Africa and the Gender/Sexuality spectrum: Outside the normative binaries

I don’t have enough fingers to count the sheer number of encounters I’ve had with the (pretty tiresome) discourse on non-heteronormative relationships/not identifying with the normative he or she binaries on the gender spectrum being concepts that aren’t compatible with the African person, the African continent and the wider African culture.

Through my interactions with people who harness this belief I’ve come to notice there being a widespread misconception, within a great deal of African communities, about the sexuality and gender spectrums being a colonial import; ideas imposed on Africa by the white man, beliefs that are “un-African”.

Processes of colonialism, manifested especially through the Missionaries and their proclamations and assertions of the words of the bible as absolute truth, made it their central mission to wipe out any pre-existing traditions, cultural practices or belief systems that were centred around the notions of non-heteronormativity and gender fluidity. The disproval of these indigenous African practices were made on the basis of being unnatural and sinful and would thus lead to the “eternal damnation” of those that engaged in the ungodly. Similarly they were labelled backwards and uncivilised- in resonance with the politically oriented justification of the imperial conquest.

It is often that a great deal of mainstream discourse, academic and colloquial alike, ignore the existence of documented evidence on a wide variety of traditions and practices across precolonial Africa and even in colonial and contemporary Africa in which same-sex relationships + diverse understandings of gender were/are part of the culture.

Colonialism and it’s purposefully orchestrated erasure of African beliefs and values left a trail of non-progressive homophobia and general ignorance deeply ingrained in the conscience of continent. Because of misinformation in regards to views like this paired with unwillingness to challenge the normative “African” narratives, the West are seen as being the pioneers of progressive views whereas Africa is continually being viewed as backwards as people are still getting jailed and murdered for who they choose to love.

The histories of great African civilisations before colonialism are greatly overshadowed by the beliefs the white man imposed on us and taught us not to question.

One such example of unscathed Africa existing outside contemporary binaries was documented in the late 1640’s by Dutch Military Attaché. It was said that Nzinga, a warrior woman in the Ndongo Kingdom of the Mbundu (in present day Angola), chose to rule as king rather queen, to wear “masculine” clothing and also surrounded herself with a ‘harem of young men who dressed as women and were her “wives”

It’s so important to decolonize (y)our minds and be able to see the bigger picture in which Africa existed before the arrival of the white man.

Here is a really informative article on a few precolonial African traditions centred around the LGBTQ + gender fluidity concept. Stay Woke.

Love and Light


Feature Image credits to Maty Biayenda


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