Monthly Archives: October 2012
The Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art (LLM) is an art museum in the SoHo district of New York City that collects, preserves and exhibits visual arts created by LGBT artists or art about LGBT themes, issues, and people.
It has a gallery for temporary exhibitions and includes a sizable permanent collection of art numbering over 3,000 items, including, painting, drawing, photography, prints and sculpture. It has been recognized as one of the oldest arts groups engaged in the collection and preservation of gay art.
In April 2012, it was accredited as an officially recognised museum by the State of New York and the name was changed to its current name from the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation.
The permanent collection contains the works of a number of well-known artists such as Andy Warhol, Delmas Howe, Jean Cocteau, Deni Ponty, Robert Mapplethorpe, George Platt Lynes, Horst and Arthur Tress.
Along with the Kinsey Institute, the One National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Lesbians in the Visual Arts, and the Archives of Gay and Lesbian Artists at Oberlin College, the Leslie/Lohman Museum is considered one of the most important archives of LGBT visual arts in the United States.
The museum was created to provide an outlet for art that is unambiguously gay and frequently denied access to mainstream venues. The foundation’s gallery mounts regularly scheduled exhibitions of art in all media by gay and lesbian artists with an emphasis on subject matter that speaks directly to gay and lesbian sensibilities, including erotic, political, romantic, and social imagery. The organization also provides support for emerging and under-represented artists. Other programs include artists’ and curators‘ talks, panel discussions, a quarterly journal, an archive of artist data, and a permanent collection of art.
The LLGAF also publishes The Archive made available to its membership that includes information on the Leslie Lohman collection, new acquisitions, events, samples of gay and sometimes erotic art and articles on artists and exhibition. The Archive is the predecessor to another publication, The Art of Man from Firehouse Studio publications.
The Leslie Lohman Museum was founded by J. Frederic “Fritz” Lohman, ASID and Charles W. Leslie. The two men had been collecting art for several years, and mounted their first exhibition of gay art in their loft on Prince Street in New York City in 1969. They opened a commercial art gallery shortly thereafter, but this venue closed in the early 1980s at the advent of the AIDS pandemic.
In 1989, the two men applied for nonprofit status as a precursor to establishing a foundation to preserve their collection of gay art and continue exhibition efforts. The Internal Revenue Service objected to the word “gay” in the title of the foundation, and held up the nonprofit application for nearly a decade. The foundation was finally granted nonprofit status in 1990.
The Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation first location was in a basement at 127B Prince Street in New York City.
In 2006, the collection moved into a much larger ground floor gallery at 26 Wooster Street in SoHo. The Foundation retains its original home for storage and archive purposes.
Governance and finances
The Leslie/Lohman Museum is by a board of directors. An advisory committee provides expertise and advice. The foundation employs a small full-time staff, although it also relies on the assistance of volunteers to implement its programs.
LLM is financed by contributions from private donors as well as a membership program. The foundation expands its collection primarily by donations from artists and collectors.
The foundation hosts five exhibitions of new works each year, although work from the permanent collection is also frequently exhibited. The foundation’s 2004 exhibition of the works of painter Patrick Angus drew critical praise.
The foundation was also the first to exhibit the gay erotica of renowned commercial illustrator Bob Ziering. Although Ziering had provided illustrations for Simon and Schuster, The Walt Disney Company, and the New York City Opera (his 40-by-40-foot banner for the Opera’s 1986 production of Don Quichotte at Lincoln Center caused a sensation), his erotic work remained unknown until Leslie/Lohman hosted the first public exhibition of his paintings and drawings in 2004.
Mysterious Skin is a 2004 drama film directed by American filmmaker Gregg Araki, who also wrote the screenplay based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Scott Heim. The film is Araki’s eighth, premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2004, although it was not more widely distributed until 2005.
Mysterious Skin tells the story of two pre-adolescent boys who are sexually abused by their baseball coach, and how it affects their lives in different ways into their young adulthood. One boy becomes a reckless, sexually adventurous male prostitute, while the other retreats into a fantasy of alien abduction.
“Mysterious Skin” begins in the confusion of childhood experiences too big to be processed, and then watches with care and attention as its characters grow in the direction that childhood pointed them. It is not a message picture, doesn’t push its agenda, is about discovery, not accusation. Above all, it shows how young people interpret experiences in the terms they have available to them, so that for Neil, the memory of the coach remains a treasured one, until he digs more deeply into what really happened, and for Brian, the possibility of alien abduction seems so obvious as to be beyond debate. The film begins with their separate myths about what happened to them when they were 8 years old, and then leads them to a moment when their realities join. How that happens, and what is revealed, is astonishing in its truthfulness.
There is accomplished acting in this film, and there needs to be. This is not an easy story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt evokes a kind of detached realism that holds him apart from the sordid details of his life, while Brady Corbet‘s character seems frozen in uncertain childhood, afraid to grow up. Both are lucky to have friends of tact and kindness: Michelle Trachtenberg‘s Wendy knows there is something deeply wounded about Neil, but accepts it and worries about him. And Jeffrey Licon, as Eric, becomes Brian’s closest friend without ever seeming to require a sexual component; he watches, he is curious about human nature, he cares.
“Mysterious Skin” is a complex and challenging emotional experience. It’s not simplistic. It hates child abuse, but it doesn’t stop with hate; it follows the lives of its characters as they grow through the aftermath. The movie clearly believes Neil was born gay; his encounter with the coach didn’t “make” him gay but was a powerful influence that aimed his sexuality in a dangerous direction. Brian, on the other hand, was unable to process what happened to him, has internalized great doubts and terrors, and may grow up neither gay nor straight, but forever peering out of those great big glasses at a world he will never quite bring into focus.
Brian’s voice over lets us know why this is such an important memory:
All I knew was that it was somehow linked to the other time, the night I woke up in the cellar. And I also knew that, no matter how long it took, I had to find out what had happened to me. I had to find an answer to the mystery.
Mysterious Skin is the latest film by Gregg Araki, an American independent filmmaker often identified with radical gay cinema. Araki came to prominence with three movies that were considered landmarks in “New Queer Cinema,” a term coined by the media in the early 1990s for low-budget, gay-themed movies. The director professes an interest rather in “polymorphous sexuality.”
Born in 1972 in Kansas, 8-year-old Neil McCormick (Chase Ellison as a boy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an adolescent) and Brian Lackey (George Webster and Brady Corbet) are sexually abused by their baseball coach (Bill Sage). Both boys are targets for abuse due to their dysfunctional families: Neil’s single mother (Elizabeth Shue) is neglectful and preoccupied with a string of boyfriends, while Brian’s parents are on the verge of divorce.
Neil showed homosexual proclivities at an early age—he was fascinated with male models depicted in his mother’s Playgirl magazines. He interprets the coach’s abuse as an initiation into sexuality and becomes sexually compulsive, being particularly attracted to middle-aged men. Eventually Neil leaves home, drifts into petty crime, and becomes a prostitute in New York City. His friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg), who harbors an unrequited crush, describes Neil as having not a heart, but “a bottomless black hole.”
Brian reacts to the abuse by developing psychogenic amnesia and forgetting the events. He remembers waiting for his parents to drive him home from a baseball game, followed by a gap of several hours after which he regained consciousness, bloodied and hiding under the crawl space of his home. For many years Brian suffers from chronic nose bleeds and bed-wetting. In his teen years, Brian becomes nerdy and withdrawn, perceived by others as nearly asexual. He has unsettling recurring dreams about being touched by a strange, bluish hand. These odd dreams lead Brian to suspect that he and another boy may have been abducted by aliens. At the age of 18, Brian meets a young woman named Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who also believes she was abducted by aliens. They begin to form a fragile friendship; though, when she takes a romantic interest in Brian and touches him sexually, he reacts with intense panic and refuses to speak to her again.
While trying to untangle his confused memories, Brian sees a photo of his childhood baseball team, recognizing a young Neil as the boy from his bizarre dreams. Taking the initiative to meet his former teammate, Brian instead, in Neil’s absence, comes to befriend Neil’s friend, Eric (Jeff Licon), and through him learns about their common acquantance. After being beaten and raped by a trick, Neil leaves New York City and returns home. Eventually, the two young men meet for the first time in over a decade. After breaking into the home that was previously rented by the baseball coach, Neil explains how the coach groomed both boys to make the abuse seem normal and acceptable, and how a bluish porch light shining through the bedroom window gave the abusive incidents an eerie atmosphere. Brian breaks down and collapses into Neil’s arms.
The film received generally positive critical acclaim, with an 84% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert] described the film as “at once the most harrowing and, strangely, the most touching film I have seen about child abuse”.
The film was the subject of some controversy in Australia, where the Australian Family Association requested a review of its classification, seeking to have the film outlawed due to its depiction of pedophilia. They suggested that the film could be used by pedophiles for sexual gratification or to help them groom children for sexual abuse.
The six-member Classification Review Board voted four-to-two in favour of maintaining an R18+ rating. The controversy is referenced in a review excerpt from The Sydney Morning Herald on the Region 4 DVD that reads: “How anyone could have wanted it banned is beyond me”; film critic Margaret Pomeranz expressed that the film does more for the case against pedophilia, stating: “People who do indulge in crimes like that, if they saw this film they would understand the damage that they do.
- 2004 Bergen International Film Festival – Jury Award
- 2006 Polished Apple Awards – Best Movie
- 2006 Icelandic Queer Film Festival – Best Fictional Work
I watched the movie and it not something for tender haerts and it Tragedies such as child abuse are real tragedies. But it is necessary to explain the role the present state of society plays in making them possible. child abuse has become a cliché. Despite massive attention paid to the problem by the media.
Criticized by the Commission on Human Rights and parliamentary legislation and justice the application of the Public Order Act on citizens, contrary to human rights. And acknowledged excesses in the application of the law by some police departments, and revealed a tendency to review the law and in conformity with Islamic law in coordination with the States and the Ministry of Justice to determine the cause and whether or texts and method of implementation mechanisms.
The Chairman of the Committee, “Mr. Haji Sulaiman”, in a press statement, yesterday, after a meeting with the Minister of Justice, seeking his committee in coordination with the Ministry of Justice to review the laws and linked to their legitimate origins. He is not the powers of the control legislation state, but when it is exposed citizens practices against human rights, it requires intervention and coordination with the hardware state for review, noting that rights issues in general and the funds be wrong with the application and not in the text, criticizing incident assaulted by police on HOME Baldem citizen, accompanied by his wife; which he considered “virtuous” a violation of the human rights.
In context, the “virtuous” empty prisons of political detainees without bringing charges against them, saying there is no political prisoner has not been charged. And expressed the readiness of the Commission to receive any complaints in this regard.
And said: I do not pretend that we have reached the required level of freedoms; because the country’s circumstances require more pressure and blockade security to prevent escape, pointing to shut down some newspapers and writers by the security device asks for the Journalists’ Union.
In direction, stressed the “virtuous” the government’s willingness to cooperate with the independent expert for human rights under the tenth item. He said that the Minister of Justice praised the positive attitude of the Arab Group and the African and some European countries for their support to Sudan.
Abu Nuwas, “Father of Curls,” so named for his long flowing hair that hung down to his shoulders, was the greatest Arab poet of his time, or as some claim, the greatest Arab poet of all time. His full name was Abu Nuwas al-Hasan ibn Hani al-Hakami. Abu Nuwas’s mother, Golban (Rose) by name, was a Persian weaver, and his father, whom he never knew, a soldier from Damascus. The mother sold the young Abu Nuwas (b. 756) to Sa’ad al-Yashira, a Yemeni druggist, who took him from Ahvaz, the town of his birth (presently in south-western Iran) to his home in Basrah (presently in south-eastern Iraq), in those days a great seaport, and abode of the mythical Sinbad the Sailor.
In Basrah, the boy studied the Qur’an and grammar at mosque. His grace and beauty attracted the attention of his older cousin, the handsome blond poet Waliba ibn al-Hubab (d. 786). The druggist having granted the boy his freedom, Waliba became his lover and teacher, taking his student to live with him in Kufa. A couple of year later, the adolescent Abu Nuwas returned to Basrah to study under Khalaf al-Ahmar, a master or pre-Islamic poetry. He then spent a year among the Bedouin (desert nomads) to gain purity of language. But the young man, already a lover of the finer things in life, was not enamored of the primitive life of the ascetic nomads:
Your hope for repentance
Will meet with disapppointment.
For this is the life,
Not desert tents,
Not camel’s milk!
How can you set the bedu
Beside Kisra’s palace?
You, mad to expect repentance,
Tear your robe all you want;
I will never repent!
(Diwan, 11-12; after Kennedy, p. 223)
Abu Nuwas set aside older, traditional writing forms for drinking songs (khamriyyat) and witty, erotic lyrics on male love (mudhakkarat and mujuniyyat) that resonate with an authenticity born of experience, soon becoming famous, if not notorious. His love poems celebrate love for a beautiful boy, often embodied in the figure of the saqi, the Christian wine boy at the tavern. The theme was picked up time and again over the ensuing centuries by the best poets of Iran and Arabia, such as Omar al-Khayyam, Hafiz, and countless others who shared his tastes.
Around the time the young Harun al-Rashid ascended to the throne, Abu Nuwas set up shop in Baghdad, in those days capital of both Arabia and Persia. The time was a golden age of Arab culture and learning, and the city was the biggest in the world of its day. Perhaps he was hoping to curry favor with the new caliph, a more enlightened ruler than his brutal predecessor. However, being a court poet exposed Abu Nuwas to the whims and vagaries of an absolute monarch. Though not as capricious as some, Harun al-Rashid was conscious of having to maintain the aura of propriety incumbent upon the Defender of the Faith, and more than once threw Abu Nuwas into prison for his drinking and his impertinent verse.
The final break came shortly after Harun al-Rashid ruthlessly crushed the Barmakis, one of the leading families at his court and his closest friends and advisers. Abu Nuwas, a friend and client of the enlightened and generous Barmakis, wrote an elegy to them in response. Forced to flee into exile to escape the wrath of the caliph, he made the Hajj to Mecca and traveled as far as Egypt. He was only able to return years later, after the death of al-Rashid in 809. The new caliph, Muhammad al-Amin, aged 22, who had inherited the throne, welcomed back Abu Nuwas, his old teacher, with open arms. Unlike his father, Al-Amin shared the poet’s tastes for hunting, wine and boys, and was famous in his own right for his affair with his eunuch. But even he grew impatient with the poet, and had him thrown in jail for his exploits at the tavern table, as we can deduce from the following poem:
|What a lesson, O, Ibn ar-Rabi, have you given me
And the excellent habit of austerity.
Not as pointless, not as dumb, my inclination now
Tends to chastity and solitude.
Want to witness an amazing matter?
Set me free, and see how often God I flatter.
I have been so long in jail,
Will happiness come from your generosity?
(From Prison; after Monteil, 160)
|Always I have and will
Scatter god and gold to the four winds.
When we meet, I delight in what the Book forbids.
And flee what is allowed.
(Diwan Abu Nuwas, 62, after Kennedy, p. 220)
|I bought abandon dear
And sold all piety for pleasure.
My own free spirit I have followed,
And never will I give up lust.
(Diwan, 164, After Kennedy, p. 221)
But Abu Nuwas was quick to change his tune, if that was the price for getting out of jail:
|What has become, said I, of my tender youth,
Given over to pleasure, each day, each night?
All possible mischiefs I am guilty of.
Forgive me, Allah. I hear and I tremble.
(What Has Become of Your Youth;
His erotic poems range from the dewily romantic,
I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret:
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.
(Love in Bloom; after Monteil, p. 95)
to the provocative,
|For young boys, the girls I’ve left behind
And for old wine set clear water out of mind.
Far from the straight road, I took without conceit
The winding way of sin, because [this horse]
Has cut the reins without remorse,
And carried away the bridle and the bit.
(A Boy Is Worth More Than a Girl;
A gentle fawn passed around the cup
Delicate of waist and slim of flank,
“Will you be on your way, come morn?” he chirped.
“How can we bear to leave?” came the reply.
He glided among us and made us drunk,
And we slept, but as the cock was about to crow
I made for him, my garments trailing, my ram ready for butting.
When I plunged my spear into him
He awoke as a wounded man awakes from his wounds.
“You were an easy kill,” said I, “so let’s have no reproaches.”
“You win, so take what you will, but give me fair reward.”
So after I had placed my saddle bag upon him he burst into song,
“Are you not the most generous rider ever, of all Allah’s creatures?”
(Tu’atibu-ni ’ala Surbi Stibahi; after Kennedy, p. 262)
and on to others which we today would have to qualify as odes to rape:
|O, starry night of good omen,
When drunkard mounted drunkard,
We whiled away the time in worship to the Devil,
With fervent faith,
Until the monks rang death’s bell and dawn,
And the young lad took off, dragging his delightful robe
Touched by my impure desire.
“Woe is me,” he said through his tears,
“You have torn away the dignity I had long treasured.”
“A lion saw a gazelle and lunged at it,” said I,
“Such are the vagaries of fate.”
(Ya Sahir al-Tarf; after Kennedy, p. 67)
Abu Nuwas’ outrageous deeds were immortalized in The Thousand Nights And A Night, a collection of ancient tales from Persia, India, and Arabia dating to the ninth century, in which he appears as a ribald folklore character, together with many other historical figures of his day. His best poetry, imitated but never equaled, celebrates hunting, the love of wine, and the love of boys, diversions widely appreciated by educated Muslims everywhere, despite the ongoing fulminations of fundamentalists.
|||The title of caliph (khalifah, “deputy”) denotes the supreme ruler of all Islam, equal in authority (if not in prophetic ability) to the prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Harun al-Rashid (b. 766; r. 786; d. 808) traced his lineage to al-Abbas, an uncle of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh), as did his two sons who succeeded him, as well as all other Abbasid rulers.|
|||A contemporary poet accused the pair “These two have splattered everyone, like a camel pissing.” Another poet, Ali bin Ali Talib, said of them: “The caliph being a top is even more marvelous than the vizier being a bottom. One buggers and the other gets buggered, such is the only difference between them.” And another, addressed himself to the dead Harun al-Rashid, complaining of the new caliph’s disinterest in women, “You have left behind a husband for the eunuchs.”|
|||Principal wazir (counselor) of Mohammed al-Amin.|
|||A great deal of the historical material about Abu Nuwas is downright contradictory, so this biography is one of many possible variants. What does not vary however is the personality and character of the poet, and the thrust of his opus.|
|||The poems cited here are the author’s own adaptations, freely based on the quoted sources.|
The growing body of evidence supporting a biological root to homosexual behavior presents a strong case to argue that homosexuality is to some extent innate in all races and cultures.Even if homosexual desire is innate to a percentage of any population, the opportunities for expressing such are clearly regulated by cultural boundaries.
Anthropologist Evelyn Blackwood, editor of THE MANY FACES OF HOMOSEXUALITY, quotes from the work of her peers Ross and Rapp to emphasize “the historical-cultural” construction of sexuality. Sexuality’s biological base is always experienced culturally, through a translation. The bare biological facts of sexuality do not speak for themselves; they must be expressed socially. Sex feels individual, or at least private, but those feelings always incorporate the roles, definition, symbols and meanings of the worlds in which they are constructed.
Many traditional African cultures are based upon extended families and clan structures, providing the needed replenishment of the population central for subsistence. But a misconception widespread in popular views of sexuality and even in anthropology, is to place homosexuality in a position of opposition to procreation. Homosexuality can indeed be viewed through an economic perspective whereby a society must be able to afford the choice of an individual not to have children. However, the idea that the economic interdependence of members of an extended family or clan is a deterrent to homosexuality, is an issue relating to behavior and not desire. Moreover, there is anthropological evidence showing that a number of African cultures exhibit a degree of accommodation of homosexuality.
Some of the best known work exploring homosexuality in Africa is that of Evans-Pritchard and his studies of the Azande of present day Zaire, beginning in the 1920s. Evans-Pritchard found repeated examples of adolescents prior to the age of 17-18 serving as “boy wives” to older men. They were expected to help their “father-in-law” and “mother-in-laws” to cultivate the fields, build huts and would often sleep with their father-in-laws.
According to Evans-Pritchard, “if a (Azande) man has sexual relations with a boy he is not unclean. The Azande say, ‘A boy does not pollute the oracle.'” Moreover, the boy wife and his father-in-law would often refer to each other “my love” and “my lover.”
Accounts of homosexuality in traditional African cultures often find such practices accepted among adolescents, but discouraged among adults. Tessemann, writing in the 1913 about the Fang people of present day Gabon, states:
In adults such conduct is regarded as something immoral and unnatural, simply unheard of. In reality, however, it is frequently heard of that young people carry on homosexual relations with each other and even older peoples who take boys…readily console them by saying, “we are having fun, playing a game, joking.” Adults are excused with the corresponding assertion, “he has (the) heart (that is, the aspirations) of boys,” which is, of course, by no means flattering to them.
Evans-Pritchard and Tessmann’s findings, along with those of many other researchers, read as mixed messages when one is trying to draw a line between what sexual practices various African societies will and will not accept. The heterosexual/homosexual split so entrenched in western societies becomes even harder to peg to African cultures when one is dealing with cases of gender display that are out of sync with an individual’s biological sex.
In traditional Zulu culture women are the spirit diviners. As females, able to give birth, it is through their bodies that spirits may cross from one world to another. However men who display female gender characteristics are also allowed to be spirit diviners. Moreover, a man who becomes possessed, no matter what his gender identity, is considered a woman. While not conclusive, such may well relate to the widespread belief in southern Africa that homosexuals are in fact hermaphrodites.
Probably the best documented cases of homosexuality in Africa are among the mine workers of South Africa. Living in all male compounds and separated from girlfriends and wives for months at a time, it is very common for adolescent boys to visit these compounds and provide sexual service to its inhabitants. Such can be thought of as situational homosexuality, based upon the extenuating circumstances of an all male setting.
Yet far less consideration has been given to those miners and their partners who admit to enjoying sexual contact with other men beyond obtaining sexual release in the absence of women. Writing in DEFIANT DESIRE, Linda Ngcobo and Hugh McLean interviewed twenty African men who have sex with other men about gay sexuality in the townships around Johannesburg.
“A skesana is a boy who likes to get fucked,” explains Ngcobo, himself one of the first black gay men in South Africa to publicly declare his homosexuality. “An injonga is the one who makes the proposals and does the fucking.”
Much of the sex between miners and those who service them is “thigh sex”, a relatively accepted sexual practice between members of the same sex in many African cultures.
Yet the authors argue that anal sex is far from unknown. Moreover, the definition of what constitues “sex” for African men who have sex with other men, is anal penetration. “Remember that skesanas who ‘play with each other’ even to the point of orgasm, do not consider this to be sex. Sex happens when amanjonga wa kwabo baba-ayinela, when their injongas penetrates them.”
Corresponding to the large scale migration of men in Southern Africa seeking work, is the close relationships and support networks developed by women. Again the situation specific explanation of these relations, exhibited both emotionally and sexually, must be considered along with other evidence.
In exploring the “mummy-baby” relationship between adolescent Basotho women in Lesotho, Judith Gray found that not only were young girls “gradually socialized into adult female roles and relationships by slightly older and more experienced girls,” but that “sexual intimacy is an important aspect of these relationships.” Over time as the women grow older and start to raise a family, the sexual nature of these relations lessen, but the support network formed and the deep emotional attachment among women remain.
The fact that close physical and emotional relations between women often have a significant place, even after heterosexual relations have begun, suggests that the growing recognition of bisexuality in pyscho-sexual studies may find support in studies of non-western societies. As one Mosotho woman said about the physical side of these relationships: “It’s not wrong. It’s just another side of life.”
HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL
What could be said of many cultures around the world is that they have little problem with homosexuality; it is homosexuals that are not tolerated. When President Mugabe calls on “churches and other custodians of human rights,” to help Zimbabweans “observe their culture and traditional values,” homosexuality is catapulted beyond being an issue of sexual practice. The supposed dos and don’ts of morally proscribed behavior are of course rooted deeper in earthly struggles for power then in heavenly sanctity.
Invoking the authority of the Catholic church to protect traditional African culture, is one of the many strange twists in the history of how European exported systems of belief and governance became rooted in the continent. When asked about homosexuality, a Ghanaian born editor of an African affairs publication was quick to blame the existence of that kind of behavior on missionaries and its prevalence in missionary run schools. Such perception, very widespread throughout Africa, is directly related to the mixed message colonialism brought; missionaries who came to save souls alongside of armies that came to steal the land and everything on it.
The very denying of indigenous homosexuality among African cultures plays into the hands of racism. Historian Wayne Dynes, in the introduction to a list of 84 references to homosexuality in Africa, notes that “Europeans have often held that ‘sodomy’ is a vice of advanced, even decadent civilizations. The Africans, being innocent ‘children of nature’ must be exempt from such corruption.”
The notion of Africans being “innocent children,” of nature, corresponds to European views that African sexual practices were primal and largely devoid of emotionally constructed associations. Likewise, homosexuality has also been vilified in western thought as being incompatible with intimacy and true romantic notions of love. As viewed from a defensive position, the ascribing of homosexual behavior to Africans and people of African descent can be regarded as doubly denying the emotional component of their sexual lives. It is not surprising then the popular view both in Africa and the African Diaspora that homosexuality is seen, as reported by Dynes, “a ‘white vice’ forced on healthy people to drag them down.”
Black Nationalism in Africa and elsewhere, paired with Afrocentrism, has tended to perpetuate the notion of homosexuality is removed from the “true” African experience. As with so much else relating to Africa, the issue is informed and influenced by attitudes outside of the continent as much as with those views of Africans themselves.
In the United States, homosexuality is often viewed with hostility by African-Americans when placed in the sphere of a civil rights struggle. Homosexuals are seen as undeserving claimants to the same civil rights victories African-Americans have struggled for. A posting on NET NOIR, an African-American interest section of America Online, reflects the aforementioned:
I am utterly insulted, that the gay movement has degraded the struggles of minority groups in America, especially Blacks, by comparing their struggle to ours. Despite what pop psychology and many liberal whites may want us to believe, sexual orientation is a choice. The Black community has enough problems, do not further our problems by forcing us to accept the lifestyle. Let’s work on keeping crack, crime, illiteracy, and gay lifestyles out of our neighborhoods.
New York based African-American lesbian activist, Jackie Bishop, explains the consequences of such attitudes as “being de-raced. In being a lesbian, I’m not Black.”
Bishop points to Black Nationalism as being essentially misogynist and homophobic. Homosexuality is regarded as an external influence which weakens the link between African-Americans and their African roots. And issues such as homosexuality are thought to deflect attention from what should be the primary issue above all else; racism.
The popular idea of a lost “pure” Africa which existed prior to colonialism is an exclusionary one, built as much around Judeo-Christian ideals as traditional African ones. Yet the persuasiveness and influence of such a concept is extensive. Discussing the experiences of a gay man from Nairobi with a member of a university African Studies department, the professor proceeded to dismiss the man’s homosexual orientation as a product of the “breakdown of the traditional family structure” in the post-colonial urban environment of Africa.
Who gets to speak of the “traditional family structure” in Africa, who best represents a “pure” African perspective on life, is an ongoing power struggle not unlike the battle over “family values” in the United States. In both cases, reality based on history is being swept aside in favor of easily salable constructions of nationalistic and racial identity. The disheartening result, according to Jackie Bishop, is that “We (as people of African descent), still have yet to really reconstruct our history. We need to uncover and re-create our own stories.”
There are at best a handful of openly gay social and gay rights groups in Africa, but to what extent homosexuals in Africa should organize along the models of western gay organizations is a pertinent question. Nearly twenty years ago Sylvanus Maduka, a Methodist minister in Nigeria, on hearing of a “gay church” in the United States contacted the offices of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. He then proceeded to establish an MCC church in Imo state, hiding nothing of MCC’s mission to welcome all peoples — including homosexuals.
According to the Reverend Kavar who used to administer World Extension for MCC churches, there are more than 20 MCC churches in Nigeria, as well as MCC churches in 16 other African Countries. “What Maduka established are mostly villages churches serving husbands, wives and children. They are subsistence farmers and receive very little from the government. MCC helped them build a clinic. Nothing about MCC’s focus on serving gays and lesbians is hidden from them. It’s not an issue. Asked about the sexuality of his congregates, Maduka once said, ‘if you want us to be homosexual we will be; it doesn’t matter to us.'”
Reverend Kavar admits to reading between the lines in Maduka’s letters to him, trying to determine if Maduka himself was gay. But the answer is largely immaterial. The non-judgmental inclusion MCC offered all people answered the needs of those Maduka sought to help.
Idealism which may seem fanciful in the West can be down right practical when faced with the poverty of choices someone like Maduka faced. Cycles of war and famine in Africa have created the terrible impression, even among African themselves, that the people of the African continent cannot afford to be humane to one another. Yet to deny anyone their dignity and rightful place in African society for reasons of ethnic background, sexuality or race, is to continue to rob Africa of its complete humanity.