News, Wit & Commentary for Lesbians
JIC Post:By Shaun SmillieIt's a tale of taboos, adopted wives, possessed lesbians and women leading sexual double lives, and it once was the preserve only of anthropologists. Now the truth is out. A book launched this week at the Women's Jail at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg delves into female same-sex practises and relations in Southern and East Africa. The book, Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female Same-Sex Practices in Africa, goes where only the odd anthropologist ventured before, a world where gays are denied and considered unAfrican.The co-editor, Saskia Wieringa, says: "There is not a lot of information on lesbianism in Africa. What has been written is in academic journals. This book, we hope, will be useful to both academics and to others."The book was edited by Wieringa and Ruth Morgan, with the assistance of researchers from South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Swaziland and Namibia.Their brief was simple: compile life histories on five gay women. What they came back with provided a unique insight into female same-sex relationships across different cultures. In different countries it is often just the nicknames that change. A "tommy boy" in Ugandan gay circles is slang for a "butch" woman. In Namibia, a butch woman is a "lesbian man". The research brought its own challenges. One of the researchers, Baraka, didn't want to use her full name as she was concerned she might be arrested when she returned to Kenya. "Once she had gained access to Nairobi's small gay community, Baraka was introduced to women, some married, who sneak away to have picnics with their lovers or to go out clubbing. Liz Frank said: "My partner, who was involved in the project in Namibia, found that many of these girls were desperate to speak about their experiences."Baraka also studied a phenomenon in remote, rural Kenya, where a woman will adopt a wife."This often happens when a wife is barren or hasn't been able to produce a son. The adopted wife is there to provide a child," said Baraka. Bridal wealth or lobola is even given at a special ceremony. The adopted wife then moves into the homestead.Wieringa believes that the book will go a long way towards exposing the challenges facing many women in Africa. "This research proves that African women have been loving each other in many different ways for a long time, and declaims the hate speech of African leaders who claim that homosexuality is unAfrican." In the next phase of the project, the plan is to extend the study of female same-sex practices into Rwanda and Nigeria.
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