- Renegotiating the Marginality of the Maghreb in Queer African Studies
It is an almost given that queer studies in Africa have largely been concentrated in and on South Africa. Such a concentration can be explained by South Africa's liberal constitution which has legally enshrined the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. The liberal constitution has also made it possible for open engagement on issues to do with non-conforming gender and sexual identities. Queer cultural productions such as literature and films have also largely emanated from this region of the African continent. Notwithstanding, such cultural productions portraying queer subjectivities have certainly developed beyond South Africa. I argue that the way forward for African queer studies lies in trans-continental and inter-regional dialogue that will allow for a fuller and all-inclusive imagining and thinking through non-conforming sexual and gender experiences in Africa.
There is pressing need to address the restrictive regionalism that characterizes the studies of non-normative sexualities in Africa. Alternative geographies, spaces, temporalities, and narratives can undoubtedly be found outside the hegemony of South Africa. One particular region of Africa that proffers great potentiality to the understanding of queer experiences outside of South Africa is the Maghreb.1 In fact, virtually all of the studies published on African [End Page 623] queer scholarship have failed to consider the Maghreb—Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia—even as they lay claim to Africa. For example, of the forty-two chapters in the collection Queer African Reader (2013), none interrogates, implicitly or explicitly, non-normative sexualities in the Maghreb. The anthologies Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction (2013) and Queer Africa 2: New Stories (2017) have a combined forty-five short stories but not a single one comes from any of the countries of the Maghreb. Although it might certainly be a question of differences in language, these cursory examples point to the marginalization, muting, and omission of the Maghreb from discourses that attempt to articulate non-conforming gender and sexual identities in Africa.
The omission of the Maghreb from queer African studies is as a result, to some extent, of the Maghreb's own conflicted relationship with its African-ness. Too "white" to neatly integrate with "black" sub-Saharan Africa, and at the same time not "white" enough to fit into the global north, and "too African" to belong to the Middle East, the Maghreb finds itself in a precarious position of liminality. In spite of this problematic status and situation, a critical examination of queerness in the Maghreb can potentially elucidate the inescapable reality that subsequent directions in queer African scholarship "must attend to the uneven temporal and spatial calculus of queerness congealing within the grids and gradations of geographical regions" (Chiang and Wong 2016, 5) outside of South Africa. I will thus attempt to show that the Maghreb has a palpable history with divergent religious, linguistic, and colonial inflections. Moreover, it is worth highlighting that the Maghreb is geographically and historically closely linked to Europe and the Arab world, but it is also within the African Union and a signatory to the Charter. As such bringing the Maghreb into the discussion creates a distinct reflexivity about the intersection of the concepts of Africa, African-ness, and the queer.
I will attempt to problematize, as a point of departure, the term "queer." I take this term to have two main meanings. First, it makes reference to a gamut of theoretical perspectives that contest normative representations of gender and sexuality. Such theoretical perspectives dislocate normative constructions and epistemologies that frame certain forms of being as "normal" whilst casting others as "unnatural" and therefore "deviant." In as far as queer is a theory, it rejects the consideration of gender and sexuality as stable and fixed concepts and that heterosexuality is the norm. Second, "queer" [End Page 624] represents identity that falls outside the dichotomist perspectives that are fostered by heteronormativity. In this way, "queer" englobes all forms of gender and sexual identities that refuse to embrace the binary dictates of heteronormativity. In my use of this term, I am fully cognizant of the obstacles and drawbacks that are inherent in the use of...