The vulgarity of homophobic thinking

The writer, Chimamanda Adichie, lines up the homophobic arguments against rights for gay people and knocks them down one by one.

A policeman on a bike in Lagos, Nigeria (Timmy O'Toole, via Flickr CC).

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a range of responses from African intellectuals and artists to the crisis of homophobia, especially in states that are planning  oppressive laws against gay people. As Dan Moshenberg reported on this site last month, Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a new Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act of 2014. The new law forbids state entities from conducting same-sex marriage or same sex civil unions. The same goes for religious authorities.  The problem is that this is already illegal in Nigeria. The law also had some language about “gay clubs” and “the public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly.” As Dan wrote, nobody asked for the law. Dan summarized the reaction of Nigerian and other African intellectuals to the new law, which many called a distraction; a way for Nigeria’s government to divert attention away from its dismal governance.

The musician, Seun Kuti, also weighed in not long ago (don’t be put off by the odd headline).

Yesterday was the turn of writer, Chimamanda Adichie, to speak on the new law and she made a very important contribution.

The thing I like about Adichie’s comments is her generosity. She confronts directly the confused and contradictory assortment of ideas which have become so influential in shaping homophobia and the language in which homophobia is now being expressed. She is frank and uncondescending, refusing to gloss over or euphemize the vulgarity of homophobic thinking. The hardest thing for an intellectual when speaking out against such crass, hateful ideology is to take it seriously enough as a way of thinking to which large numbers of people have become deeply attached.  That’s what Adichie does here, and that’s one reason why this intervention might challenge people in a deep way.

Here are some key excerpts:

… There has also been some nationalist posturing among supporters of the law. Homosexuality is ‘unafrican,’ they say, and we will not become like the west. The west is not exactly a homosexual haven; acts of discrimination against homosexuals are not uncommon in the US and Europe. But it is the idea of ‘unafricanness’ that is truly insidious. Sochukwuma was born of Igbo parents and had Igbo grandparents and Igbo great-grandparents. He was born a person who would romantically love other men. Many Nigerians know somebody like him. The boy who behaved like a girl. The girl who behaved like a boy. The effeminate man. The unusual woman. These were people we knew, people like us, born and raised on African soil. How then are they ‘unafrican?’

If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is ‘unafrican.’ It goes against the values of tolerance and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures. (In 1970s Igboland, Area Scatter was a popular musician, a man who dressed like a woman, wore makeup, plaited his hair. We don’t know if he was gay – I think he was – but if he performed today, he could conceivably be sentenced to fourteen years in prison. For being who he is.) And it is informed not by a home-grown debate but by a cynically borrowed one: we turned on CNN and heard western countries debating ‘same sex marriage’ and we decided that we, too, would pass a law banning same sex marriage. Where, in Nigeria, whose constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has any homosexual asked for same-sex marriage? …

Read the rest here.

Further Reading

The skeleton in the closet

The novelist Nadifa Mohamed complicates Britain’s troubled, racist legal history through the personal tale of one otherwise insignificant person, a Somali immigrant to Cardiff in Wales.

Life to the sound of gunfire

Nigerians fleeing extremist violence at home take refuge across the border in Niger among an already fragile population. Together they proceed to carve out a way to live better lives for now.

Democraticizing money

Cameroonian economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi died in 1984, either poisoned or by suicide. His ideas about the international monetary system and the CFA franc are worth revisiting.