By Amber Court
A NEW, queer erotic anthology written by African creatives captures orgasms, sex work and hook-up culture dating horrors within the LGBT+ community.
Exhale is a collection of stories from across Africa that digs deep into the sexual experiences told by new literary voices on the continent.
It was published earlier this month by HOLAAfrica (Hub of Loving Action in Africa) publications in partnership with Blackbird Books.
Writer and contributor to the anthology, Lawrence Mashiyane, is a Master’s student in English literature at the University of Johannesburg.
“As an openly queer and polyamorous man (sometimes), I believe in unbridled sexuality. That sexuality is not a space for constraints and self-denial but rather a space for freedom and self-fulfilment,” he said.
Mashiyane said that, as a black queer writer, he wanted nothing more but to fill the spaces, with words, where he had felt out of place.
“It was thoughts of the body, hook-up culture and apps like Grindr started flooding my mind. I went on writing and ended up with Sizwe Wants to Make Love,” he explained.
He said that his message would be to not think of sex as a means to an end, the end being an orgasm.
“The characters almost communicate telepathically with each other, by exploring each other’s bodies. They explore in a way that takes care, patience and passion,” said Mashiyane.
He added that, as a gay man who participated in hook-up culture, he experienced moments of beauty and horror on Grindr.
Grindr is an online dating application is for gay, bi, trans, and queer people.
“When I think of those beauties and horrors, I think what makes an experience one or the other is whether I felt like a person in the moment or an object,” he said.
An extract from Sizwe Wants to Make Love reads: “Our mouths entwined, we’re sharing everything. The kiss goes deep, it meets our souls. Our minds in sync, we know what to do next.”
Another contributing author, Kabelo Motsoeneng, currently based in Hartford, Connecticut working toward his graduate degree in literature, said: “The story started as an attempt to engage with several questions. I had just read Alice Walker's essays, Anything We Love Can Be Saved.”
Motsoeneng wrote about a gay man who is a sex worker. He discloses this to his lover, refusing to be spared from this work.
The story is about Gomotsegang Montsho, a young man whose life crumbles due to financial exclusion, his mother's disappearance and his father's illness.
“The story was a response to the rubbish discourse around sex work, where policymakers think people need to be saved from sex work (in the religious sense). I wrote this story because I believe sex work is a human right,” he said.
He explained that he wanted to show that sex workers are more than their work.
“Sex workers aren't just bodies that provide services, they are people with larger interior lives. The message is clear: we are who we are, not what we do and not our work,” he stressed.
Motsoeneng added that the queer, black and poor experience is universal, hence we need more queer stories.
“I hope a young queer person in Soweto will pick this up and find a version of themselves in my character,” he said.
Blackbird Books representative Sam Nkosi said, “The theme was centralised on representing all the sexualities under the LGBT+ umbrella and at the core of it all was that the stories had to be African written by Africans.”
He said that last year they encouraged emerging queer writers to submit their juiciest erotica for an African queer anthology.
By October, Blackbird Books and HOLAAfrica had garnered hundreds of submissions which were sifted down to 14 contributors such as Mashiyane and Moetseneng.
“When we did our market research, we realised the lack of African representation of queer erotic fiction,” said HOLAAfrica’s Tiffany Kagure Mugo.
She said it was important for young African queer people to consume stories with characters and experiences they can relate to.
Exhale is available in selected bookshops and at www.blackbirdbooks.africa