The Johannesburg-based Gay and Lesbian Archives (GALA) with the publisher Jacana Media and in conjunction with Constitution Hill, has launched its newest book Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female Same Sex Practices in Africa.

This unique book presents a rich picture of the wide variety of same sex practices and relations, both historical and in present times in Eastern and Southern Africa. The book was conceptualised leading up to the fourth International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS), themed “Sex and Secrecy” held in Johannesburg in 2002, the first time in Africa.

Editors Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa wanted to host a session at the women’s same sex forum with a regional focus on Africa, but found that they could not identify sufficient African woman researchers working on female same sex practices in different countries to invite to the session.

“The research proves African women have been loving each other in many different ways for a long time, and disclaims the hate speech of African leaders who claim that that homosexuality is un-African.” says co-editor Saskia Wieringa, “This unique project shares moving accounts of the pains and pleasures of African women who choose to live with and love each other.”

Eight of the chapters have been co-authored by women activists spanning six different countries. They have collected personal narratives on a range of issues related to sex and secrecy, an incredibly difficult area to research as many African leaders declare it taboo on the basis that these practices are alien to African culture. The book demonstrates that there are silenced, traditional, institutionalised ways in which African women contracted same-sex relations.

Second, it proclaims the right of African women engaged in same-sex practices or relations to their identities as Africans, as several interviewees state: we, lesbian women, are born here in Africa, we belong here. Who can say we are un-African? Third it gives a vivid portrait of the lives of African women engaged in same-sex relations and practices, portraying the joys of having found love as well as the pains of betrayal and the hatred encountered in their communities, as well as the many shades of emotions in between. This book eloquently testifies that although silence isolates and protects these women, some are beginning to speak out.

Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female Same Sex Practices in Africa is available from leading bookstores.

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