I think a lot about impotence.
Blame Sembene’s Xala.
Despite its masculinist pretensions (which are not necessarily heterosexist), impotence is a great metaphor for thinking along and through with. There’s the impotence that reveals itself in lack of progeny (not necessarily heterosexist) and the impotence known through whispers and smirks, one’s inability to bring pleasure to another.
One walks by sneers and smiles, hidden laughs and swallowed giggles. One cuts down phallic crops and trees, worrying that even nature mocks. One’s inability to provide pleasure inhibits one’s ability to take pleasure. And, because I’m being peri-academic, impotence is one of the great themes of African literature.
I’m thinking even more about impotence now because of the ad in the Kenyan papers for “Viagla.” I want to know whether anyone has bought it, used it, whether it works. African “Viagla.” If you have, please leave a comment and tell me whether it works.
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I have often (mis)diagnosed the legacy of the Moi years as impotence, a crushing sense that one’s resistance is already anticipated and incapacitated, that, to use a real metaphor, one will be forced to drink nyayo milk, despite one’s protests.
Yes. I use drinking Nyayo milk as a queer metaphor.
Yet, what stays with me is not impotence, but hunger. We desired stories, success, the future. In my circle, one of many, we spoke of A-Team, of figures who, had we known the language, “worked the system.” When we spoke of what I now disparagingly call bang-bang movies, it was not about their faux moralism: the struggle between good and evil was less compelling than the contest of wits, the power struggles.
With a sophistication that belied our years, we focused on the how to get power rather than the why. That the world could be, should be improved, in my dim memory, never discussed.
The story of how Good Times and Dynasty, The Jeffersons and Dallas shaped our desires, our views of race relations, how we absorbed them into our national and local narratives without becoming cosmopolitan, that banal story about consumption without ethics, I’m not sure it remains to be told. But it exists.
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I have wondered what it means to have impotence without the luxury of indifference or apathy.
Is this one meaning of “shauri ya mungu!” That odd Kenyan resignation with deep, unfathomable registers.
Every so often, one catches a quick glimmer of rage. But I will not write about anger today.
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And then there is the impotence of having (re)produced wrongly: this, you will remember, is Madume’s problem. “Only girls.” One’s inability to fulfill a cultural mandate. One’s inability to inhabit masculinity properly. It is in such an environment that the symbolic aspects of masculinity become even more important: pangas become slashing penises when one cannot support one’s family. Cheap. Perhaps.
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What might it mean to have impotence and indifference? Is this a way of re-thinking masculinity. When one laughs about one’s limpness. Do we? Can we? After all, even in cheap porn (written by straight men) trannies brag about their erections.
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It is no secret that I study masculinity—when I want to justify it, I invoke some French Feminist whose name I forgot who said that men should write about masculinity. This I consider to be a feminist injunction, and I write as a feminist about men. This also, perhaps, because I live in a multi-generational house of women, from 2-65.
In what I take to be a brilliant move, Raila has started promoting circumcision because it is healthful. Have I written about this before? I don’t remember, and I’m too lazy to check. What Atieno Odhiambo has discussed as “the obstacle” for Luo men is being torn down foreskin by foreskin. (Perhaps we should, in good absurd fashion, create a chain of foreskins from Nyanza to State House.)
This worries me because it valorizes one kind of morphological masculinity as a political ideal, as the price one must pay.
Presidency by Foreskin.
We might as well include a shorn penis on our national currency.
Potency: not just what you do, but how you are shaped to do what you do.
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But we also know the cheapness of circumcision.
I remain intrigued by the images of mostly poor urban workers, men, who, when bathing together would discover one of their members was unshorn, would take up a collection, march him to wherever and “man” him.
Whether the absence of a foreskin improved his economic life—we know it may have his cultural life, at least among a limited circle of men—we don’t know.
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