her voice and support to Ugandans and South Africans who are experiencing horrible social violence due to homophobia. On the other hand, there is something so Heart of Darkness about the tone and the approach- there go those Africans again, human rights recidivists that they are:

"The fact is, in the face of death and rape, gays and lesbians in Africa are still loving each other. DEATH and RAPE. They are still coming out to their families and friends. In the face of discrimination, harassment, murder and violence, they are still declaring "I'm here! I exist! I am human! I have a right to be loved and love whom I please!"

Indeed. It has been a while since I got on my Things Africans Don't Do soapbox, so let me wield it here: Ms. Belton, please consider the weight of your choice of words. They might encourage your readers to believe that there are more Museveni-following, lesbian-raping kak-witted bigots in (the vast, incredibly diverse, multi-country CONTINENT that is) Africa than there really are. If your beef is Uganda's anti-gay bill, by all means talk about it. If your issue is sexual violence and homophobia in South Africa (which by the way extends far further than corrective rape for lesbians), by all means talk about it. But I suggest you avoid the Afrochauvinism and get down and dirty with the specifics of your causes.

Case in point: Tanzania has a vast range of culturally-grounded responses to same-sex love ranging from embeddedness (i.e. an accepted cultural role) to total intolerance. And that's just one African country, which has two major religions and over 100 ethnicities. Imagine, now, that there are over 50 countries in Africa- and no, we are not nearly as homogeneous as is purported. Ms. Belton's argument is framed by the legal battle for civic rights- the fight of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. She says this:

"Right now the mob is trying to rule in Uganda and South Africa against gays and lesbians and that's wrong. Right now the mob is trying to act like the government creating state sanctioned marriages between homosexuals would affect your religious marriages. I say, the mob needs to calm the hell down. You're big enough and you're bad enough to be gracious and tolerant. It won't kill you. It never has. Not even once."

She is right. The anti-lesbian 'mob' in South Africa is completely unsupported by their awesomely progressive constitution, and you might want to take a look at the Treatment Action Campaign that was headed for the longest by this gentleman. As for Uganda, again, context: Museveni is a despot and he was using his despotic powers for evil to oppress homosexuality. He succeeded, to the chagrin of those Ugandans who totally disagree with him. Do the majority of Ugandans actually want to kill homosexuals? Tafakari.

I do not mean to belittle the battles that are faced by people who are homosexual living in African countries (see how I did that? African countries...). And advocacy is invaluable. It is true, Ms. Belton, that being gay and out is not a picnic in many African societies (did it again) just as it is not in the majority of the world- your country included, as you well know. But we're just not the crazed and monolithic mob your post implies. There is tolerance, and compassion, even humor. And support. And protection. We do exist that have people in our lives whom we value, admire, dine with, celebrate and cry with, etc who also happen to be homosexual. We do this against the current of patriarchy, in spite of the fights it engenders with our families, or the strain it places on other relationships. Hell, in some places we are not even a hidden minority- we are the newly emerging normative middle class.

So Ms. Belton my dear: Happy Valentine's (or V-) Day. Have a homophilic, Afropositive weekend. And that David Wise guy in your comments section who said: "BTW, I forgot to denounce the persecution of gay people in Uganda and South Africa. These places are still relatively backward, so it doesn't surprise me that this would go on. I'm sending them positive energy and may they see divinity in all people and respect the rights of others"...totally owes some people an apology.

1 comment:

  1. I'm actually kinda sad that Val's day was on a Sunday this year. i was looking forward to standign out in my green, blue and yellow outfit amid a sea of red... Ah, well, next year!

    Next: ah, Africa's a country again. Did you comment on her site? Push a few people a nano-step closer to realising there's COUNTRIES in Africa, each with it's own vibe and multi-culti societies?

    Also, some of my best friends are the gays! coz i'm 'relatively forward' like that.

    um, i need to take my own advice and go to a site with an actually decent piece about kiswahili and let the owner know Nala does not mean gift, and Uhura is not freedom...


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