by Nick Mwaluko
On the subject of voicing that inner scream that is your song…
LGBT Africa held two truths: you fuck, you die. Both truths were intimately interwoven, like tapestry spun by a wild heart against an overreaching national government bracketed from the world, answerable solely to itself and wielding unmolested corrupted powers. If you were caught, the government had every right to have you killed – shot dead on the spot – or tortured. If you were lucky, you fucked like you might die – with intensity, not wasting that urge to connect with someone of the same sex who shared your wish to be alive, truly alive, because what proved to be deadly was living a lie every day.
Third World fucking was hardcore sex zero nonsense: we sucked, swallowed, dicked, gulped, licked, fingered, penetrated, moaned, groaned, grunted, squirted, sprinkled, dribbled, bent down, bent over, spread wide, even wider, head-downass-up, swallow-every-drop-nonstop whenever and wherever nobody was watching, and if they did chance a glimpse, we fucked even harder, not wasting a drop of love or life or sex seized in zero time with a loaded gun at your skull. Healing powers were summoned to quiet that extra-crispy brand of brutality reserved especially for queer Africans.
We licked the death-wish within the body’s hidden caverns, our skilled African tongues glossing over bruises from beatings – pipes, stones, Daddy’s belt while your mother watched in silence.
We never saw ourselves on TV; never heard our stories on radio; never held parades to celebrate hard-won struggles; had no materials, no paraphernalia, no lube, no tube; no twelve-inch, uncut, jet-black dildo with glow-in-the-dark sprinkles to decorate your cock; no flag, no label, no symbol, no language, no code, no metaphor, no song; no shops, no clubs, no bars; and no celebrated space to pour our souls into alternative realities. No church or sacred community prayed over us or blessed gay people because they said we have no souls. We were invisible, that unreality within reality, a truth so true that when we first appeared they said we were a lie.
The ones who couldn’t take it anymore, the ones who refused to stay silent or hide, the few brave ones who stood up to declare themselves openly gay and proud Africans became un-African instantly: abandoned by family, disowned by lovers, denied by community, spat on by the ancestors, they went from office workers with (decent) salaries to bums fishing garbage from dumpsters, roaming the streets as sex workers prostituting among tourists to get by hand-to-mouth – if lucky.
These were our very first foot soldiers, heroes and sheroes and trannyoes, who sang their noble song, risking life’s preciousness to voice a more precious truth; LGBT Africans armed with beautiful queernesses prepared to die for an ideal, unprepared to force-fuck heterosexuals in exile, stunned when treated like strangers at home in their own motherland. They did not die from HIV/Aids, NO!NO!NO!, they died from loneliness, acute isolation sapped their strength. In the end, they never knew their worth to their own community; but we know it and we will sing it forever, proclaiming eternity as we reach for infinity where queer Africa lives forever, amen.
For us few watchful survivors on the sidelines, the village sent a clear message: “Fight back, you will fall. Fall, nobody will catch you. Die, no ancestor will receive your rotten, gay body in the hereafter where judgement is even worse.” We looked in the mirror, measured our stubborn pride and saw death. It’s that look you get when you don’t stand in your own truth, when you spin lies to fuel dreams that account for your emotional isolation. We were safer and yet hypocrites; in other words, we were not ourselves.
“Better safe,” we thought, so we played at being “normal”, “ordinary”, “average”, “nice”; we made ourselves “predictable”, “routine”, “stale”, “flat”, modelled our behaviour after “good citizens” who worship the grave.
We fabricated shallow but necessary lies, swallowed spoonfuls of homophobia to stay safe inside the cosy closet. We looked at each other sideways, if at all. “Wide-eyed blind” is what I call it: when you look not to see someone but to make sure they stay invisible. Easy enough: how do you identify when your process involves erasing “self”? We betrayed each other, hurt each other, cursed and destroyed each other. And we drank – too, too much – liquor plus laughter a bubbling tonic during troubled times.
Suddenly, one bright morning, everything broke: the sun rose high to cast penetrating light on our lies, but they had gone, disappeared. The false, artificial ring in our voice sounded true, even authentic; plastic gestures that made us normal became natural; we were masters of the world and its shallow, stupid standards. So we were comfortable, yes, finally safe. Next day, we were still safe and just as plastic. Following day, still fake, still safe. Next day, more fake, more nice, more polite, more shallow, more insincere, more accommodating, more agreeable, more accepted, more lies, more safe, less alive.
When we were too fake we were too safe because we were dead.
There is a war between my legs. It keeps me pure. To reach out, to touch someone who touches me back fuels the frenzy feeding my lust. Love defeats death, my soul defeats my mind, scars speak, pain shared, our chaos is made gorgeous. When partnered it means someone is out there, another African just as starved for life and love. Maybe, just maybe a tribe is in my future if I survive this moment. If I claim the body that holds the story to voice my song, if I taste the death-wish during illegal fucking, if I re-imagine the world behind my eyelids, recreating reality to make it mine. Is this why some of us refuse to hide? When I live in integrity, don’t I like myself more? Aren’t I more alive?
Two centuries later. Post-apocalyptic queer Africa. The ground is simmering. Government executions number in the millions. Repeated blows to the skull with a hammer; failed escape attempts; jumping out of three-storey buildings only to fall smack dead; raped; shot on the spot. Queer blood seeps to the earth’s core, still not ripe for revolution, though the seeds are there. On a stand sit three excellent works: Queer African Reader, African Sexualities: A Reader and Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction. Written for, by and about queer Africa, a refugee calls them bibles, why? They tell the story in our bodies that voices our song, the first lyrical line is this:
“Our future is now.”
Nick Mwaluko is a Tanzania-born writer whose fiction, poetry and plays focus on LGBTAI issues. His feature stories have been published in the Washington Times and Huffington Post and his play Waafrika, which premièred to critical acclaim in New York, was recently published by UnCUT/VOICES Press.
This review originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of Chronic Books, the review supplement to the Chronic. This edition of Chronic Books examines the politics and practices of translating. Available in print or as a PDF here.