Ruth Morgan, PhD,is an anthropologist and the director of the Gay and Lesbian Archives in Johannesburg. Saskia Wieringa is an anthropologist who has studied female same-sex relations for over twenty years. She is the coeditor of Female Desires: Same-Sex Relations and Transgender Practices Across Cultures and the president of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture, and Society.
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Socially RelevantMarch 6 2006
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Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives assertion is that same sex practices have existed in Africa for centuries. This is not an import from the "depraved" West (pg 17). Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa's anthropological study based on first person interviews attempts to prove this. It also hopes to create more regional networks to give African lesbians a sense of belonging and identity so they would not feel like outcasts. As stated in the book, in Namibia and Tanzania there were organized groups to support lesbians, offer legal advice, and mobilize and educate women to their rights.
The study trained women to interview lesbians in their native country. Each "author" talked with 3-5 women, but none were able to keep any of the audiotapes they may have used because of the fear their subjects had of discovery, so most of the interviews quoted were from memory.
There were quite a few common themes that emerged. Most of the countries in the study outlawed homosexuality but did not specifically mention lesbians. If a country did not consider it a crime, it still used legal discrimination and sometimes used religion to shame lesbians for their "immoral" behavior. Namibia and South Africa were the exceptions. Both countries have legal rights barring some form of discrimination based on sexual orientation. While most of the women in the study had these feelings from grade school, they were closeted. Sometimes they were involved with men to cover up their sexuality or to get pregnant.
All of the countries represented had male-dominated societies with some giving no rights, land and inheritance to women. But even within these societies, some women challenged stereotypical female roles. Ovambo women, the ruling ethnic class in Namibia, could live independently and earn a living. Tommy Boys, Lesbian men (Both terms used to describe male- identified women) and male-identified females took on male dress and behavior. Some abused drinking; some also beat their "wives", adopting the male culture of that country. Others fell into butch-femme roles or the traditional responsibilities of husband and wife. In South Africa and Damara Namibia, their families accepted these positions.
While I found the book groundbreaking, enlightening and relevant, the writing was often disorganized and dry. Some of the authors were light on the respondents' comments, but heavy on conclusions. Other chapters flowed with interview comments, but did not tie in the conclusions well. However several chapters are the exception. Chapter four on Ovambo Namibia included a good mix of interviews and conclusions. The respondents' comments backed up the author's conclusions clearly. Chapter six on Johannesburg, South Africa was also well written, using the interviews to present the author's points. She also let the subjects conclude the chapter with their dreams of the future.
After the collection of author interviews, Morgan and Wieringa finish the book with two chapters, one on historical reflections and the other on the study's conclusions. Chapter nine on historical reflections shed light on the differences between this study and others. After reading it, I wondered if this chapter would have been better placed in the beginning of the book. It pointed out that the other studies used indirect observation. It also quoted studies that were twenty years or older. One study was over 60 years old. Either there were not any recent studies, or the authors chose not to compare them to their study.
Morgan and Wieringa's conclusions were strong and concise. They precisely stated what they believed they had accomplished. And while the importance of this book is not to be understated, better editing would have made Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives an easier read.
The two authors did their very best to overcome their own cultural bias in order to ...April 12 2015
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Considering the fact that two European female scientists have written about a topic dear to both of their hearts (the rights of same-sex-oriented individuals) while having to highlight the reality that it is indeed the European colonial terrorism,along with the accompanying religious dogma that poisoned the indigenous wisdom regarding these same-sex oriented human beings in the first place, made an interesting read. The two authors did their very best to overcome their own cultural bias in order to speak a truth that must been a bitter pill to force oneself to swallow. This point is particularly magnified by the fact that at least one of the authors regards herself as a South African citizen. I'm certain that she doesn't have to be reminded of how her "citizenship" came about and at what cost to the very individuals she seems to write in support of. Before the horrors of colonialism, African cultures accepted, and understood the androgynous, as well as those living openly in same-sex intimate bonds. It was not until European colonialism that many African cultures began turning against themselves and adopting the hateful and often violent response to same-sex oriented individuals and groups. It was poignant to read the words of brave, determined, and beautiful African women as they attempted to find processes of overcoming the toxic fallout of the patriarchal European mindset, with the dream of living and loving their same-sex intimate Beloveds openly. Additionally, the evidence of male/female role-play among the same-sex oriented African woman seems to be nearly as prevalent as it is in the West which is profound evidence of the necessity of moving beyond roles and into the authenticity of true self-realization among women engaging in same sex intimacy as well as those in more traditional unions everywhere. Interesting read!