How do Senegalese talk about gay identities (via thefemaletyrant)
Historically there is no word in Wolof that translates literally to “gay” or “homosexual” as the words are commonly used in the West in the late 20th and early 21th centuries. And while some African countries are making headlines for various anti-gay laws, such as Nigeria’s recent passage of a law banning same-sex marriage and membership of gay rights organizations, the Raw Material Company gallery in Dakar decided to address the issue of homophobia in Senegal with an expo called, “Who said it was simple?” (named for the Audre Lorde poem of the same title).
When I spoke to the curator at the gallery about the expo, she told me the gist of the event is to explore how homosexuality, which is something that she says was traditionally accepted and integrated into society in Senegal, has become something that now often provokes vicious backlash. (According to the Associated Press, earlier this year, two men were arrested in Dakar for “engaging in homosexual acts” and sentenced to six months in prison; in January, four men were arrested for attacking and beating gay men in their neighborhood.)
The expo is made up of displays of Senegalese newspapers, illustrating how local media now treat the issue. A plaque at the entry declares that the “current radicalization” of homophobia is born from the tendency to now use “Western notions designed to define margins and minorities, while local systems of ensuring peace and social well-being remain erased.”
One of the points the expo makes is that it’s hard to discuss human rights in Africa “within an imperialist framework that imposes categories and creates identity where there were practices.” When I asked the curator for an example of what this meant, she told me that while there is no Wolof word for “lesbian,” there are multiple words for the practice of a woman having sex with a woman, or a man having sex with a man.
This way of recognizing “acts” without labeling the “actor” raises important questions: how important is it to be able to safely claim your identity in society? Is that not a fundamental human right as we are taught in the West? Does naming confer certain protections that are unavailable without the recognition of a specific identity, or does it simply create conditions for calling out difference?
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