“The faggot lovers Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz arrived in Kenya and were happily welcomed by homo activists in the Country. . . These two homos proved to be quite popular with Kenyan faggots and their supporters. The reception from these Kenyans was apparently so good, the two American faggots started contemplating plans of establishing the ‘Other Sheep’ East African chapter.” – from Kenyans Against Homosexuality, a blog.
I grew up in an extreme environment of violence and hatred: the American Deep South in the ’50s and early ’60s, in Savannah, GA, where learning not to question was an important part of learning. I was lucky, though: because I grew up Southern, Jewish, impoverished (and incredibly queer), I was able, at an early age, to question much of what was going on. In fact, I soon realized there were two “realities” then: the “reality” of the way the world was, and the “reality” of the way people wanted the world to be.
This second reality is an “in our own image” world: in Savannah, it was white, straight, and mostly Anglo-Saxon-Protestant Christian. Most kids are brought up in “our own image,” but it’s becoming harder with so many different images now. I came of age in a constant environment of hate, hate language, and a seething furor over preserving that “our own image” environment.
I now see a similar process going on in many places in the world, especially in black Africa: a strange, mirror-image of Savannah where white people were taught to fear and hate blacks, and homosexuals were occasionally thrown into the mix as unseen bogeymen. Presently, we experience a condition of extreme hate actions and words directed against a target of ostensibly white or Western homosexuality being seen as something alien to and infecting the purity of black Africa. This is being done often under a Christian guise, which makes me question its real meaning.
First, I have no doubts that East African homophobia plays into an “our own image” mindset, and that “image” is free from AIDS and righteously monogamous. Monogamy was a goal of Christian missionary work, though much of African tribalism bridled against it. Monogamy is still not considered manly for many African men: women are to be contested for, and the more you have, the more manly you are. In the old days, Christian missionaries could attack African male promiscuity with fire and brimstone; they can’t anymore. All they can do is scream at homosexuality and its “promiscuous” sex-outside-of-marriage sinfulness, while trying to ignore male heterosexual promiscuity. There is also the specter of Islam, a very aggressively proselytizing religion, knocking loudly at the door. Islam for centuries was hush-hush about homosexuality: in fact, it was often considered a private alternative to strictly enforced heterosexuality. But, again, today with too many images around, Islam has become loud and harsh about a situation it used to tiptoe over. Therefore, the question in black Africa is who is going to hate “queers” the most, Islam or Christianity, and of course guess who will suffer the most from this hatred?
A third specter comes up: AIDS, and the embarrassing fact that AIDS started out in Africa as a heterosexual disease, that came into the human population through eating “bush meat,” or the flesh of primates. This fact has been scientifically proven, but that does not soften the shame and caused by AIDS, and how that shame will (hopefully) be obliterated if it is cast onto the bodies of gay men and lesbians.
All of this is a recipe for a living hell for many LGBT people in many areas of Africa, but the worst part is not being able to speak about it, being too “politically correct” (or “polite” as we used to say in the South) to see what is under the hate language, and exposing it. A lot of Africans will be frightened to death by homophobic extremism, and many will literally die from it, because it answers so many needs to cover up so much. I think we need to take the cover off this as soon as possible. LGBT people in Africa need to see that they are a real part of “our own image,” and the world needs to show this with bravery, frankness, and sincerity.
Perry Brass is an activist and author of 14 books including How To Survive Your Own Gay Life.