In the burgeoning field of queer African studies, theatricality receives short shrift. Instead, anthropological studies of LGBTQ identities and practices in Africa emphasize theoretical frameworks of sexual discretion, elusiveness, and ambiguity. This essay explores the coarticulation of discretion and theatricality in Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2011 play Shine Your Eye, which features a queer Ogoni hacker in Lagos. The play borrows from Afrofuturism to articulate a queer African identity that is both enigmatic and spectacular. I then shift focus to Wainaina’s viral “coming out” essay “I Am a Homosexual, Mum” (2014), not to construct a progressive narrative from closeted discretion to theatrical outness but to explore the dialectics of theatricality across genre. Although the title enacts a clear declaration of sexual identity, the essay itself shares the play’s investment in African technologies of queerness that emphasize interdependency and elusiveness. As queer Kenya becomes increasingly out, loud, and sexy, Wainaina’s work serves as a powerful reminder that ambiguity can be theatrical too.
The Fabulous Pan-Africanism of Binyavanga Wainaina
Laura Edmondson is associate professor of theater at Dartmouth College, where she is also affiliated with the Programs of African and African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She writes on human rights, transnationality, and state violence in eastern and central African performance. She is the author of Performance and Politics in Tanzania: The Nation on Stage (2007) and Performing Trauma in Central Africa: Shadows of Empire (2018). Her current project, “Stage Whispers in Central Africa,” explores genres of negation—such as absence, silence, and darkness—within performance as a means of articulating buried histories and surreptitious forms of violence.
Laura Edmondson; The Fabulous Pan-Africanism of Binyavanga Wainaina. GLQ 1 June 2020; 26 (3): 529–560. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311843
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