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  • The Incommensurability of the "Transnational" in Queer African Studies
  • Ashley Currier (bio) and Thérèse Migraine-George (bio)

Queer studies in the global North has inspired growing research on gender and sexual variance in the global South, yet it has framed issues in the language of post-industrial societies that does not address African needs. Queer African studies has emerged since the early 2000s. Scholars have not only contested the "homosexuality as un-African" myth; they have also documented indigenous same-sex sexual practices throughout the African continent and adopted Afrocentric perspectives in their works, resisting the imperialism of Eurocentric and US-based queer studies.1 However, there are tensions between queer African studies and queer studies that need to be articulated. Many publications in queer African studies remain anchored in national case studies that, while helping generate organic knowledge about African gender and sexual dissidence, can become mired in descriptions of lived experience and politics instead of theorizing African gender and sexual diversity in a continental, pan-African, or transnational-comparative context. In addition, queer African studies is institutionally and geopolitically dislocated. In this short essay, we address the question of the transnational, or rather of the "transnationals" in queer African studies, [End Page 613] which traverse the back-and-forth trajectories linking "Africa" and the "West," the local and the global. Through the concept of incommensurability, we grapple with new ways of representing queer African subjects and communities as subjects rather than objects of transnational discourses.


Poised at the shifting intersection of queer studies and African studies, queer African studies constitutes a nexus of crisscrossing and often competing discourses. In their investigation of queer modernities in Asia, Howard Chiang and Alvin Wong advocate for queer regionalism in an attempt to "recalibrate the uses of transnationalism as an unquestioned dominant framework within queer studies" (2016, 1645). Chiang and Wong's project to reconceptualize "queer regionalism as crisscrossing temporality and spatiality that emerge from within transcolonial encounters" echoes Achille Mbembe's description of the "postcolony" as "a period of embedding, a space of proliferation" that escapes historical and geopolitical confinement (2001, 242).

The transnational in African studies itself still needs further development. Indeed, the US system of racialization and racism confined African studies to the African continent, whereas Africana and black studies became invested in exploring diasporic identities and formations, both real and symbolic. Divisions between African scholars and Africanist scholars (both African and Western-based) have been exacerbated by regional, linguistic, and disciplinary divisions in African studies and proliferating avatars of "Africa," "Africans," and "African-ness." A renewed conception of Africa as "people" foregrounded in the works of writers, artists, and critics has fostered kaleidoscopic views of Africa. Moreover, diasporic articulations of Africa have been propounded by critics who challenge the notion of race as seen mainly through the prism of the transatlantic slave trade (Arondekar and Patel 2016, 157; Macharia 2016, 184–85).

The motivation to decenter Western categories stems in part from postcolonial feminist theorizing, which challenges the dominance of white Western feminist perspectives in transnational discussions about feminism, gender, and sexuality. Queer of color critics, anthropologists, and feminists of color engage with the [End Page 614] global south by working at the crossroads of race, gender, sexuality, and nationalism and by challenging the narrow parameters of Western-based identity politics.2 For example, some feminist scholars of African descent interpreted the practice of woman-woman marriage in some African societies in markedly different ways. In a woman-woman marriage, an affluent woman paid bride-price to an unmarried woman's family and married her. The female husband claimed her wife's children as part of her lineage. In social interactions, men usually treated the female husband as a man. It is important to note that after the colonization of different African societies, the introduction of a capitalist cash economy transformed intimate relationships, marriages, and family arrangements. As a result, woman-woman marriages declined in frequency.

African feminist Ifi Amadiume (1987) claims that woman-woman marriages never entailed same-sex sexual contact. In contrast, African American feminist theorist Audre Lorde contends that same-sex sex "has existed for...


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