Through a very detailed analysis of a pivotal scene in Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters (1965), this article explores the functioning of the homosexual figure in African high modernism’s aesthetic and ethical strategies and in African nation-states’ discourses on tradition and nationalism. An engagement with studies of pre-colonial forms of same-sex relationships suggest that despite the regulation of gender and sexual roles, social spaces were created for the expression of non-heteronormative sexuality, that Christian missions attempted to destroy these traditional spaces by the demonisation of homosexual practices, and that colonial policy completed this process by criminalising them. Soyinka’s surprisingly complex portrayal of Joe Golder, a gay character, both strangely marginal and central to the narrative, destabilises the masculinist (and hetero-normative) assumptions of the central interpreters of the novel, which they share, in part, with the contemporary nationalistic rhetoric of African leaders who cast the homosexual figure as the absolute Other of the African nation-state. The homosexual, therefore, becomes the social and textual site of the paradoxes intrinsic to the use of pre-colonial tradition by nationalist discourses. An analysis of the intricacies of African nationalist discourses reveals that misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism try to secure a hyper-masculine, neurotic nationalism. The in-between figure of Joe Golder, like Soyinka’s in-between text, threatens to disrupt and destabilise the boundaries of self, identity, nation and text.
- Africa, homosexuality, nationalism, tradition, queer, Wole Soyinka, The Interpreters.