Drawing on work with a Malawian LGBTI-rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), this article’s entry point is the “fake gay,” a person who, according to state political discourse and news media, allegedly fakes a marginalized sexual identity to gain access to foreign resources channeled through NGOs. For LGBTI-identified persons in the NGO’s orbit, meanwhile, fake gays—infiltrating inauthentic gays—breed fear and resentment amid circuits of scarce resource distribution and homophobia. This mythologized figure, rooted in racialized arbitrations of fake or real, sincere or cunning, reveals NGOs, dismissed in critical scholarship as “unqueer”—for spreading homonationalism, sapping radical agendas by institutionalizing liberal human rights frameworks, and smuggling in Euro-American logics of sexual modernity—to be unlikely sites of queer complexity. Reading NGO spaces as customary forms and drawing on discourse analysis and ethnographic vignettes, the author shows how ritualized practices associated with audit culture in aid economies (monitoring and evaluation, paperwork, counting) operate as queer sites of multiplying possibilities and emergences. Rather than expose faking as duplicity or insincerity, the author argues that faking and normalizing practices rooted in logics of standardization, quantification, and replicability are co-constitutive. In addition to proposing the fake gay as a mode of theory that draws attention to (queer) world-making practices within postcolonial aid geographies, this article broadens understandings of the (queer) customary beyond narrowly defined cultural practices such as customs, rituals, and traditions.
“Fake Gays” In Queer Africa: NGOs, Metrics, and Modes of (Queer) Theory
Cal (Crystal) Biruk is associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University. Cal is the author of Cooking Data: Culture and Politics in an African Research World (2018). Her research interests are at the intersection of medical anthropology, critical data studies, queer studies, and global health studies. Her current projects—which focus on geographies of aid in Malawi and on theorizing wearables as queer technologies amid the second fitness boom in the United States—take the form of ethnographic treatments of metrics, indicators, and genres of measurement and counting in the era of Big Data and audit culture(s).
Cal (Crystal) Biruk; “Fake Gays” In Queer Africa: NGOs, Metrics, and Modes of (Queer) Theory. GLQ 1 June 2020; 26 (3): 477–502. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311814
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