Book Review: Queer Africa 2 shows sexuality is more than sex and subjugation

Queer Africa 2 is a collection of stories that explores everything from childhood crushes to unemployment, and dating a married man. It is an exploration of the African queer existence in all its intertwining, messy and beautiful glory and adds to the growing narrative of the LGBTIQ existence on the continent.

Queer Africa 2 is a collection of queer stories that follows on the heels of the award-winning Queer Africa. It is an offering from MaThoko Books, an imprint of GALA (Gay and Lesbian Archives), that lets us peep into a myriad existences that either touch on overt matters of sexuality or simply allow these notions and issues to linger in the background of a larger narrative. With 26 stories from Kenya, South Africa, Somalia, Uganda, the United States, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Rwanda, the stories mirror the range of contributors who are all speaking to an array of experiences.

This anthology seeks to take away the ‘othering of the other’ and bring LGBTIQ experiences into the everyday reality of contemporary Africa. It tackles ideas of sexuality within the framework of life, shifting the conversation away from the dominant discourse that defines queer people in terms of subjugation and death. Instead, it moves them into the continent’s histories by centring them as wives, students, soldiers, lovers, doctors – as people who are happy, sad or simply existing.

According to the editors, Makhosazana Xaba and Karen Martin, the anthology wanted to speak to ‘the range of human experiences and emotions that abound in the lives of Africans’. This is echoed by one contributor, Emma Paulet, who said she loved that her piece was included as it allowed her to ‘speak on an experience often left to the literary margins’.

The stories range from centring ideas of queerness to whispering them in passing, which causes the reader to begin to understand that who you are attracted to is not the be all end all of your existence – as many presume of the queer community.

Not just about who you are sleeping with

The stories deal with queerness in different contexts, from war to religion, from high school to looking for employment, to living in a warm coastal town as someone’s ‘beard’. Although there is sex in some of them, it is notably absent in others, which supports the book’s theme that there is more to a person’s sexual identity than simply being naked.

Personally, I am a sucker for a great sex scene and the whiff of the erotic is still present in a number of these stories. I was particularly drawn to a story titled Iyawo, written by Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etahgene. The story explored cross-continental love with the central character straddling Nigeria and the United States. The story is an exploration of heartbreak and a want that is real and raw, as reflected in the beautiful line:

“…the soil in Naija is my favourite shade of red, with orange as passionate as the wetness between my legs… when there is wetness between my legs.”

Other stories manage to explore themes such as the rough and tumble act that is wrestling of notions of masculinity, family and belonging witnessed in S Van Rooyen’s Mirage of War. The story moves through the gritty realms of memory to explore a forbidden engagement and family secrets. Another story that uses the tool of memory is The Voice is the first to Go by Alexis Teyie, a beautiful tale of longing that entrances by reading almost like a poem. It flows between the past and the present, riding the wave of memory to explore the nostalgia for a past love and a discontentment with the present that anyone can relate to.

Deeper existential notions within queer narratives are punctured by lighter stories such as Maimuna Doesn’t Know by Wilfred Jean-Louis, which takes the taboo issue of being closeted within a marriage and filters it through the playful lens of a night out, a conversation between friends, and the world of dating, deception and denim jeans. Trying to balance religious beliefs and homework whilst in the midst of teenage love is explored in Bishara’s story Is it love That Has You, which moves forward with a youthful energy.

Due to the eclectic nature of anthologies there are some weak wolves in the pack; as not everything is going to be for everyone. However, the strong stories far outnumber the ones that don’t quite land themselves. The collection provides such a range of lenses that a kaleidoscope is formed, allowing for the multiplicity of lives described to shine through.

An eclectic collection

What makes this collection of tales so interesting is the fact that they come in a whole host of forms, subverting the idea that there is one queer African experience. From the different ways in which English is used, allowing one to envision different dialects and accents, to the various societal, personal and legal experiences faced by the characters, there is a lot to engage with in this body of work. Anyone can find themselves in it, queer or not; African or not.

The stories are soaked in life. Queer Africa 2 is a collection that seeks to add to the canon by showing that queerness manifests in many ways and is affected or affects many aspects of one’s life. It chronicles an existence on the continent that can no longer can be silenced, sidelined or ignored.

This was first published on This Is Africa

For more queer books check out this post about that outlines Queers African books  by women you should read!

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