THE PORTRAYAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN SELECTED AFRICAN PROSE

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ABSTRACT

Feminism(s) and masculinity(ies) are central concerns in gender studies, while queer studies, initially marginalised, is currently receiving greater attention in the West. But, in Africa, the queer, especially homosexuality, has received little creative and critical interest. This study would, therefore, fill the gap created by the dearth of literature on the subject. Homosexuality, the umbrella term for gay, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender and other “sexual disorders”, denotes same-sex relationship, ranging from phatic communication to erotic communion and marriage. It is also considered a psycho pathological condition. This study investigated the portrayal of homosexuality in four purposively selected African prose: Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows; Wame Molefhe’s Go Tell the Sun: Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit, and Tatamkhulu Afrika’s Bitter Eden, with a view to determining the portrayal of homosexuality, the reasons for positive or negative portrayal, the attitudes of homosexuals and heterosexuals to one another.

The methodology employed for the study was qualitative. This entailed a descriptive analysis of the chosen texts across the four regions of Africa: North, South and West.Three of the authors are males.Queer and Deconstruction literary theories guided the study. Queer theory was employed to determine the sexual status of the identified characters, aided character portrayal and representation and helped in the analysis of the prevalent attitude of Africans to homosexuals. Deconstruction provided alternative views of characters; destabilised the binary oppositions between male and female, men and women straight and gay and demonstrated the fluidity of gender.

The study revealed that homosexuals are stigmatised in the chosen texts. Gays are castigated as mere sissies and wrecks.In Walking with Shadows, Chika and Chinedu scold Adrian for beingso scared of plays common to boys. Furthermore, heterosexuals and homosexuals hate one another and homosexuals would combat homophobia by communicating their world-view, using irony. In Bitter Eden, Tony, a producer and homosexual, employs majorly active homosexuals as homosexual characters on stage. Moreover, few of the characters in the selected texts are portrayed as congenital (biological) homosexuals. In Go Tell the Sun, Kgomotso comes as a “biologically wired” lesbian, while Tom, Douglas, Danny and Tony are presented as circumstantial (cultivated) homosexuals in Bitter Eden. Tom becomes gay, following pressure and intimidation by Douglas. Kate is portrayed as a past time lesbian in Bitter Fruit. The study equally discovered that homosexuals could, at least, be pitied, and that the negative portrayal of homosexuals follows the African belief that homosexuality is unorthodox, forcing homosexuals to employ “escapism”. In Go Tell the Sun, Kgomotso commits suicide, while in Walking with Shadows, Adrian migrates to America.

The study concluded that despite the presence of homosexuality in Africa, it is still largely a closet phenomenon. Furthermore, the largely heterosexual African society still looks at same-sex relationship with indignation. However, it is the visibility of homosexuality that attracts homophobia. It is recommended that African writers should not glorify homosexuals in their works and that homosexuality should, at the least, remain in the closet.

Keywords: Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, pedophilia and homophobia

Word Count:498

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Content                                                                                                Page

Title Page                                                                                        i

Certification                                                                                        ii

Dedication                                                                                 iii

Acknowledgements                                                                                 iv

Abstract                                                                                       v

Table of Contents                                                                   vi

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION                                                     

1.1       Background to the Study                                             1

1.2       Statement of the Problem                                             5

1.3       Aim and Objectives of the Study                                        6

1.4       Research Questions                                                         7

1.5       Significance of the Study                                              7

1.6       Scope of the Study                                                        7

1.7       Justification for the Study                                          8

1.8       Methodology                                                        8

1.8.1    Justification for Choice of Selected Texts                        8

1.9       Theoretical Framework                                        9

1.9.1    Queer Theory                                                                   9

1.9.2    Deconstruction                                                11

1.10     Operational Definition of Terms                      12

CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF LITERATURE                                           

2.1       Origin of Homosexuality in African Oral literature        13

2.2       Homosexuality and First /Second  Generation of African Writers 13

2.3       Homosexuality and Popular Culture             16

2.4       Homosexuality and Globalisation                   17

2.5       Homosexuality and Contemporary Writers/Society 19

2.6       Homosexuality, Homophobia and Social Beliefs         22

2.7       Homosexuality and Rape                                           25

2.8       Homosexuality and other Sexual Disorders in Literature     26

2.8.1    Bisexuality                                                   26

Content                                                                                                     Page

2.8.2    Transgender                                                                    27

2.8.3    Transexuality/Transexualism                                               27

2.8.4    Trans-man and Trans-woman                  28

2.9.      Homosexuality and Environment                    28

2.10     Queer as a Literary Theory           29

2.10.1  Deconstruction as a Literary Theory 31

CHAPTER THREE:  HOMOSEXUALITY AS A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM AND DEATH AS A RITE OF PASSAGE IN WALKING WITH SHADOWS AND GO TELL THE SUN                                       

3.1       Synopsis of  Jude Dibia’s Walking with Shadows                     34

3.2       Baptism and “Death” as Initiation into Homosexuality in

Walking with Shadows                                                             35

3.3       ‘Othering’ and Cultural Siege: Homophobia as a Ruthless Weapon in Walking with Shadows                                                   37

3.4       Homosexuality is a Long Walk to Freedom in Walking with Shadows  40

3.5       You are Victims of Neo-Colonialism:  Heterosexuals Charge at Homosexuals in Walking with Shadows                            41

3.6       Synopsis of Wame Molefhe’s Go Tell the Sun       44

3.7       Trapped in the Body: Marriage as an Alibi in Go Tell the Sun 44

3.8       Traditions, Roles and  Stereotypes in  Go Tell the Sun               47

3.9       Death as a Metaphor for Rite of Passage in  Go Tell the Sun       49

CHAPTER FOUR: HOMOSEXUALITY: A CASE OF THE PREDATOR AND THE PREYIN BITTER EDEN AND FRAILTY IN CHARACTER IN BITTER FRUIT                                          

4.1       Synopsis of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s Bitter Eden    52

4.2       Homosexuality: a Case of the Hunter and the Hunted in  Bitter Eden   53

4.3       Transcendentalism: Homosexuality as a Communion in  Bitter Eden   55

4.4       Emasculation as Macho Weakling: Homosexuality as a Failed Venture in  Bitter Eden                                                                                               57

4.5       Locked in the Sub-conscious: Homosexuals as being Biologically “Wired”  in Bitter Eden                                              59

Content                                                                                           Page

4.6       Synopsis of AchmatDangor’s Bitter Fruit                       60

4.7       Lesbianism as a Metaphor for Hospitality in Bitter Fruit        61

4.8       Be Courageous Enough to Face the Truth – the Demand on Gays in Bitter Fruit                     62

4.9       Homosexuality, a Mark of Frailty in Character in’s Bitter Fruit   64

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS           

5.1       Summary                                         68

5.1.1    Summary of Findings                                         69

5.2       Conclusion                                             73

5.3       Recommendations                                                                                 74

5.4       Contribution to Knowledge                        73

5.5       Suggestion for Further Studies               74

References                                                                                                                 75

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  1. Background to the Study

Homosexuality denotes same-sex relationship or same-sex marriage. (Pollack, 1998: 207; Thompson, 1994: 357; Sarason and Sarason, 2002: 248; Aldrich, 2003:50; Allman, 2001:20) McMahon and McMahon (1982: 30) and (2011:245) state that homosexuality is that kind of sexual relationship between two members of the same sex. It involves a drive towards a member or members of the same sex.

But Nnachi (2011) sees homosexuality as a psychopathological condition. He argues:

The most basic definition of homosexuality is abnormal sexual attraction towards the members of the same sex. Thus, a homosexual may be considered a person with sexual desires directed wholly or in part towards members of the same sex. (p.245)

At the heart of homosexuality is desire and people are believed to be “wired” differently to nurse and pursue different desires. In the first place, it is suggested  that every literary text is in some way about desire and in the end one loves one’s desire and not or what is desired (Bennet and Royle, 2009:208).This corroborates the view earlier expressed by Pollack (1998:206) where he recounts an encounter with a young boy:

Being different, being gay…..I always knew I was different from the other guys, seventeen year old Bill explained to me. Whenever I went out to the movies with friends, most of the other guys were just dying for a cute girl to sit next to them. Nobody else seemed to realize it, but I was really hoping a good-looking guy would sit next to me. I don’t think anybody had any idea what I was going through.                                                                 (p.206)                                                                                    

Being homosexual, or gay, therefore, implies that a boy or girl, when he or she grows into adulthood, will primarily feel attracted, in a romantic sense, to other men or women. For instance, rather than falling in love with women and longing for a woman as a spouse, gay men fall in love with other men and hope to find a man with whom to share their adult lives. Again, just as heterosexual or straight boys do not ‘decide’ they are going to be heterosexual and as adults do not ‘choose’ a heterosexual lifestyle, homosexual boys do not ‘decide’ to be gay and, as adults, do not ‘choose’ to live a homosexual existence (Pollack, 1998: 207).This view is, however, problematic. This is because it seems to have foreclosed the option of choice open to humankind, of possibilities and even what people see as opportunities as life unfolds through growth. This view is supported by Thompson (1994:380) when he avers that homosexuality is a sexual orientation that goes arm in arm with sexual politics. Homosexuality is a form of rebellion. “It is the revolution nobody noticed”(Thompson,1994:380).Homosexuality is the dividing line between what societies presume to be “normal” (straight) and abnormal sexual behaviour. The subject is, today, assuming a very daring dimension. Pollack (1998:xxii) notes that “Boys today are in serious trouble, including many who seem “normal” and to be doing just fine. Confused by society’s mixed messages about what is expected of them… many feel a sadness and disconnection they cannot even name.”

Sarason and Sarason (2002) hold this view:

Homosexual behaviour is sexual behaviour with a member of one’s own sex. Homosexuals are individuals who prefer to engage in sexual activity with members of their own sex over an extended period. Female homosexuality is often called lesbianism… In recent years the term gay has been used by homosexuals to describe their life-style because they feel that the term has fewer negative implications than homosexual.  (p. 247)

Viewed alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality does not have a long history. According to Bennet and Royle (2009):

The first entry for homosexual in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from 1892. Critics such as Joseph Bristow have demonstrated that a critical appreciation of a play such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is crucially dependent on an understanding of the historical emergence of a homosexual lifestyle at the end of the nineteenth century… While  the term homosexual can refer to both men and women, its entry into the English Language in the late nineteenth  century did not result in a sudden visibility for lesbians, however. (p. 209)    

This phenomenon started to generate both fear – homophobia – and interest, queering into a new subject or lifestyle that is a radical departure, not only from patriarchy, but also from heterosexuality which has been the norm over time. In deconstructing  heterosexuality, Sarason and Sarason (2002:248) remark sharply, “In the bad old days,…homosexuality was considered a mental illness.”Homosexuality, undoubtedly, started off in the closet. It, most probably, came into the open in Sodom. Consequently, the Bible reports that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-25). According to the Bible, God forbids it, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination” (Lev. 18:22). It is a crime that attracts the death penalty:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.(Lev. 20:13)

Moreover, a curse is placed on Sodomy /bestiality while culprits are to be put to death (Lev. 20:15; Deut. 27:21). Thousands of years later in the New Testament (of the Bible), homosexuality is seen as nothing but sexual aberration, with dire consequences (Rom. 1:27; I Tim. 1:10; Rev. 21:8).

            The word homosexuality first appeared in the English Dictionary in 1892 (Bennet and Royle, 2009: 208). Gay-related issues and activities are considered third wave feminism. Feminism itself has been traced to the publications of Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) and John Stuart Mills (1809), according to Sotunsa (2009:1). But the world had to wait until the 1960s for an open confrontation with homosexuality (Thompson, 1994:1). Thompson observes that the publication of The Advocate, a magazine published in the United States of America (1967/68), gave voice to gay interest and tips on a number of issues. Thompson says:

The tips, however, were for gay white men only; The Advocate wholly ignored people of color and almost never referred to lesbians, addressed their issues, or did anything to cultivate their participation. (p.1)

Thompson’s  Long Road to Freedom (1994) is a compendium on homosexuality. Thompson himself is gay. Gay Pride Day was celebrated in New York City’s  Central  Park in 1970 (Thompson, 1994:33). Acting Up (the struggle for integration of homosexuals into the mainstream) was to follow in 1987. “Paradoxically, while 1987 was the year that gays and lesbians moved more heavily into the mainstream, it was also the year that heavy protest action against mainstream enterprises was launched (Thompson, 1994:307).Then came 1990, Year of the Queer (Thompson, 1994).  Thompson puts it this way:

If it aint on the six o’clock news, it aint news. In 1990,NBC, CBS and ABC couldn’t avoid us anymore. Week after week, we were six o’clock news… Twenty years, of gonzo gay activism had paid off handsomely in  the “year of the queer”, self proclaimed queers, disempowering the old slur by reclaiming it as an affirmation, upstaged the more traditional approaches to activism pioneered by national organizations and gay activities in the decades after Stonewall. With the assistance of seasoned media-savvy  activists like Larry Kramer and Muchelangelo Signorile, queer street fighters shrewdly positioned themselves to refocus the world’s televised view of homosexuality. (p.357)

Today, in America, most parts of Europe and other parts of the world, homosexual relations are legal. For example, May 17 is International Day against Homophobia (first celebrated on May 17, 2005 in more than forty countries) and “gay pride parades” are common in Europe and America (Kimmel and Messner, 2009:327).However, Africa is yet to come to terms with homosexuality. It appears that no one is openly comfortable with the subject. Thus, while the West is busy expanding the frontiers of same-sex relationships, Africa appears to be dissipating a lot of energy in the opposite direction (Thompson, 1994, xvii; Sarason and Sarason, 2002: 269; Nnachi, 2011:251 and This Day, Tuesday, 20 September 2016: 43).

With the exception of South Africa, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Africa are very limited in comparison to many other areas of the world. Thirty-eight of 53 African nations criminalise homosexuality in some way. And some African leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yahyah Jammeh, former Gambian President, claim that homosexuality was brought to the continent from other parts of the world (Nnachi, 2011). Nnachi observes:

In Sudan, Southern Somalia, and Mauritania homosexuality is punishable by death. In Uganda, Tanzania and Sierra Leone, offenders can receive life imprisonment for homosexual acts. Egypt slams a jail term of up to 17 years on homosexuals. (p.252)

Moreover, in Nigeria, Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition ) Act 2013 is already in force. The Act reads in part:

1(i)       A marriage contract or civil union entered into between persons of same sex:

(a)        is prohibited in Nigeria.

2(2)      No certificate issued to persons of same sex in a marriage  or civil union shall be valid in Nigeria.

(3)        Only a marriage contracted between a man and a woman shall be recognized as valid in Nigeria.

4(i)       The registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings is prohibited.

(2)        The public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly is prohibited.

5(2)      A person who registers, operates,  or participates in gay clubs, societies, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.

Homosexuality has been seen as a queer specie world over, although the perception varies from place to place. This explains why it is dogged by fear – homophobia. Homophobia is the irrational fear and hatred of those who love and sexually desire those of same sex (Pharr, 1998:453). One who is homophobic may be called a homophobe. Lehne (2009: 325) defines homophobia as the “irrational fear or intolerance of homosexuality. Although both men and women can be homophobic, homophobia is most often associated with the fear of male homosexuality. This fear is a mixture of revulsion, apprehension, contempt, prejudice, aversion and antipathy, resulting in homosexual panic.

Citing online sources, Lehne (2009) says:

Homophobia is the fear or poor treatment of homosexuals. Coined by George Weinberg, a psychologist, in the 1960s, the term homophobia is a blend of the word homosexual and phobia from the Greek word phobos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. The word “homophobia” is often used together with the word “transphobia” in documents explaining human rights violation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgander(people)-LGBT. (p.326)

In Africa where gay activities are muffled, literature remains a most veritable tool of probe. This is because the literature of a people is always revealing; it has been likened to a wonderland (Drake, 1971:v) The writer has also been described as the conscience of his society (Franco, 1970). Franco observes further:

The artist has a special responsibility towards society. The writer is increasingly considered as a man of conscience; his personal awareness makes him testify to the truth as he sees it, a truth which means facing his own and his national circumstance with unflinching honesty. (p.225)

The corollary is that literature mirrors society. Therefore, texts will be chosen across some selected regions of Africa – North, South and West – for the purpose of probing gay practice and lesbianism in Africa. The texts are:

  1. Walking with Shadows by Jude Dibia (2005);
  2. Go Tell the Sun by Wame Molefhe (2011);
  3. Bitter Eden by Tatamkhulu Afrika (2002) and
  4. Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor (2001).
  1. Statement of the Problem

Over time, it has largely been assumed that human society has not only been designed to be patriarchal, but also heterosexual. Feminism is winning the war against patriarchy, but homosexuality is still being repelled with fury by individuals, groups and organisations. While the resistance is abating in the West, the opposite is the case in Africa. Due, perhaps, to phobia, not much has been done in this emerging field of study by African writers, literary scholars and critics.

Yet, Sharonrose (1998:467) argues that bisexuality is far from new. In the article, “Myths /Realities of Bisexuality” Sharonrose observes that bisexuality has been recognised and practiced since ancient times, but only recently has it emerged as a political identity in US sexual politics. Masculinity, feminism and, of late, homosexuality have been focal to gender studies. Even in Africa, masculinity and feminism have received remarkable attention. The result is seen in the volume of works on these subjects. But very scanty work has been done by African writers and critics on same sex matters.

Elliot, Mcfarland, Granite and Peckan (1970:1) argue further that all serious literature is concerned with universal themes – that is subjects which touch all normal men’s lives; spiritual not material; justice rather than food distribution; love rather than sex. Great themes touch our strongest emotions. In our time, literature (like architecture) has become more international. Homosexuality is fast benefitting from globalization, touching all men’s and women’s lives. It can no longer be ignored. The questions of identity and homosexuality have a good deal in common as they both constitute humanly important themes today, in politics and literature. This position is in consonance with that canvassed by Elliot, et al  (1970: XVI) when they posit that “There are a great many things to say about what literature is, but they must all include two essential points. It is a special way of talking, and it is about humanly important themes.”

The present study, therefore, attempted to fill some gap created by the dearth of literature on this form of prose which will also serve as spring-post for further enquiry by writers, researchers and critics. This is because homosexuality is fast becoming one of the great themes in world literature – themes such as the question of truth, the nature of justice, the meaning of greatness, fate and free will, love and hate, good and evil and the question of identity, among others.

  1. Aim and Objectives of the Study

The main objective of this study was to investigate the portrayal of homosexuality in selected African prose. The specific objectives are to:

  1. find out the ways in which homosexual characters are portrayed in the selected African novels;
  2. determine reasons for negative or positive portrayal of homosexual characters;
  3. find out the attitudes of heterosexual and homosexual characters to one another in the selected texts;
  4. examine how the characters become homosexuals, that is, is it biological, cultivated or circumstantial and
  5. investigate issues of homophobia in the selected texts.
THE PORTRAYAL OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN SELECTED AFRICAN PROSE