Reasonable Violence

Meanwhile, in Africa Review, “powered by the Nation Media Group,” Janet Otieno offers what some might consider reasonable positions. In a 2010 article arguing for the presence of “homosexuality” in pre-colonial Africa she argues,

Although there is no data to substantiate a genetic or biologic basis for same-sex attraction, homosexuals prefer the biological explanations of hormonal imbalance, sexual abuse, prenatal hormone defect or lack of bonding with a same-sex parent as this helps to generate greater tolerance and building their case for minority status.

This would mean homosexuals need counselling and acceptance as opposed to the harsh penalties like imprisonment that will lead them to further isolation. Denying them the opportunity to live the way they have to, is total deprivation of their rights as human beings.

Now, certainly there are homosexuals intrigued by and researching the possible biological basis of homosexuality—hormones, genes, brain wiring. Yet, what is interesting about Otieno’s list is how rooted it is in the negative: “imbalance,” “abuse,” “lack.” One does not have to be a genius to follow her train of thought and subsequently describe homosexuality in pathological terms. Doing so might not be an accident as she retains the term “homosexuality,” itself a product of sexology: a certain method and orientation to the body and mind often, but not always, rooted in pseudo-science.

The compassion of “counselling” is a tough sell, precisely because it is rooted in disgust, contempt, and pity. Otieno is not Kweyu, but they live in the same neighborhood.

She concludes the same article,

Whether Africa will face up [to] the reality and accept homosexuals, or uphold its traditional values, remains to be seen as the debate rages on.

Here, following Kweli, I would point to Mudimbe’s work on the “invention of Africa.” And I would also point to several other works of scholarship by Africanists that detail the emergence of various Africas—since I am paraphrasing badly, let me use Kwame Appiah’s original quote: “Africa is various.” As always, I am interested in how Africa is being produced as an intimate structure—the heteronormative consensus that is Africa.

One also wants to point to seminal work on the invention of tradition, though, here, I agree with the person who argued that “invention” is unnecessary as all tradition is invented, not merely inherited. To think through tradition as innovative and improvisatory, as borrowed and blended, must surely change what we mean by the term and how we use it. Framed in this way, “traditional values” would be much too inchoate to be any kind of guide. Not to mention, I am deeply suspicious of values rooted in “it was said” by folks with faulty memories and those written down in books.

In a more recent article on the UK’s aid ban, Otieno ends on a familiar, supposedly reasonable note,

Whether Africa would embrace homosexuals or force them to go straight, remains to be seen.

It is an interesting thing to inhabit the “remains to be seen.” To be placed in a time of indefinite suspension, to imagine oneself in a holding cell, subject to a decision over whether or not “force” will be applied and by what means. For me, this is the “no future” Lee Edelman writes about—the void that one’s being is imagined to be and imagined to inhabit, even as heterofuturity continues on its merry way, pausing, every so often, to look in the holding room to say, “oh, you’re still waiting!”

“Remains to be seen.”

Where does one contest or even engage “remains to be seen”? How does one contest or even engage the endless deferral of “remains to be seen”? With its wonderfully agent-less construction, the sentence does not allow the homosexual to engage with anyone, individual or institution. Instead, one inhabits a vague ether, an endless limbo, where unknown strangers, not even Africa, but others, determine one’s fate.

It is curious that this limbo is imagined as a somehow benign space: it is not the space of “force.” It is what precedes a “maybe force.” Except for those who are held in its suspension, who can only imagine what “force” might be, based on stories and rumors of other “straightening” measures used across time and space.

Otieno represents a moderate, even mildly pro-homo voice. With Kweyu, one is in “kill the gays” territory. With Otieno, one is in the “wait and see.” Tweeting about Troy Davis before his execution, Shailja Patel noted the “torture” of waiting—the space of suspension is never benign. Not for those waiting. And certainly not for those who, in remaining to be seen, risk turning into “remains.”

3 thoughts on “Reasonable Violence

  1. Otieno is killing me. I like Kweyu better. Outright bigotry I can take. Liberal multicultural racism (you know what I’m going to type) nicks me in the jugular. It is accepting the Other so long as the other is desubstantialized.

    In this case, Otieno wants us to accept gays so long as they are on the track to heterosexuality — therefore effectively desubstantiating them. And those not on the track must forever remain in the purgatory she creates with that phrase “remains to be seen”.

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  3. I always struggle to remain conherent when faced with such bigotry crouched as “traditional African” values. Thank you for your clear statements. But really nothing “remains to be seen”.

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