radical queer africa

Many of us continue to search for a new political direction and agenda, one that does not focus on integration into dominant structures but instead seeks to transform the basic fabrics and hierarchies that allow systems of oppression to persist and operate efficiently.
--Cathy Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens”

The best phrase G.W. Bush’s speechwriters wrote: “the soft bigotry of low expectations”

What would queer Africa look like detached from racist developmental logics?

While histories of African resistance are cited and celebrated, the idea that Africans might know how to imagine freedom seems inconceivable, not only in a missionary global north, but, increasingly, within Africa itself.

In this moment, what are we willing to do to be free?
--Cathy Cohen, Kessler Lecture


I have been thinking about how little is expected of African queers:

  • while homonormativity might be critiqued elsewhere, it cannot be critiqued here
  • robust articulations of queer difference in Africa cannot exist for a global imagination stunned by the idea that there might be queers in Africa
  • among Africa-based movements, little space seems to exist for dissent and critique
  • many African queers in "leadership" positions continue to fetishize the “freedom” enjoyed by “gays abroad,” paying little attention to the race, gender, and class politics of those “gays abroad”
  • an African queer focus on making powerful friends abroad has made difficult, if not impossible, coalitions with “punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens”
  • the data collection around queer Africa—the methods of “knowing” queer Africa—refuses the possibility that Africans can theorize our/their condition

denial of the other’s pain is not about the failings of the intellect but the failings of the spirit
—Veena Das

One gets used to being called a “complaining native.”

On an email group set up by Kenyans, two white men refuse to honor the (unspoken) terms of the group. One posts self-promotional material, advertising how much he is saving the world, one African at a time. The other posts his reflections on living in Egypt, making absolutely no effort to connect what he’s writing to anything in Kenya.

Gay white men perform their unhearing.

No one complains because the Kenyan queer is conditioned to listen to white queers, white funders, white voices, white bodies.

A leader among Kenyan gays sends a friend with a message: “tell that Keguro to stop his armchair activism and join in the real struggle in the street.” I paraphrase.

I continue to wonder if trying to make public knowledge worlds matters.

Kenya’s official documents say “the family” must be defended. Kenyan queer leaders say “the family” must be defended.

Little space exists for those of us who find family toxic, debilitating, impossible.

Each African country gets one queer:

South Africa: Zanele
Uganda: Kasha
Kenya: Binyavanga
Malawi: Tiwonge
Nigeria: maybe more than one

The world “out there” cannot seem to envision more than one African queer per geography, because that would fracture its attention, make it pay attention to queer diversity, and, everyone knows, those African names are so hard to pronounce. And those countries so difficult to distinguish.

one may identify the eye not as the organ that sees but the organ that weeps
—Veena Das

to be vulnerable is not the same as to be a victim
--Veena Das

freedom seeds:

Every time you pluck an amaranth leaf from a mature, seed-laden plant, seeds fall to the ground. The work of freedom might be to keep plucking the leaves, to keep letting seeds fall.

As the protesters have it: they buried us; they did not know we were seeds

the neoliberal hoax of “Africa rising” cannot imagine freedom

the labor of knowing how to talk to the police, how to transport to safe houses, how to fight the everyday battles needed for survival

the invisible labor of women, trans warriors, sex workers, the unacknowledged work of those who make a queer now possible

a worrying email:

there must be unity
there must be leaders
we must support each other

queer notions of power that reproduce the worst of Kenyan patriarchy

how does one register the unmaking of homonormativity

engage with policy but keep your eye on freedom
--paraphrased from Cathy Cohen, Kessler lecture

If violence, when it happens dramatically, bears some relation to what is happening repeatedly and unmelodramatically, then how does one tell this, not in a single narrative but in the form of a text that is being constantly revised, rewritten, and overlaid with commentary?
--Veena Das

I keep returning to violence because radical—rooted—often requires tearing, fracturing, pulling up by the root.

Queer violates Africa as envisioned by its philosophers and poets.

How to speak of this violation? This violence?

One might attempt to think of a violence—a violation—that rearranges, that shifts the ground, that multiplies possibility

metaphors become geo-historical: Pangea breaks

in the soft bigotry of low expectations, European queers gather African queers and tell them, “Become like us! See how free we are! You want this!”

A friend travels to Europe, sits with European queers who want to help African queers, tells them: “do not presume to know my desires or wants—listen to my vision”

As Audre Lorde and Frantz Fanon teach, guilt is a useless emotion and a certain white liberalism is inherently masochistic: make me cry, it demands, make me produce feeling, it insists, beat me up with your words


As one representative queer—there can only be one—is celebrated, others, trying to shift countries to save their lives, are rejected.

--there can only be one

sometimes, there will be silence