Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities

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9780312238292: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities
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Claims concerning the presence and status of homosexuality in historic African cultures have become central points of contention in debates among contemporary African Americans. Some of those involved in the debate have even asserted that the original languages of Africa contained no words for gay or lesbian, therefore concluding that they did not exist. As the first work of its kind on the subject, Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands answers an urgent need for accurate, well-researched, and balanced work on African sexuality. It offers perspectives from the fields of anthropology and history, along with extensive evidence from ethnographic and literary sources. The essays explore such topics as woman-woman marriages, early reports of Malagasy "berdaches," male homosexuality in contemporary West Africa, alternative gender identities among the Swahili, the regulation of sexuality in colonial Zimbabwe, and the portrayals of homosexuality in modern African literature. Bound to be an invaluable resource for discussions of traditional and contemporary African cultures, Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands is a book whose time has clearly come.

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Among the most persistent European myths about Africa, explain the editors of this anthology, is that homosexuality is "absent or incidental" in African societies. Since black Africans were felt to be the most primitive of people--the closest to nature--it followed that they must be the most heterosexual, their "sexual energies and outlets devoted exclusively to their 'natural' purpose: biological reproduction." That the field work of early anthropologists didn't always support this assumption merely led researchers to suppress their findings, or to fail to inquire too closely of subjects who were reluctant, in any case, to discuss their sexual lives with outsiders. The contributors to this volume argue convincingly that even native denials of homosexuality are often politically motivated (the sexual values of the West having permeated most of these cultures), and should be regarded as skeptically as the accounts of Western anthropologists, who in most cases have not seriously investigated same-sex patterns, "failing to report what they do observe, and discounting what they report." In the essays collected here, dating from the colonial period to the present and covering the major regions of black Africa, evidence of same-sex marriages, cross-dressing, role reversal, and premarital peer homosexuality challenges the myth and calls for further study. --Regina Marler

About the Author:

Will Roscoe is most recently the author of Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America.

Stephen O. Murray's recent book is American Gay. They both live in San Francisco.

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