18 February 2010

Africa Screams (Part Two)


Warning: This post contains sexually explicit material that may not be suitable for younger readers.

In the December 2009 issue of Positively Aware, an HIV treatment and health bi-monthly distributed to hospitals and health centers, columnist Jim Pickett reported on the Fifth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. Held in July 2009, the conference took place in Cape Town, South Africa. One of the main challenges to HIV/AIDS prevention that Mr. Pickett identified was culturally-enforced invisibility of LGBT African people.

Contracy to rampant, pernicious mischaracterizations, fueled by structural homophobia that negates the existence of Gay (men) and completely devalues their lives, Gay men and other MSM (men who love men) exist in Africa! Hello! Despite official HIV/AIDS estimates that mostly ignore this fact, these men constitute a substantial percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS on the continent . . .

After contextualizing the challenges faced by African Gay (men), including criminilization, stigma, discrimination, human rights abuses, lack of access to prevention and care, and limited HIV surveillance, (a colleague) shared some numbers from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana. The data revealed high burdens of HIV among Gay (men) across all these countries, significantly higher than prevalence rates among males from the general population in each country save South Africa, Botswana and Namibia . . .

Let's have a bit more context here. The aforementioned Live Journal article confirms what Rev. Macaulay has said about African law:

. . . in many African nations, homosexuality is illegal; only South Africa has extended marriage equality to Gay and Lesbian families.

In addition, consider this older report which was posted to CCN.com/World on 15 May 2008:

Jackson Irungu is . . . among a tiny minority of openly Gay men in Kenya who face a constant barrage of verbal abuse on the street and even occasional physical attacks. "We live in fear," says Irungu, "There is a perception that being Gay is wrong, so it is a bit tricky . . . when you live in Kenya." Irungu says a friend of his was beaten so badly outside a nightclub in Nairobi that he had to be taken to hospital. There is no way to corroborate such incidents with the police because homosexual Kenyans are just too afraid to report them. (Kenyan) law books help create the ambivalence. Two separate penal codes relate to the Gays in Kenya, and the archaic laws can lead to a 5-to-14 year jail term.

So it's established that criminalization of their existence is a given for most of the subjects in this study group. Let's go back to Jim Pickett's conference report. He elaborated on African HIV statistics:

. . . let's take a look at Kenya, where (my colleague) told us the prevalence rates among Gay (men) is 15.6% in contrast to 7.49% prevalence among (heterosexual) Kenyan men of reproductive age. This means that about one in six or seven Gay Kenyans are HIV-positive. How about Sudan? (Heterosexual) men of reproductive age represent 1.26% prevalence (and) Gay (men) 8.8% in that North African country. Malawi? 21.4% for Gay (men), 11.46% for (heterosexual) men of reproductive age. In Senegal, the prevalence of HIV among Gay (men) is 21 times higher than other men. In Nigeria, seven times higher. Pretty dismal, yes?

Hell, yes! And from those news reports I cited, we know the intensity of heterosexism that exists in Kenya and Malawi. Might there be a connection? Mr. Pickett discussed the sexual practices of Gay Africans:

. . . anal intercourse is common among Gay (men) in Africa, and most of these men are using some sort of lubricant . . . but here is the rub: In a 2008 study of Gay (men) in Namibia, Botswana and Malawi, only one quarter of them used water-based lubricants. Of the men who indicated they always used condoms, 12.9% used a water-based lubricant. Nearly half of the men had used petroleum-based products during their last episode of anal intercourse with another man, and one-fifth used nothing . . . for those of us acquainted with the finer points of anal intercourse, the thought of engaging in this activity without any type of lubrication (brings) a grimace. And the fact that lube-free anal sex hurts and tears and burns creates a perfect storm in the rectum for HIV transmission . . . we all know that oil-based lubes are a big no-no with latex condoms, though using these lubes in the absence of condoms is still much, much better than using nothing.

What's going on here? There are huge barriers (in Africa) to lubricant use, including cost and very limited availability, as well as the stigma attached to buying lubricant (you shouldn't need to buy lube for vaginal sex, right? If you're buying lube, you must be doing bad things.) Many African men who have the ability to travel come back from the West with suitcases packed with lubricant for their friends; the demand is extremely high. But this is not the best distribution system . . .

There are now condom-distribution programs operating in many parts of Africa. After overcoming considerable local and international resistance, they were established in response to the African AIDS pandemic. Given the continental stigma against same-gender love, few if any of these programs are targeted at Gay men. But quiet as it's kept, heterosexual lovers enjoy anal sex, too; the availability of lubricants would be just as much a safeguard for them as for Gay couples! Here's an example of how heterosexism, with its antiquated, restrictive concepts of human sexuality, poses needless danger to the health of all Africans! Even so, the health of Gay and Pansexual African men is endangered in a much more devastating way.

Before I elaborate, let me say that I don't believe every African who was interviewed for that 2008 study spoke truthfully about his condom use. It's no secret that men habitually lie about what they do in bed, and that's a cross-cultural fact! Besides, if they were all telling the truth, then the HIV infection stats wouldn't be so high. Let me also say that, just as I don't believe Gay African-Americans are totally ignorant about sexual issues, I don't believe Gay Africans are, either. While some of them may not know about or have access to K-Y jelly, most of them understand that anal penetration without some kind of lubricant is dangerous. You can't avoid the pain and bleeding that results. What could make a man want to endure such trauma?

Everything that human beings do is done for a reason; African men have unprotected sex for a reason. I submit it's the same reason why Gay men who live under hostile conditions all over the world have unprotected sex: Internalized shame! Shame, compounded by the suicidal mindset that Rev. Macaulay describes. Shame, making them devalue both their own lives and the lives of their bedmates. Shame, convincing them that Gay sex must somehow be made less pleasurable. Shame, telling them Gay sex must hurt! Gay sex must maim! Gay sex must be traumatic and potentially lethal. Consciously or subconsciously, these men feel so guilt-ridden that they turn God's gift of same-gender intimacy into a form of punishment. They punish themselves and their lovers! Like other destructive behaviors Gay people indulge in, unprotected sex is a form of self-flagellation.

And where does the concept of self-flagellation come from? You Catholics out there know the answer: It originates with the Oppressor Church, the same church that Rowland 'Jide Macaulay indicts for embedding anti-Gay hatred in African culture. It's the same church that exercises undue influence over American culture, politics, education and media. Now, in the West, we don't usually see Old Testament law enforced by mobs, but we do see rising rates of seroconversion among Gay men (especially those of African descent)! There's no doubt in my mind that a connection exists between a minority group's desire to maintain good health and religious persecution of that minority group! The criminalization, the stigmatization, the fear, shame and self-destructiveness: you can trace it all back to the Church, to some fire-breathing dragon of a demagogue preacher damning Gay men to Hell!

Jim Pickett's report implied that the solution to high infection rates is better distribution of water-based lubricants. I wouldn't argue against that course of action, but I disagree that it will solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when Bible bigotry is forcefully attacked; when African churches start valueing the lives and loves of Gay men; when African preachers start condemning mob violence instead of encouraging it; when religious hatemongers like Rick Warren, Martin Ssempa and Laurence Chai are exposed as the false prophets that they are and dealt with accordingly! Once false prophesy has been done away with, Christian churches can fullfill Jesus Christ's mandate to promote compassion. They can start to undo much of the damage they've done over centuries; and they are the only institutions that can do it effectively! Madonna said it best, in her song "Erotica": Only the one that hurts you/Can make you feel better/Only the one that inflicts pain/Can take it away.*

That same issue of Positively Aware contained a letter to the editor slamming home the point that anti-Gay religion is a public health hazard. HIV/AIDS counselor Paulo Presta wrote:

I was a prevention specialist here in Arizona. I approached some church leaders about how we may work together to support our collective efforts in prevention . . . consistently, when it came to addressing HIV prevention with Gays (sic), I was met with judgmental comments . . . I was both angry and saddened that church members would take such a position against those who live, worship and pray with them. One even writes inflammatory pieces against Gays (sic) and then says: "I don't hate (them), I only write what God tells me to." That just doesn't cut it for me . . . his behavior does nothing to fight HIV and only sows seeds of hurt and sorrow.

More important, it sows seeds of shame and self-destructiveness . . . and incidentally, that clergyman lied in his teeth! God never told anybody to be judgmental. Quite the opposite is true:

MATTHEW 7: 1-5
(Jesus Christ said) Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment that you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor: "Let me take the speck out of your eye" while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly . . .

Mr. Presta's anger can be put to good use! It's time for health care professionals like him to come together with equality activists and declare war on bigotry disguised as religious doctrine. Granted, taking on organized religion will require tons more time, energy and money; but if our concern for Gay men's health is sincere, that battle must be joined! HIV counselors have long understood that "faith-based" homophobia is a major obstacle to curbing seroconversion, particularly in Black communities. When will they finally understand that Gay Rights activism is an essential element of AIDS prevention?

Patient advocates like Jim Pickett and Paulo Presta should think of every Gay man as a potential suicide poised on a window ledge. There are cruel onlookers down below, urging the poor guy to jump to his death: Genocidal clergy and their thuggish followers! If caregivers can put a lid on these sadistic bastards (shout them down, discredit them, penalize their hateful expression), they'll have a much better chance of talking distraught patients back to safety. Fighting suicidal sexuality with condoms and lube alone simply isn't enough!

The spiritual needs of Africans are different from western needs. African culture embraces a greater intimacy of spiritual growth. We need a new era of Christian faith that can celebrate same-sex unions, so that many more Gay Africans can be proud to celebrate their sexuality in a loving union.

These wise words come from Rowland 'Jide Macaulay, and I agree with them up to a point. I don't think New World spiritual needs are very different from those in the Old World. Western folk just don't acknowledge their spiritual needs as honestly!

However, Rev. Macaulay and I agree 100% that a new era of Christian faith is sorely needed all over the world, especially in Africa where the Devil has seared his wicked brand on entire nations! Satanic hatred is blazing out of control in the cradle of humankind, and in the cries of innocent victims like Tiwonge and Steven Chimbalanga-Monjeza, you can hear Africa scream for deliverance. Lord, when will You lift the massive burden of poverty, corruption and ignorance that’s crushing Mother Africa? How much worse does the situation have to get before it gets better?

*Excerpt from "Erotica" by Madonna, Shep Pettibone and Tony Shimkin, copyright 1990 Webo Girl Publishing/Shepsongs/WB Music Corporation (ASCAP).

1 comment:

  1. This is a tragic, albeit excellent, post!

    You write: "If I were Sheikh Ali or "Bishop" Chai, I wouldn't start breathing easy yet; the threat of eternal doom hasn't moved farther away from them, it's drawn much nearer! Their kind of hateful doings never fail to get Satan's attention."

    In my opinion, such hate is originated by the very devil himself! No Christian, or any other decent person for that matter, can defame and hurt and even approve of discriminating against and/or killing other people.

    So, yes, when we hear strident homophobic preaching from the pulpit, we can be sure that Satan is preaching from that pulpit!