by Tahzeeb Akram and Jon Wilson
Being queer in Africa, a queer Africa and queering Africa are not the same thing across time, borders, and internal boundaries
-Pumla Dineo Gqola
As renowned director Wanuri Kahiu once said, “homosexuality is not un-African; what is un-African is homophobia.” Queerness in African countries has long been associated with westernization and colonialism. It is believed that these types of narratives do not exist within the borders of the continent. We are, however, seeing an astounding shift in the queer stories that are told in and about the African continent. The rise in queer African literature is not a newfound genre but a reawakening of history and ancestry. With a rich background of queer identities, communities, and histories, publishing and promoting the continent’s literary representation of the former allows for a further shrugging off of the bonds imported religious and colonial powers had on repressing the beauty of queer Africa.
In the words of Ifedimma Osakwe, “we love and hate in ignorance yet unhate and unlove with the coming of awareness, of knowledge”. So, while this does not even begin to scratch the surface, here are some queer African literary gems.
Across Africa: Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, Queer Africa 2: New Stories, and Queer Africa: Selected Stories – Edited by Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin.
These three books are made up of dazzling short stories about living as a queer person in various African countries – whether that be a narrative about being queer in Africa or a story being told from the point of view of a queer African writer.
Ghana: Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy
Published in 1977, Aidoo gives us a story of Sissie who visits Europe in the hopes of finding a better ‘her’. Besides her critical observations of the black diaspora and Europeans, Sissie is befriended by Marija whilst in Germany. Before departing Germany, Marija hits on Sissie, causing her to evaluate same-sex relationships, platonic and romantic.
Malawi: Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial”
Kenani’s 2012 Caine Prize shortlisted short story, “Love on Trial”, is a focus on morality, sexuality, and hypocrisy. It starts with Mr Lapani Kachingwe finding a law student named Charles, having sex with another man. With social moral policing and queerphobic views, the story reveals the acceptable, shunned, and ignored sexual exploits in the story’s Christian public.
In Nigeria, we start with Jude Dibia’s 2005 Walking with Shadows which is often labelled as Nigeria’s first novel to feature a gay protagonist. The story follows the life of Ebele/Adrian Njoko who struggles with his sexuality, family, and the social need to rebrand himself. We then move to the non-fiction side with Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men, a 2017 memoir and collection of queer men in both Africa and the Diaspora. Focusing on queer women and same-sex women’s desire, Chinelo Okparanta’s 2015 Under the Udala Trees brings historical and contemporary representation to same-sex women’s love and feminism, both wholly situated within Nigeria. Finally, we have 14: An Anthology of Queer Art is a two-part anthology (2017-2018) created to rebrand the anniversary of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act’s date.
South Africa: They Called Me Queer compiled by Kim Windvogel and Kelly-Eve Koopman
A beautiful compilation of essays by Queer People of Colour living in South Africa.
Uganda: Monica Arac de Nyeko’s “Jambula Tree”
Nyeko won the 2007 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, “Jamula Tree”. Seen as a microcosmic representation of Uganda as well as most queerphobic African countries, the story is based on two young girls’ relationship and how this beautiful pure love is tainted and harshly judged by their community upon discovery.
Zimbabwe: Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare
This 201o novel uses a hairdresser in Harare to reveal the truths of contemporary Zimbabwe. Our protagonist, a single mother named Vimbai, is known as the best hairdresser in Harare. With an endless supply of feminine and womanly advice, Vimbai sees herself as an expert on gender and its social placement. However, the arrival of Dumisani, a gay young man, brings in social and personal revelations about the characters, the country, and society in general.