Corrective rape and black lesbian sexualities in contemporary South African cultural texts
Lake, Nadine Catherine
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The increased visibility of black lesbian identities in South Africa has been met with a severe backlash in the form of what activists term corrective rape. South African newspapers started to report on the incidence of this phenomenon in 2003 with black lesbians emerging in newspaper discourse as particularly vulnerable victims. The term corrective rape has been used to define rape that is perpetrated by heterosexual males against lesbian women in order to ‘correct’ or ‘cure’ them of their lesbian sexuality. The increased recognition of lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex rights in post-apartheid South Africa has meant increased visibility for sexual minorities but has simultaneously been marked by an increase in homophobic discourse and violence. Newspapers have reported on the brutal nature of corrective rape and have given sensationalised accounts of these rapes and violence. Black lesbian women have thus entered into the public sphere in post-apartheid South Africa as victims of homophobic rape and violence. Discourse in mainstream media or the printed press has contributed to the framing of black lesbians as unintelligible victims. Contemporary scholarship on black lesbians has consistently referenced the violence associated with their identity. The primary aim of the study is to clarify how lesbian women are represented in cultural texts and to identify counter discourses that focus on lesbian agency and desire, which is less commonly associated with their sexuality. Previous research on corrective rape has largely focused on the intersection between black lesbian identity and sexual violence as well as men and masculinities in a post-apartheid context. While this study deems it important to highlight prominent debates and media representations of black lesbian sexuality in South Africa it considers it important to resist the reproduction of narratives that associate black lesbian women with sexual violence. This study turns to literature in the post-apartheid context to examine how narratives of sexual violence challenge representations of women as objectified victims of violence. Rozena Maart’s novel The Writing Circle forms an important part of the literature chapter in this study. The recognition of oppression in women’s narratives of sexual violence and resistance on the part of the female characters in the novel constitute central counter discourses. The thesis also examines an autobiography and its potential to lend inclusion to the narratives of those formerly excluded on account of their race, gender and sexual identification. An analysis of Zandile Nkunzi Nkabinde’s poignant autobiography illustrates the power of narrations of lesbian agency to undermine the gender norms that historically have restricted representations of black lesbian identity. The study examines how lesbian identities can be reconceptualised in public lesbian cultures or in queer archives. An archive of lesbian belonging that features in this study includes the portraits of lesbian women and their narratives in the work of visual activist and photographer Zanele Muholi. The narratives of survivability, mourning and belonging in Muholi’s archive uncovered and identified in this study assist in raising consciousness around the multiplicitous nature of black lesbian sexuality in Africa and beyond.
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