Academic journal article African Studies Review

Meanings of Homosexuality, Same-Sex Sexuality, and Africanness in Two South African Townships: An Evidence-Based Approach for Rethinking Same-Sex Prejudice

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Meanings of Homosexuality, Same-Sex Sexuality, and Africanness in Two South African Townships: An Evidence-Based Approach for Rethinking Same-Sex Prejudice

Article excerpt

Abstract:

The assertion "homosexuality is un-African" is widely viewed as an expression of homophobia. However, without knowledge of what homosexuality and "Africanness" mean in a given context, any understanding of how to shift the prejudices associated with this assertion remains limited. Research conducted in 2010 with police, high school learners (students), and a sample of more than one thousand residents from two urban townships in South Africa contributes to this understanding. This article draws on data from the research to explore the significance of cultural translation when considering what constitutes same-sex prejudice and how it may relate to notions of authenticity or "real Africanness." While the research provides evidence of same-sex prejudice, there is also evidence of qualified acceptance of same-sex sexuality and of efforts to combat prejudice. Opportunities for change are discussed with reference to the data.

Résumé: L'affirmation "l'homosexualité n'est pas africaine" est largement perçue comme une expression homophobe. Cependant, sans connaissance de ce que l'homosexualité et Tafricanité" veulent dire dans un contexte défini, toute tentative de faire évoluer les préjudices associés à cette assertion reste limitée. Les résultats d'une étude menée en 2010 auprès de la police, de lycéens et d'un échantillon de plus de mille résidents provenant de deux bidonvilles urbains en Afrique du sud contribuent à cette perspective. Cet article mobilise des données provenant de l'étude pour explorer l'importance de leur traduction au niveau culturel concernant ce qui constitue un préjudice contre l'homosexualité et comment cela peut être lié à des notions d'authenticité ou d' "africanité réelle." Bien que l'étude fournisse des preuves concernant l'existence de préjudices contre l'homosexualité, il y a aussi des preuves montrant de la tolérance avérée envers l'homosexualité et des efforts pour combattre les préjudices existants. Les possibilités de progrès sont évaluées avec des références aux données de l'étude.

Key Words: homophobia; homosexuality; gender; identity; Africanness

Introduction

How exactly do people define "homosexuals" or "homosexuality," and what does homophobia mean in a context like South Africa where there are such diverse cultures? Research on sexual minorities often assumes that the meanings of these and other terms are self-evident and fixed in time as general knowledge. The claim that homosexuality is "un-African," for example, has gained notoriety as an articulation of homophobic prejudice throughout the continent.* yet it is an articulation that is heavy with the assumption that homosexuality and "Africanness" have the same meaning to all speakers, and also that such meanings are translatable across cultural and historical contexts. We know, however, that colonialism and other historical forces mediated notions of sexuality and morality on the African continent and had the result, in Tamale's terms, of "standardizing] global ideas about African sexualities..." (2011:2). One outcome of this process was the assumption that Africans are "inherently hostile to, or devoid of, gender and sexual minorities" (Gaudio 2009:8)-a misleading notion that is detrimental to good scholarship and policy formulation on several grounds, including an obscuring of the existence of men who have sex with men in HIV/AIDS interventions and of the specific vulnerabilities of lesbian or trans-identified people to gender-based violence.^ The presumed fixedness of African prejudice against nonnormative sexualities may also feed into a progress narrative among activists, researchers, and donors whereby wise Westerners lead benighted Africans to a promised land of liberation, understanding, and tolerance. Such a narrative, termed "homonationalist" when taken to a point of pride or chauvinism about sexual rights in the West, may in fact be contributing to skepticism about the possibility of change in public attitudes among Africans and to cynicism about the likely outcomes of civil and human rights claims. …

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