The invention of Heterosexuality

The most powerful paragraph I have read in a while:

The idea of heterosexuality as the master sex from which all others deviated was (like the idea of the master race) deeply authoritarian.  The doctors’ normalization of a sex that was hetero proclaimed a new heterosexual separatism – an erotic apartheid that forcefully segregated the sex normals from the sex perverts. The new, strict boundaries made the emerging erotic world less polymorphous — safer for sex normals.  However, the diea of such creatures as heterosexuals and homosexuals emerged from the narrow world of medicine to beconme a commonly accepted notion only in the early twentieth century. In 1901, in the comprehensive Oxford Dictionary, “heterosexual” and “homosexual” had not yet made it.

–From The invention of Heterosexuality. Jonathan Ned Katz. 1990. Socialist Review v.20, n.1
The article challenges the idea that the category of heterosexuality is natural and timeless.  It was invented at the same time as the category of homosexuality (in North America and Europe).

Queer Malawi

I was just reading a small collection of the stories of queer Malawians. In very simple and deeply personal terms, they share their loves and losses and the time when they first knew. The perilous balancing act – close friends know and close family suspect (“who would pay my tuition if my mother knew?”). The law is unrelenting, the church is hostile and it is hard to find community. Dignity and safety are not guaranteed. Despite the conditions, or maybe because of the conditions, there is a courage and resolve to live and to love themselves. Continue reading

The South African LGBT Flag

Late last year, at South Africa’s biggest annual queer party, a brand-new “South African Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered flag” was launched. The setting was the annual Mother City Queer Project (around 10,000 attendees) whose theme this year was “Gay and South African Pride”. The designer of the flag, Hugh Brockman, says “I truly believe we (the GLBT community) put the dazzle into our Rainbow nation and this flag is a symbol of just that…look at all these costumes, this event, even Cape Town at large. It is a testimony that we as the Gay community have a lot to offer in skills, talent, inspiration, business (millions in PINK MONEY) and life”.

I was reminded of this flag when I watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk entitled “The Danger of the Single Story”. Ms Adichie warns us about the power of stories in framing our understanding of the world, particularly about peoples. She warns us to be wary of the single story – the single, neat narrative that claims to tell the story of all of a people, a culture, a country. There are many stories, and understanding comes from hearing many of those.

This flag represents to me, a single story of gayness. Gayness is white, affluent, young, male, attractive, fun, liberated (or in the process), talented, worldly, classy. Gayness is “dazzling” with “skills, talent, inspiration, business”. As pointed out by the website of Cape Town Pride, “It is an international fact that the LGBTI market is both affluent and influential… On the whole, South African LGBTI individuals are high-yield, trend-setting, brand-conscious, loyal and have ample disposable income.” This is not possible with our high poverty and unemployment rates. Obviously CTPride is not talking about all of us.

The flag was designed by few, is owned by few, but it claims to represent many. In doing so, this flag does not unite us, it obscures our own brown, fat, skinny, old, female or poor faces and voices. It places us behind the white, affluent, male, young… It tells only one of our many stories.

Click the link for my friend Jake’s essay on the same theme, but more substantive.