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Brenna M. Munro’s South Africa and the Dream of Love to Come

March 12, 2013

Demanding gay rights as a condition of loans, aid, and alliances can all too easily become the West’s civilizing mission of the day — which exacerbates the underlying conflict being worked out across the terrain of sexuality. Narratives of colonialism as white men saving brown women from brown men are all too easily reproduced when the Western media casts, for example, the rape of lesbians in South Africa through the familiar romantic imperial triangle of black victims, black savages, and white saviors  — in this case gay rights activists from the West.

Joseph Massad offers a critical account of the incitement to discourse about “homosexuality” in the contemporary Islamic world in particular, suggesting that international gay rights activism in the context of both modern fundamentalism and ruling postcolonial elites in need of convenient “enemies” has, in practice, had devastating effects on Arab or Muslim men who have sex with men. When homosexuality is made to carry the burden of ongoing histories of domination and cultural conflict, the visibility that is the cornerstone of Western gay and lesbian politics can bring extreme vulnerability, even as it offers the prospect of new kinds of legibility, political representation and citizenship. Gay rights activists from the West, therefore, need to be far more aware of the racial and postcolonial politics that intersect with questions of sexuality when they engage in public discourse about the sexual mores and politics of “other” cultures or attempt to make interventions on behalf of “gay” people in the global South.

—- South Africa and the Dream of Love to Come: Queer Sexuality and the Struggle for Freedom by Brenna M. Munro.

Not the most obvious train commute reading, but I read Munro’s work almost entirely on the subway. Dense and intense, it was a gripping, queer-fied retelling of the apartheid story, the South African story, and stories of migration.

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