The cultural politics of female same-sex intimacy in post-apartheid South Africa


Gunkel, Henriette 2007. The cultural politics of female same-sex intimacy in post-apartheid South Africa. Thesis University of East London
AuthorsGunkel, Henriette

In 1996 South Africa became the first country in the world that explicitly incorporated
lesbian and gay rights within the Bill of Rights of the post-apartheid constitution. Since
then the discussion and proclamation of sexual identities has increasingly emerged. This
has brought not only the subject of rights but also the question of gender relations and
cultural authenticity, as visible for example in the emerging populist notion of
homosexuality as un-African, into the focus of the nation state's politics. The thesis
examines the politics behind the claim homosexuality is un-African and its historical
anchorage in the history of colonialism and apartheid. The thesis explores how
colonialism and apartheid have historically shaped constructions of gender and sexuality
and how these concepts are not only re-introduced by discourses of homosexuality as
un-African but also through the post-apartheid constitution itself.
As the interpretation of rights in relation to sexuality generally focuses on gay identities
this thesis reflects on the effects of these discourses on non-normative modes of
sexuality and intimacy. More specifically the thesis focuses on the interviews that I have
conducted in Johannesburg on 'mummy-baby' relationships. By contextualizing these
relationships in the historical and cultural framework of sexual cultures and cultures of
intimacy this thesis argues that the South African history and cultures provided/provide a
space which accommodates forms of female same-sex intimacy that are not necessarily
linked to metropolitan sexual cultures. The thesis discusses the tensions between nonlesbian
same-sex intimacy and metropolitan lesbianism and it explores the extent that
these forms of intimacy are further marginalized by a post-apartheid constitution which
reinforces a homosexual/heterosexual binarized identity. Therefore, the thesis questions
the regulatory functions of identity and (Western) notions of sexual subjectivities and
problematizes the practice of 'coming out' as always being a liberating moment. To do
this the thesis pays attention to cultural and historical categories of sexualities, to
normative and/or subversive forms of masculinities and femininities, and to social
inclusion and exclusion on the basis of gender, sexuality and race. By doing so the
thesis explores the suitability of queer theory in the South African context.

KeywordsSouth Africa; lesbian and gay rights
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Deposited10 May 2011
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