* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Telling our own stories can create a healthier narrative about queer African women
Kagure Mugo is a writer and activist, and publisher of Dark Juices and Aphrodisiacs: Erotic Diary Vol I
With the push for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality become stronger in countries such as Kenya, the decriminalisation of same-sex activities in Angola and a whole host of other grassroots activism, it is now time to ask whether we need a new dimension to aid the creation of a queer-friendly continent.
The notion that the presence of legislation in itself is not enough is evident in countries such as South Africa which, despite progressive laws, still sees high levels of violence against LGBT+ people. Therefore, I suggest that political change needs to go hand in hand with other aspects, such as art and culture.
Personal stories have long been seen as a way to effect change and educate people and with Dark Juices and Aphrodisiacs: Erotic Diary Vol I, we are trying to bring a new lens to a queer continental experience using the allure of sex and desire to have a new conversation about the LGBT+ experience, especially within the African continent.
In a world where “sex sells” and a greater understanding of how the erotic can be used as means of education is, arguably, a very powerful tool for understanding and change when it comes in the right format.
The ability to tell our own stories is extremely important. However, African women within the LGBT+ community face many challenges. The main focus of gay and trans narratives has been international advocacy for the human rights of sexual minorities, men who have sex with men and HIV/AIDS.
Women who have sex with women (WSW) are relegated to the outskirts of the sexual reproductive health rights conversation. Little is spoken about in terms of the sex and sexuality when it comes to women in Africa, let alone WSW. This, coupled with the politicisation of LGBT+ identities, means there is often little recognition or attention given to the lived experiences of people, especially queer women.
African queer women are relegated to the confines of homophobic rape and other forms of brutality, and the conversation about sex and pleasure is rarely (if ever) had.
The overarching narrative is of the struggles and violence that plague sexual minorities in many countries.
Furthermore, depictions of healthy, holistic and wide-ranging sexualities, and sexual practices are increasingly coming under threat, as can be seen in the widespread censoring of sex-positive content online. With the increasing clampdown on various material on platforms such as Tumblr, and others such as Instagram and Facebook have long been known to curb queer and erotic content whilst letting more violent content get through the net.
In this ever-changing world, with gender becoming more fluid, there is a need for new ways of depicting the spectrum of sexualities.
Dark Juices & Afrodisiacs is the first of a series that seeks to add a new dimension to existing sexual/erotic/pleasure narratives on the continent. The anthology focused on having as many voices from around the continent as possible, and specifically African queer women’s voices.
Speaking about sex is hard enough when the examples of what your sex should look like dominant TV screens, movies, books and other forms of media. Harder still when the biggest representation of your sex lives is problematic porn as is the case with queer women.
The push for legal recognition of LGBT+ persons on the continent, and beyond, is one that although extremely important, is but one force for social change. More curated and artistic approaches can go a long way to bolstering these efforts as queer narratives become more visible.
Arguably, it is harder to deny the existence of a person when their lives are in plain view in all their nuance.
Whilst the battle happens continues for equality, an effective approach needs to be multi-pronged. Efforts within arts and culture spaces can add a much-needed dimension to the work done by those who move through the law courts and parliaments in the fight for LGBT+ rights.