The Queer Issue
When the former president of Zimbabwe, Caanan Banana, was tried and convicted for sodomy in the late '90s, most Africans believed that his advanced Western education (he was a learned theologian) induced his abnormal desires for men. Excessive exposure to Western culture had turned a once normal African man with a standard sexual appetite into a European libertine with an appetite for the bizarre gay sex. This is how homosexuality is represented in Africa's popular imagination: It is the ultimate sign of white culture, the final product of democratic freedom.
White culture is corrupt, exemplifying nothing less than the fruit of knowledge that awakens the innocent mind to evil delights, unearthly pleasures. Too much white knowledge will dislocate the African man from what Disney's Lion King describes as "the cycle of life." Indeed, while the West has blamed African promiscuity for AIDS, Africans have always accused Western decadence for bringing the deadly disease to Africa.
Black America also makes similar connections between white decadence/gay lifestyle and corruption. In a class I taught many years ago at Seattle Central Community College, a black student had no problem linking J. Edgar Hoover's purported homosexuality with the fact that he was, one, white, and two, morally bankrupt. To find the most hysterical expression of this attitude (white culture = decadence = homosexuality) in black America, you only have to read the once popular book Soul on Ice, by Eldridge Cleaver, which argues that "Negro homosexuals" were "touching their toes" for white men because their sense of masculinity had been corrupted by white culture.
Whether in Africa or America, for blacks, homosexuality takes the form of the foreign, the rupture on the border of black culture that initiates the fall from grace. This perception not only locates black gay men as dysfunctional or sick (which is what black homophobia shares with white homophobia), but also as race traitors, sexual Uncle Toms who have surrendered their black identity to European decadence.
The upshot of this African and black American reading of black homosexuality is that it imagines black gay sex as only one type of intercourse: a white man penetrating a black man. Such inflexible and phallocentric attitudes (penetration = power, penetrated = powerlessness) are not only sexist, as Michele Wallace points out in Black Macho, but they also make black gay sex invisible. In black culture, we can't imagine two black men having sex. Such intercourse is invisible, incommunicable, obliterated by the image of an older white master exacting pleasure from a prone young black slave.
But despite the obscurity of black gay sex in black culture, the very sound of it exists on almost every dance floor in Africa. We have been dancing to black gay sex for over 15 years. House music--with its hypnotic four-four beats, snappy snare, optimistic high hats, and driven bass loops--was born in the early '80s in a Chicago club called the Warehouse. Invented by gay black men to address and articulate their form of pleasure, house music spread rapidly from the edges of black gay culture into general gay culture, then general black American culture, and finally into global culture.
What cannot be said in words (black men having sex with each other) is felt in the moaning black vocals and bacchanalian thumping of house music. The music is erotic; erotic because it is body music. You "jack your body" to house music, unlike hiphop, which is head music and designed for "head nodding." Today, house rules South African popular music. Rejecting hiphop and its focus on the black male mind, South Africa turned to the black male body of house music to form the very foundation of its postmillennial jive music.
But the success of house music has produced an obvious contradiction in black culture; we dance to black gay sex and yet refuse to recognize it. There are two ways to resolve this contradiction: One, we deem this music degenerate--in the way the Nazis called jazz music degenerate in the 1930s--and ban it from all dance floors; or two, Africans give in and utter the unutterable: Black men have sex with black men because that is part of black culture. One way will lead us out of the dance club, the other will keep the party going.
Charles Mudede is a heterosexual and has two kids to prove it.