“What's Identity Got To Do With It?” Rethinking Intimacy and Homosociality in Contemporary South Africa

Gunkel, Henriette. 2009. “What's Identity Got To Do With It?” Rethinking Intimacy and Homosociality in Contemporary South Africa. NORA, 17(3), pp. 206-221. ISSN 0803-8740 [Article]

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The article focuses on female same-sex intimacy, specifically so-called “mummy–baby” relationships among schoolgirls in contemporary South Africa. The underlying negotiations with colonial but also post-colonial discourses of sexuality, identity, and gender, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) rights, and the problem of naming, are examined here. While post-apartheid South Africa was the first country in the world to explicitly incorporate lesbian and gay rights within the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, the surrounding countries chose to exclude lesbians and gay men from citizenship rights by proclaiming, in a populist way, the idea of homosexuality as un-African, a discourse also forming within South Africa itself. The term “homosexuality”, as defined through more than three decades of feminism and gay liberation, however, does not describe the complexities of same-sex practices throughout history. “Mummy–baby” relationships as a culturally specific form of female same-sex intimacy, especially in relation to homosociality as a form of gender intimacy and the sexuality apparatus, are analysed here. The article looks at girls' relationships as spaces in which homosociality, same-sex intimacy, and erotic practices can join together; however, the latter is increasingly joined by homophobia. I argue that the “closet” violently jars with some same-sex relationships, such as “mummy–baby” relationships, because they have never been closeted as such.

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Visual Cultures



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Date Deposited:

20 Dec 2015 17:52

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 13:42

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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