Book review: Kendall, K. (1997) “Looking for Lesbians in Lesotho” Scottsville: University of Natal Drama Department

…The women in northern Mozambique and Lesotho are examples of same-sex relationships and sexualities located outside of the “heterosexual norms in Africa.” These relationships were socially and culturally accepted in Mozambique, and were celebrated by women and their husbands in the Lesotho context, maybe because they existed alongside women’s heterosexual relationships and were not disruptive to the gender power system. However, we must hesitate to label these relationships as homosexual relationships, especially in the Lesotho context where the women themselves did not identify themselves as lesbians or homosexual because “homosexuality is not a conceptual category everywhere… and the kinds of sexual acts it is thought possible to perform, and the social identities that come to be attached to those who perform them, vary from one society to another” (Kendall, 1997: 3).

While we can acknowledge that the word homosexual has multiple interpretations and its definitions, all of these interpretations and meanings of the word function within the western discourse around sexuality, if only because the word is an English word. I would suggest that maybe it is not homosexuality (read: same-sex or non heterosexual behaviors and relationships) that is ‘un-African’ but that it is Western constructs of sexualities and homosexuality, located within a dominant western discourse and applied to sexualities in the African context, that is ‘un-African’. This debate is connected to larger debates addressed by Stuart Hall and Chandra Mohanty about how the power of discourse has been used to impose western (cultural and societal) norms on the Third World. (Hall, 1992 and Mohanty, 1991)

by Althea Middleton-Detzner
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