Queering Legal Pluralism?

Michael W. Yarbrough, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

Reviewed in this essay:

  • Time out of Joint: The Queer and the Customary in Africa, edited by Kirk Fiereck, Neville Hoad, and Danai S. Mupotsa. A special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 26(3) (2020).
  • Queering Colonial Natal: Indigeneity and the Violence of Belonging in Colonial Natal, by T.J. Tallie (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019).

In his contribution to a special issue of queer studies journal GLQ devoted to, as the subtitle describes it, “The Queer and the Customary in Africa,” Keguro Macharia (2020, 561) “wonder[s] what it means [for GLQ] to have a special issue dedicated to Africa almost thirty years after the journal was first published in 1993. What kind of belatedness is at work, and how do I write with and into it?”

Macharia’s question pushed me to look through the PoLAR archives as I began this essay. I found there only two articles that discussed at length anyone who, to use Macharia’s words, “could be called queer and named Africa[n],” both of which were about queer refugees migrating to Euro-America (Kobelinsky 2015; McGuirk 2018). One recent article on Zimbabwe briefly mentions a gay and lesbian rights activist (Verheul 2020). Otherwise, the archives appear empty.

Yet recent years have seen an explosion of anthropological and ethnographic scholarship on queerness outside the self-professed West, including in Africa. This work just hasn’t made its way to PoLAR—or, more to my real point, to sociolegal studies more generally. So, “[w]hat kind of belatedness is at work” here, in our field that is centrally concerned with the construction and operation of normative orders but not yet much concerned with queerness, and even less so outside Europe and North America?[1] And “how do I write with and into” this particular “belatedness”?

This is much too big a question for a short review essay, and I pose it in that provocative spirit, not to elicit caveats and qualifications, but rather to help us think about silences and shortcomings in our scholarship. In my space here, I want to approach this challenge from the angle of a desire I have been nursing lately for a more critical scholarship of legal pluralism. By this I mean a scholarship that defines its central project as understanding how different arrangements of pluri-legality reinforce or undermine the intersecting social hierarchies that define our worlds, and how oppressed people might act in relation to these pluri-legalities to dismantle these hierarchies. Although important strands of scholarship have illuminated how certain pluri-legalities sustain hierarchies of, for example, patriarchy or neoliberal economic domination, I think the critical potential of the concept is not yet fully realized.

In particular, I think this scholarship’s overwhelming focus on disputing processes, although well-grounded in the traditions of sociolegal scholarship, has limited our range of critical vision in at least two important ways. First, while disputes are deeply embedded in people’s ongoing lives, there remains an enormous range of social action beyond disputing that is shaped by pluri-legality, and that shapes it in turn. For example, action related to sex and intimacy—the construction and expression of desire, the formation of intimate relationships—is often shaped by many different legalities, even when there is no dispute. A fuller understanding of pluri-legality requires a wider lens. Second, and relatedly, the focus on disputing tends to foreground more instrumental and pragmatic forms of human subjectivity, by centering the analysis on disputants who choose among different legal systems to pursue their goals as best they can. Such representations tend both to downplay less pragmatic forms of pluri-legal action and, more deeply, to bracket crucial questions about how pluri-legal subjectivities might be formed in the first place.

A deeper engagement with the global scholarship on queerness could open paths into these problems. In its many forms, queerness names a dissonant relationship to prevailing normative orders. While its social frictions can lead to specific disputes, they often manifest in other, more ongoing modes of exclusion, struggle, (self-)discipline, and resistance. Queer experiences can thus provide wider angles of vision onto the ways that normative orders operate, as they not only regulate social worlds and selves, but constitute them.

This is even more complex when normative orders are self-evidently multiple, as of course they often are in the “post”-colonial societies of the Global South. In these contexts, queerness in one set of norms can represent adherence in another, while the meanings of both are embedded within centuries of ongoing, racialized, global power struggle. By listening more closely to queerness in Africa and other colonial settings, legal pluralism scholars can open more searching questions into the entanglement of pluri-legality with power, hierarchy, and social control.

T.J. Tallie’s Queering Colonial Natal: Indigeneity and the Violence of Belonging in Southern Africa, is an excellent place to start. A social history of the British colony of Natal, on the southeastern coast of what is now South Africa, Queering Colonial Natal starts from the premise that indigenous customary practices were themselves “queered” by colonial representations of them as immoral and aberrant. Through chapters focused on marriage, alcohol, friendship, clothing and domesticity, and education, the book traces how European normative hierarchies served not only to legitimize the colonial project but to funnel its logics into the most intimate spaces of everyday life, turning colonial domination into a daily lived reality. Read this way, Tallie’s book is an account of how the colonization of Natal occurred through, and depended on, a transformation of normative orders in both law and daily life.

To analyze this process, Tallie draws on concepts from queer theorist Judith Butler to argue that the normative hierarchies of colonial Natal required ongoing, iterative “performance” in order to be entrenched as a regulating feature of social life. For example, chapter five relates how Christian mission stations required African converts to adopt European-style dress and domestic habits in order to develop “appropriately” gendered subjectivities. It is through daily performances such as these that African norms of dress and domesticity were rendered queer.

But Butler also emphasizes that performances are always haunted by, and often result in, failure, and this is where Tallie’s account moves beyond the existing historiography of South African colonialism. For example, Tallie points out that the “mere presence” of European clothing “did not indicate authentic spiritual transformation: the destabilizing threat of the non-normative body still loomed” (127). An episode between a settler woman and her “male servant, Friday” illustrates the point. As she recorded in a letter, the settler woman “went into the kitchen” one day to find Friday, and she was shocked when “a pink frock looked up and grinned.” A Zulu woman had given Friday the frock, and he had apparently tried it on for size.

Other fashion “failures” were more deliberate. For example, one day a group of non-Christian Zulu people created a scene by wearing what some Trappist missionaries called “‘all the latest Paris costumes.’” But, the missionaries clucked, “‘the whole thing was the greatest deception on earth’” (128). One woman was “‘flirting barefoot along…attired in Belgravian robes of glaring hues.’” She was, to the missionaries, no less than “‘a whited sepulchre full of rottenness within.’” As Tallie reads the scene, the Zulu fashionistas “were, to the Trappists, committing a brazen sartorial lie by claiming garments that they had not properly earned.” In a word, they were wearing their garments “queerly.”

In scenes like these, Tallie shows indigenous people in Natal rubbing normativities against each other in manifold and unpredictable ways, and thereby disrupting colonial ambitions for normative monopoly.[2] But these recurring performative “failures” also intensified colonist anxiety, not least because European settlers in Natal were far outnumbered by indigenous Africans. And so, Tallie argues, the colonial government tightened its own formal laws of racial and sexual hierarchy, entrenching an elevation of the European over the African that, as a structuring process, endures to this day. Out of the struggle among different normativities, a pluri-legal order emerged.

This problem is the starting point for the nine articles in the GLQ special issue, Time out of Joint: The Queer and the Customary in Africa. In a landscape still defined by the racist sexual hierarchies of colonialism, how can Africans best pursue gender and sexual freedom? Human-rights approaches have been the most globally visible answer to this question in recent years, as NGOs combating anti-LGBTI discrimination using a human-rights framework have mushroomed across the continent.

Yet in a reproduction of the colonial sexual hierarchies traced by Tallie and others, this work is largely funded by the Global North and defined around its terms. These terms include “LGBTI” itself, which tends to frame “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “intersex” as natural, stable, and distinct components of individual identity in ways that differ from local concepts (Matebeni and Msibi 2015). This framework also tends to separate identity-based discrimination from more broadly shared, and often more urgent, problems of material deprivation and structural violence. Meanwhile, growing LGBTI visibility has met widespread conservative backlash framing homosexuality as “un-African.” Both the epistemology and the anxiety behind this claim are colonial in origin, reflecting processes that erased non-cisheteronormative African sexualities while disparaging African sexualities as a whole.

On these grounds, the co-editors of Time out of Joint, Kirk Fiereck, Neville Hoad, and Danai S. Mupotsa (2020, 365, 373), conclude that liberal legalism is a dead end for what they call “African queer self-fashioning,” let alone for larger dreams of “queer democracy, or freedom.” Instead, they urge a turn to custom. They emphasize the different ways that “same-sex-desiring and gender-nonconforming African subjects use…customs” of both local and global provenance to construct their queer African selves, and they argue that these innovations “contest the secret normativities and ethnocentrisms” of both Euro-American and African sexual cultures. They reject the colonial association of custom with the folkways of the colonized, and instead leave the term open to encompass all meaningful habitual or quotidian practices of whatever cultural origin, from bridewealth to dating apps, kinship terms to LGBTI identity categories.

What custom does not include in Time out of Joint is formal law, or any state codifications of customary law. Instead, the editors and their contributors locate custom in the ongoing, improvisatory flow of daily practice, and its authority in the shared participation of those who create it (see also Mnisi Weeks 2018; White 2015). Here, in the ongoing and normatively meaningful practices through which Africans and others construct their immediate worlds, is where the editors and contributors situate the most potential for queers and others to evade enduring hierarchies and fashion new forms of being and belonging.

Phoebe Kisubi Mbasalaki’s contribution maps these ideas with particular clarity. Her article uses an intersectional decolonial framework to trace what she calls “the hegemonic customary” in contemporary South African sexual politics, by which she means the dominant normative matrix that manifests in “murders of lesbian women, as well as the various forms of physical and structural violence toward African same-sex intimacies” (Mbasalaki 2020, 455). This hegemonic customary is produced not only through prevailing cisheteronormative ideas about African custom, but also through Euro-American sexual hierarchies that continue to denigrate both queerness and blackness, as well as neoliberal economic policies that produce poverty and precarity. Following decolonial methods, Mbasalaki reads all this as an enduring “colonial modernity” in which colonial relations continue despite formal decolonization, because the production of the “modern” world requires an ongoing colonial relationship to “uncivilized” lands and peoples.

One key site where this occurs, as alluded to above, is in transnational NGOs working on LGBTI issues. While praising the good these NGOs have done, Mbasalaki (2020, 465) nonetheless emphasizes that they are embedded within “the global North donor–global South recipient narrative.” Through a close analysis of work in southern Africa by Hivos, a Dutch NGO, Mbasalaki reveals how their “benchmark on sexual citizenship is modeled on the Dutch one”—foregrounding, for example, formal non-discrimination protections for LGBTI identities. The standards of sexual “civilization” remain European, even as their contents have shifted, and Africans remain behind the times or, to use Keguro Macharia’s term, “belated.” Hivos’s civilizing “mission,” Mbasalaki concludes with words that recall Tallie, “is unattainable and continuously reasserted as a failed project.”

Yet Mbasalaki sees a more promising alternative in the everyday “cultural labor” that African queers themselves perform, as they build their lives in African contexts (see also Livermon 2015; Pakade 2020; Qambela 2020). This includes, for example, new forms of sexual sharing created by black lesbians (see Matebeni 2011), or new forms of identity created by small-town gays as they riff on local understandings of sexuality (see Reid 2013; 2005). Mbasalaki’s (2018; 2019) wider ethnographic work explores how some black women queer the southern African principle of ubuntu by creating support networks among themselves to survive unemployment and other challenges, and by developing new ways of doing bridewealth.[3] As they live their lives in concrete contexts, Mbasalaki argues, queer southern Africans generate new modes of being that reject any rigid distinctions, let alone a hierarchy of value, between queerness and Africanness.

Cal Biruk’s piece makes a similar argument with an ethnography about “fake gays” at an LGBTI NGO in Malawi. The NGO was worried that some people at their workshops were just “pretending” to be gay in order to access the per diems paid to participants. In a lucid and insightful argument, Biruk situates this anxiety in the interplay among multiple sets of custom. As one might expect, part of the story is Malawian definitions of gender and sexuality that differ from those of the NGO. But Biruk also emphasizes the NGO’s own customary practices, most especially their quantification practices and how they record the number of people they reach in different LGBTI categories. As Biruk (2020, 487–88) describes it, “In a dense thicket of categories, resources, and indicators, local sexual and gendered subjectivities are reorganized and reflected upon, and new opportunities and risks have arisen… [M]etrics…act as the political and economic infrastructure in which the fake gay becomes meaningful.” The NGO has its customs, local communities have theirs, and workshop participants create new lines of possibility that elude the surveillance of both by wearing both, as Tallie would put it, queerly.

A concern with subjectivity runs throughout the special issue, and Kirk Fiereck’s contribution puts it front and center. Drawing on his ethnographic work in South Africa, Fiereck develops several theoretical interventions to understand the queer subjectivities that emerge under normative orders that overlap at various scales and operate with different logics. He starts from the South African phenomenon of the “gay woman,” who “is someone who may be assigned the male sex at birth but who is also—and alternately—assigned to be a woman socially either by themselves or by others, but may not be trans-identified” (Fiereck 2020, 504). Fiereck describes how a gay woman he knew would shift his gendered bodily comportment from gay man when among gay friends, to flirtatious woman when in front of a straight beau. Both modes were instantly understood by their respective audiences in their respective spaces. “Connot[ing] more than one form of personhood, one customary, one constitutional,” but never both “at the same time in relation to the same person,” gay women create what Fiereck calls “citational sexualities” that “cite” multiple logics “belong[ing] to overlapping yet distinct cultural contexts or spaces.”

The second half of the article extends these ideas in relation to global HIV efforts that, for example, enlist South African “MSM”—men who have sex with men—into clinical trials for HIV-prevention medication. Unpacking how this medication is essentially a “biomedical risk-hedging strategy,” Fiereck sees the trials producing a kind of “derivative subjectivity” that flattens the complexities of gay women and other queer South Africans into commodified data points—data that supposedly represent the risk profiles of particular populations. Much as in legal pluralism scholarship, Fiereck is centrally concerned with the operation of overlapping normative orders. But instead of just asking how subjects engage these orders, he asks how these orders constitute subjects.

This question is also central to Danai S. Mupotsa’s autoethnographic account of what she calls “becoming-bride” celebrations among women: bachelorette parties, bridal advice ceremonies, tea parties, and the like. A cultural critic and literary scholar, Mupotsa (2008; 2014; 2015a; 2015b) has published several essays about the polyphonality of black bridalhood in southern Africa, and her piece here extends this work into the domain of sex, excavating how these “becoming-bride” celebrations both instruct black southern African women in “proper” sexual norms and stage opportunities for sexualized pleasure that exceed these norms.

For example, Mupotsa (2020, 387) describes events she organized when friends were getting married, for which she “was set the task of finding a ‘Zambian,’ a colloqiual term for a woman…who would run a two-hour class on proper sex in marriage.” In one case, the “Zambian” was not a Zambian at all but instead a saleswoman for Pure Romance, “an in-home direct sales company that sells ‘intimacy aids’” (388). At the party Mupotsa organized, the saleswoman did especially brisk business selling a silicone vagina called “the Real Housewife,” which women were meant to secretly substitute for their own bodies when they didn’t want to have penetrative sex. As one woman told Mupotsa, “‘He shouldn’t know about it. He should think that I am just busy. I will tie him up and blindfold him… For those days when you just don’t feel like it. And you can just sit on him as if you are busy with him’” (389). While Mupotsa was at first “alarmed” with the idea of substituting a silicone body part for a corporeal one, she also came to see the “usefulness” of this kind of “prosthetic embodiment” as a way to expand some women’s sexual agency.

Mupotsa situates this story alongside several other “becoming-bride” events that sound in a range of cultural registers, but that all share this mix of textual sexual normativity with subtextual sexual excess. At the center of all of these events is the work they are meant to do: to make a bride, which is to say, to make a marriage. They are part of the “cumulative process of getting married,” a series of events that constitute a bride and a groom by constituting a relationship between them and their respective sets of kin (Mupotsa 2020, 378). They are events that intend to order the world. But much as in Tallie’s book, Mupotsa’s becoming-brides read their scripts in a playful and desirous voice, teasing momentary disorder out of the work of ordering.[4]

It is no accident that Time out of Joint and Queering Colonial Natal return so frequently to themes of disorder and disruption. To wind up where I began, queerness names a dissonant relationship to prevailing normative orders. In his concluding essay to Time out of Joint, Keguro Macharia (2020, 561, 564) underlines that this is fraught territory for those “black and blackened” by a colonial modernity that associates Africa with a supposed “failure to organize intimate life.” But Macharia also chafes at Africanist scholarship, both feminist and patriarchal, that responds by defensively mapping order into African worlds. He worries about “the need—theirs and mine—to write against intimate disorganization” (569), and thirsts for narratives that escape that trap.

 Perhaps we who study legal pluralism should cultivate similar worries about our own work. Perhaps we are too tied to ordering concepts, like “dispute,” that cut huge swathes of social life out of the analytical frame, and too inattentive to the messy processes through which normative orders make social worlds and social selves. Perhaps we need wider lenses capable of seeing the manifold and unpredictable ways that people rub different normative orders against each other. Inquiries like these are well underway in the burgeoning literature on global queer studies. Queering Colonial Natal and Time out of Joint are great places to try them on for size.


Biruk, Cal (Crystal). 2020. “‘Fake Gays’ in Queer Africa: NGOs, Metrics, and Modes of (Queer) Theory.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 477–502. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311814.

Chua, Lynette J. 2015. Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

———. 2018. The Politics of Love in Myanmar: LGBT Mobilization and Human Rights as a Way of Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Dave, Naisargi N. 2012. Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Fiereck, Kirk. 2020. “After Performativity, beyond Custom: The Queerness of Biofinancial Personhood, Citational Sexualities, and Derivative Subjectivity in South Africa.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 503–27. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311829.

Fiereck, Kirk, Neville Hoad, and Danai S. Mupotsa. 2020. “A Queering-to-Come.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 363–76. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311743.

Kobelinsky, Carolina. 2015. “Judging Intimacies at the French Court of Asylum.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 38 (2): 338–55. https://doi.org/10.1111/plar.12114.

Lewis, Desiree. 2011. “Representing African Sexualities.” In African Sexualities: A Reader, edited by Sylvia Tamale, 199–216. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford: Pambazuka Press.

Livermon, Xavier. 2015. “Usable Traditions: Creating Sexual Autonomy in Postapartheid South Africa.” Feminist Studies 41 (1): 14–41.

Macharia, Keguro. 2016. “On Being Area-Studied: A Litany of Complaint.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 22 (2): 183–90. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-3428711.

———. 2019. Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy across the Black Diaspora. New York: New York University Press.

———. 2020. “Belated: Interruption.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 561–73. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311857.

Matebeni, Zethu. 2011. “Exploring Black Lesbian Sexualities and Identities in Johannesburg.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/10274.

———, ed. 2014. Reclaiming Afrikan. Queer Perspectives on Sexual and Gender Indentities. Athlone, South Africa: Modjaji Books.

Matebeni, Zethu, and Thabo Msibi. 2015. “Vocabularies of the Non-Normative.” Agenda 29 (1): 3–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/10130950.2015.1025500.

Mbasalaki, Phoebe Kisubi. 2018. “Decolonised Sexualities: The Lived Experiences of Black Township Women Who Love Women.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Utrecht, Netherlands: Utrecht University. http://dspace.library.uu.nl/handle/1874/359562.

———. 2019. “Women Who Love Women: Negotiation of African Traditions and Kinship.” In Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies, edited by S. N Nyeck, 37–48. London: Routledge.

———. 2020. “Through the Lens of Modernity: Reflections on the (Colonial) Cultural Archive of Sexuality and Gender in South Africa.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 455–75. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311800.

McGuirk, Siobhán. 2018. “(In)Credible Subjects: NGOs, Attorneys, and Permissible LGBT Asylum Seeker Identities.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 41 (S1): 4–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/plar.12250.

Mnisi Weeks, Sindiso. 2018. Access to Justice and Human Security: Cultural Contradictions in Rural South Africa. New York: Routledge.

Morison, Tracy, Ingrid Lynch, and Vasu Reddy. 2020. Queer Kinship: South African Perspectives on the Sexual Politics of Family-Making and Belonging. London and New York: Routledge.

Mupotsa, Danai S. 2008. “Lobola for My Love.” The M&G Online. July 23, 2008. https://mg.co.za/article/2008-07-18-lobola-for-my-love/.

———. 2014. “White Weddings.” Ph.D. Dissertation, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/handle/10539/15814.

———. 2015a. “Becoming Girl-Woman-Bride.” Girlhood Studies; New York 8 (3): 73–87. https://doi.org/10.3167/ghs.2015.080307.

———. 2015b. “The Promise of Happiness: Desire, Attachment and Freedom in Post/Apartheid South Africa.” Critical Arts 29 (2): 183–98. https://doi.org/10.1080/02560046.2015.1039204.

———. 2020. “Conjugality.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 26 (3): 377–403. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311758.

Nyanzi, Stella. 2013. “Dismantling Reified African Culture through Localised Homosexualities in Uganda.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 15 (8): 952–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2013.798684.

Nyeck, S. N. 2019. Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies. London: Routledge.

Pakade, Noma. 2020. “Integration and Emergence: Black Lesbians Re/Negotiating Marriage and Lobola.” In Queer Kinship: South African Perspectives on the Sexual Politics of Family-Making and Belonging, edited by Tracy Morison, Ingrid Lynch, and Vasu Reddy. London and New York: Routledge.

Puri, Jyoti. 2016. Sexual States: Governance and the Struggle over the Antisodomy Law in India. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Qambela, Gcobani. 2020. “‘Mna Ndiyayazi Uba Ndizotshata Intombazana’ | I, for One, Know That I Will Marry a Woman’/ (Re)Creating ‘Family’ and Reflections on Rural Lesbian Women’s Experiences of Child Rearing and Kinship.” In Queer Kinship: South African Perspectives on the Sexual Politics of Family-Making and Belonging, edited by Tracy Morison, Ingrid Lynch, and Vasu Reddy. London and New York: Routledge.

Ramsden-Karelse, Ruth. 2020. “Moving and Moved: Reading Kewpie’s District Six.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 26 (3): 405–38. https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311772.

Reid, Graeme. 2005. “‘A Man Is a Man Completely and a Wife Is a Wife Completely’: Gender Classification and Performance among ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents’ in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.” In Men Behaving Differently, edited by Graeme Reid and Liz Walker, 1–20. Cape Town: Double Storey.

———. 2013. How to Be a Real Gay: Gay Identities in Small-Town South Africa. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Tamale, Sylvia, ed. 2011. African Sexualities: A Reader. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford: Pambazuka Press.

———. 2020. Decolonization and Afro-Feminism. Ottawa: Daraja Press.

Verheul, Susanne. 2020. “‘Rotten Row Is Rotten to the Core’: The Material and Sensory Politics of Harare’s Magistrates’ Courts after 2000.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 43 (2): 262–79. https://doi.org/10.1111/plar.12376.

White, Hylton. 2015. “Custom, Normativity and Authority in South Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies 41 (5): 1005–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2015.1071516.

[1] There are exceptions, such as the important work of Lynette Chua (Chua 2015; 2018), Naisargi Dave (2012), and Jyoti Puri (2016), among others. This work remains underrepresented in the field, however, and tends to be framed around organized political action more than everyday processes of normativity. Moreover, very little focuses on Africa.

[2] This imagery of “rubbing” is inspired by Keguro Macharia’s (2019) own recent book, the sharp and sexy Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy across the Black Diaspora. Teasing queerness out of the texts of four Afro-diasporic thinkers, Frottage offers metaphors of rubbing and friction as alternative methods for figuring blackness.

[3] Her recently published chapter on this work appears in the excellent and wide-ranging Routledge Handbook of Queer African Studies, edited by S.N. Nyeck (2019).

[4] Although their focus on literature and photography makes them somewhat less relevant to this essay, I also recommend the remaining three articles in Time out of Joint not discussed here. I especially appreciate Ruth Ramsden-Karelse’s (2020) incisive reading of photographs made in the 1970s and 80s by a gender non-conforming resident of Cape Town’s District Six known as Kewpie. Her essay makes crucial interventions into the historiography of queerness in late apartheid South Africa.