Heterosexual Africa? — 2008

The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS

By Marc Epprecht

“Epprecht’s own interview material and his close reading of a wide range of AIDS literature from across the continent reveals one terrifying fact: researchers have studied HIV/AIDS as a heterosexual disease in Africa because they have been told and have read that there is no homosexuality in Africa…. the assumption that Africa is a continent of heterosexual sex has been deadly for too many people for too long.”

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Epprecht’s argument—that imperialism ultimately brought homophobia to Africa, not an introduction of homosexual acts—has become an important tool for African LGBTI and human rights activists.”

International Socialist Journal

Heterosexual Africa? interrogates the silences of anthropologists who have failed to dispel the myths denying that alternative forms of sexual expression among Africans, particularly men’s same-sex relationships, formerly were tolerated in various societies.”

African Studies Review

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Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS builds from Marc Epprecht’s previous book, Hungochani (which focuses explicitly on same-sex desire in southern Africa), to explore the historical processes by which a singular, heterosexual identity for Africa was constructed—by anthropologists, ethnopsychologists, colonial officials, African elites, and most recently, health care workers seeking to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This is an eloquently written, accessible book, based on a rich and diverse range of sources, that will find enthusiastic audiences in classrooms and in the general public.

Epprecht argues that Africans, just like people all over the world, have always had a range of sexualities and sexual identities. Over the course of the last two centuries, however, African societies south of the Sahara have come to be viewed as singularly heterosexual. Epprecht carefully traces the many routes by which this singularity, this heteronormativity, became a dominant culture. In telling a fascinating story that will surely generate lively debate, Epprecht makes his project speak to a range of literatures—queer theory, the new imperial history, African social history, queer and women’s studies, and biomedical literature on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He does this with a light enough hand that his story is not bogged down by endless references to particular debates.

Heterosexual Africa? aims to understand an enduring stereotype about Africa and Africans. It asks how Africa came to be defined as a “homosexual-free zone” during the colonial era, and how this idea not only survived the transition to independence but flourished under conditions of globalization and early panicky responses to HIV/AIDS.


Picture of Marc Epprecht

Marc Epprecht is associate professor in the departments of history and global development studies at Queen’s University. He is the 2006 winner of the Canadian Association of African Studies Joel Gregory Prize for his book Hungochani: The History of a Dissident Sexuality in Southern Africa. In 2009 he won the Desmond Tutu Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Study of Sexuality in Africa.

  • Honorable Mention by the David Easton Award Committee, APSA
  • Finalist for the 2009 Herskovits Award for outstanding scholarly work published on Africa
Cover of 'Heterosexual Africa?'

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