Homophobia and Postcolonialism

Case Studies
A large number of countries criminalize homosexual activity. The following is a selective list of postcolonial countries that have given the battle against homosexuality an anti-Western flavor:Zimbabwe: The aforementioned President Mugabe recently prohibited the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) from participating in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, reportedly calling them “worse than dogs or pigs.” He then argued that, because of their “unnatural perversion,” homosexuals were not entitled to basic human rights. Mugabe’s remarks have had surprising popularity among his people, some of which has been attributed to the fact that a majority of GALZ leaders are white. Thus, the concept of gay rights could be depicted as a foreign idea, perhaps a threat to the preservation of “native” culture.Malaysia: Some reports indicate that vigilante groups have participated in the arrests of thousands for “unislamic activities,” including homosexuality. A quote from the director of the Islamic Pusat Center: “We certainly don’t want our country turning into another replica of western countries, with all the moral deterioration like adultery and homosexuality being accepted by the community.”

Tasmania: In Tasmania, restrictions on homosexual activity are actually increasing; a recently passed law will extend prison sentences for homosexual conduct, increasing them from 20 to 25 years.

After listing these case studies, it should be noted that although the decisions in these cases reflect the sentiments of the ruling powers, these are not necessarily shared by the often disenfranchised general populace. Also, each of these reports came from predominantly western news services, so they must be closely examined for western biases that may depict postcolonial nations as being less advanced and inhumane. Finally, let us not lose sight of the homophobia that is still rampant in all countries, even the most “developed” nations.

Links to Other Sites

Newsreport on Mugabe’s indictment of gays
Excerpt from Robert Mugabe’s Speech at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair
Newsreport on the banning of GALZ in Zimbabwe
Amnesty International on Tasmania’s laws against homosexuality
The Concept of Queer Hybridity and references to ZimbabweAuthor: Mica Hilson, Fall 1996

Homophobia and Postcolonialism

Let the Americans keep their sodomy, bestiality, stupid and foolish ways to themselves, out of Zimbabwe. –Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe

Frantz Fanon, one of the earliest and most influential postcolonial theorists and himself a colonial subject, saw homosexuality as a sign of psychological distress, exclusive to western peoples (that is people of western/Caucasian racial stock) and directly related to their “negrophobia.” On the other hand, Fanon imagines that all Negroes (and, by reasonable extension, all peoples of non-western races) are free from this disorder of homosexuality. When confronted with the evidence of homosexuality in non-western cultures, Fanon rationalizes thus: Regarding drag queens in Martinique, he claims that they lead “normal sex lives” and “can take a punch like any he-man.” Fanon excuses even male prostitution among colonial peoples; it becomes simply “a means to a livelihood, as pimping is for others.”

Is homosexuality a postcolonial issue? Since it has been argued that colonization erased many native ways of thinking, some critics suggest that postcolonial peoples have constructed mythologized depictions of their cultures before colonization. These myths tend to paint native societies as the absolute negation of everything that western culture brought. Thus, they brand many things deemed inappropriate or immoral by the popular culture of postcolonial nations as characteristic of western, non-native values.

Mugabe indicts homosexuality as the product of morally degenerate colonial cultures and finds that such behaviors were not initially present in cultures indigenous to Zimbabwe. Using this reasoning, a number of postcolonial peoples foster homophobia, since the elimination of homosexuality might be seen as a purging of the ills of colonial influence. Thus, attempts to re-establish native language and customs become inextricably entangledwith problematic efforts to promote imaginary aspects of a prelapsarian native culture.

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