The fact that Camilla – an independent, empowered and financially successful lesbian woman is the only character in Emotional Crack not to receive absolution supports this idea of homo-sexuality as Un-Nigerian or Un-African that is offered in “The Video Closet” essay. While the unofficial space of “popular art” offers artists, like Isong, the space to speak against established power and social structures, many use this space to malign those who do stand outside of the accepted behavior and gender norms. Professor Green-Simms and Azuah understand that Nollywood, and other Nigerian art forms, often employ a “balanced representation” in which the pleasures of homosexuality are paralleled with the consequences of that lifestyle (34). Homosexuality is often associated with criminality, occultism, excessive financial autonomy, an abuse of power and most notably – silence. No one is willing to have a serious conversation about the lifestyle or portray it authentically – and the question is why?
Rahul Rao offers a way in with “Queer in the Time of Terror” by suggesting that this communitarian homophobia stems from a “perceived need to construct virile African…nationalisms that countered colonial representations of the Orient as licentious, decadent, or childlike” (175). He observes that the homophobia, and the silence around it, has its roots in the Christian missionary propaganda and Western pseudo-science beget by the colonial encounter. However, prior to the colonial encounter, many of these cultures embraced public and open displays of what is now considered sexually non-conformist.
Rao references the hijras of India. The hijra of India are neither men nor women and are often referred to as the “third gender” in India. Their presence is recorded far back into India’s history. During the time of the Muslim rule and before colonization, the hijras had a place at court and were generally valued by society. Now, they are less so tolerated than terrorized. So too, in West African Dagara Villages, the words gay and lesbian do not exist but there is the word gatekeeper. Gatekeepers live between two worlds: standing on the threshold of the gender line. These traditions of androgyny and same-sex behavior were erased as part of the civilizing project of colonialism. Now, Nigerians and others like Dickson Iroegbu who considers homosexuality an “abuse of human rights,” protest what is perceived as an “imported vice” (107).
Rao explains that some LGBT individuals, who openly accept their sexuality as part of their personal identity, may need protection from such dissenters or are condemned to a “half-life, devoid of many of the pleasures…that heterosexual people take for granted” (178). However, international LGBT activism may essentially be another exercise in the cultural imperialism that created this situation in the first place.
Western activist organizations need human rights violations to exist and at times, may frame certain rights violations as gay rights violations which may work, not in creating a united front against homophobia, but in amplifying local tensions. Rao cites an example of outraged activism spurred by reports that a 21 year old Iranian man was sentenced to be hanged for raping three boys when he himself was only 13. Lobbyists treated this as a case of gay persecution, however, in a country whose social mores and laws do not allow for non-normative sexual relations, this possibly succeeded in only prompting the Iranian authorities to carry out the same sentence, but for different reasons.
It seems that the only support for those like Isong, who wanted to present a more “artistically and emotionally subtle” portrayal of lesbianism with Emotional Crack, is between “malevolent enemies and condescending friends” (43). Echoing Miss Joke Silva: why on earth would [they] want to write [or talk] about that?