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In 'Chewing Gum,' Making Sexual Choices is Liberating, Even if First Times Aren’t All That

Here's how the second season of 'Chewing Gum' reframes the conversation around virginity.

Warning: This essay is overflowing with spoilers. If you haven’t finished watching the second season of Chewing Gum, bookmark this article, check out the 9 things we learned from the Season 2 trailer, and come back later. If you like being spoiled, read on, playa.


“I can have sex with anyone. With everyone! I've just gotta ask,” said Tracey, after she realizes that the reason why no one has initiated sex with her is because women have to approach the guy (or girl) first at the sex party she’s attending.

The discovery of the sex party's rules empowers Tracey, and she’s suddenly ready to see just how awesome the power of choosing your sex partner can be. But it isn't the way she wants to lose her virginity. Tracey decides to turn the whole party out, first giving a speech about her self worth, remarking on how lucky anyone would be to get to know her before having sex:

“For the first time in my life, all I can do is aim and click a finger and I can have anybody I want. And I don't want to! You don’t see me. My charm, my personality, how I look like Beyoncé...from certain angles!….I might wanna bang some of you, but I just want to know who I'm banging.”

Then inspiring everyone to play volleydildo—same as regular volleyball, but replace a sex toy with a ball. This scene is one of the best examples of Tracey’s adorable, down to earth personality, expressed through the running theme of the show: exploring sexuality. We know that Tracey can get out of awkward, unwanted or uncomfortable situations through the use of comedic gestures—it’s what we love about her. We also know that, as much as Tracey wants to have sex, she hasn’t come across the right moment or person yet.

Tracey is so excited, so anxious to have sex that she doesn’t let things organically happen. It’s admirable that she goes after what she wants and believes in, but her horniness causes her to make some bad decisions or choose the wrong guy. Yet, I find this refreshing, because we don't see honest, humorous scenarios about virginity and choice on tv involving a black woman. And—spoiler alert—a lot of women can say they didn’t lose their virginity to the “perfect” guy, or that their first time was amazing. I am one of those women. There are some who have had great first times with great people, but I only know few women who can relate to that.

Tracey has been using her right to choose whose penis should enter her vagina since day one. She hasn’t been successful, though. Tracey wanted to have sex with Ronald, of all people: he’s her ex boyfriend that found her utterly repulsive.

Then there’s Connor, her more compatible love interest. Although their connection is undeniable, they have also run into their fair share of circumstances that prevented them from getting it on: different expectations in their relationship, living at home, and most recently, homelessness.

In the first episode of season 2 called “WTF Happened?” we learn that Tracey and Connor were so close to having sex in the bathroom of a homeless shelter, but Connor couldn’t get it up. Then Tracey threw up on him (chunky, cheeto colored goo erupted from her face and onto her body and Connor’s shirt. Sorry, I love details) and the mood was completely ruined.

A new possible sex buddy is introduced, a white man named Ash. He's attractive, has a job and seems nice enough, so Tracey is open to dating him. Things get hot and heavy back at Ash’s place, until he takes off Tracey’s bra and remarks on her “black titties.” He then proceeds to give her the most racist dirty talk I've yet to witness: “do you want my white dick in your black pussy? In your black mouth?” And almost calls her “nigga.” Definitely a Get Out situation.

As much as society wants us to believe that a woman’s worth is in her virginity, or that the number of people we have sex with determines if we are a hoe or socially acceptable, it also enforces the idea that our first time will inevitably be painful, and that the first person we sleep with will inevitably hurt us, because virgins are “clingy” and we’re bound to get emotionally attached, thus heartbroken if the relationship ends. These are all notions me, and several of my friends growing up, were warned of. It created a culture of shame amongst us, and we blamed ourselves when the relationship with our “devirginizer” fell to pieces.

So this is the conundrum: women are damned if we have sex too soon or too much, and damned if we don’t. We shouldn’t expect the first guy we sleep with to be impeccable, to care about our comfort and pleasure or not to break our hearts; but we should also be aware that our worth is in our virginity, and we should “give” it to someone worthy. Do men experience these same expectations around their virginity? Hell no. Virginity is what girls and women are pressured to lock away for as long as possible. Virginity is what boys and men must get rid of as soon as possible.

Chewing Gum reframes the conversation around virginity, by negating the cultural ideas that first times have to be perfect, that you're a bad person if you have sex, that you’ll become attached afterwards and that the breaker of your virginity must be this glowing, impeccable knight. Sex doesn’t end with virginity. It gets even better with time, practice, experimentation, masturbation and communication, and our first times do not set the mood to our sexual sagas.

But Tracey isn't the only one who's ready to have sex. Cynthia, Tracey’s sister, becomes increasingly curious about her sexuality as the show progresses, but while Tracey’s sexual journey is filled with trial and error, Cynthia’s is meticulous and research oriented. Both women come from a strict, sheltered, Christian household, so watching them embark on their own sexual paths is intriguing, especially since they are so different.

After Cynthia does some online research about sex, and visits a liberal church where she realizes that having sex won't make her a bad Christian, she dresses up, goes outside and finds herself a man to sleep with. She doesn't even go far—maybe a block or two away from the estate—before finding a potential partner, Ryan. They have sex: it's technical and quick, which left me worried that she didn't enjoy herself. But, they get the job done, and when he asks to nap with her, she refuses: “I read that falling asleep together can create an emotional attachment with women, and I have no desire to see you again.”

Tracey is even more inspired to lose her virginity after she learns Cynthia has. She’s attracted to a young man from the book club she attends, and soon they go to his place to read together. Instead, they read each other’s bodies (aooow). While they do it, she goes through a range of emotions: happy, overwhelmed, sad, conflicted, and sings a song she's prepared for the moment. When it's over, Tracey learns that he's only 16-years-old. Guilt ridden, she turns herself in to the police, only to find that having sex with a 16-year-old is legal in the U.K.

Both men the sisters chose weren’t good choices. Ryan, the man Cynthia sleeps with, turns out to be their step brother. Tracey discovers her guy is only 16. They’re both disgusted when they find out the truth about their men, but it doesn’t shatter them. These guys are only one step in their journey to sexual awakening: there’s so many other people for them to experience, if they want to. This is one of the many lessons Chewing Gum teaches us: that mistakes happen, even when we think we’re making the right choice, but they don’t define us. Just pick up another stick of gum and chew on.

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From Chale Wote Street Art Festival 2016. Photo by Ofoe Amegavie.

5 Ghanaian Creative Spaces Doing Afrofuturist Work You Need To Know

These Pan-African outfits are actively visualizing and creating realities for black people that are better than the ones we inhabit now—get to know them.

In her praise for Octavia's Brood (an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements), filmmaker dream hampton quotes these words of adrienne maree brown, a co-editor of the anthology: "All social justice work is science fiction. We are imagining a world free of injustice, a world that doesn't yet exist." A respectable appropriation of brown's statement would be: all pro-Black/African activism is afrofuturism in praxis.

In that frame of social justice activism being twined with the useful framework that afrofuturism is—envisioning and exploring viable realities for black people all over the world—here are five Pan-African outfits out of Ghana who're doing advocacy work, and variously tasking our imaginations to visualize an existence for black people other—and better—than the one we inhabit presently.

Accra [Dot] Alt

Photo courtesy of Accra [Dot] Alt.

The "Alt" in Accra [Dot] Alt stands for alternative, which should say much about this organization's orientation: an invested interest in facilitating the alternative. To that end, A[D]A creates programs which provide spacial and other forms of support for the expression of alternative thought, and also for spawning boundary-breaking art. A[D]A's most popular initiative, the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival, since its inception in 2011, has been thematically preoccupied with imagining and creating existences that are more humane and fulfilling—particularly for black people.

The African Electronics Trilogy exemplifies this. Between 2015 and 2017, the Chale Wote Festival's themes, African Electronics, Spirit Robot and Wata Mata—have altogether exhorted festival participants to "tap into a super power grid [and] create a new encounter with reality that is entirely of our choosing and construction." The theme for this year's festival, Para-Other, does not stray from this visionary mission. A[D]A partly describes Para-Other as an order "embracing of a black labyrinth and establishment of an aesthetic that captures our cessation of flight and transit into a non-contested existence."

Last time the statistics were checked, in 2016, over 30,000 people were at Chale Wote; which is a more than 6,000 percent increase from the number that attended the first edition of the festival. Talk about possibilities.

African Women's Development Fund (AWDF)

Photo courtesy of the AWDF.

This grant-making foundation, Africa's first pan-African women's fund, was co-founded in 2000 by three African women: Hilda Tadria, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi and Joana Foster, who passed in 2016.

Since setting up, the African Women's Development Fund has funded and supported close to 1,500 women's rights organizations and women-led initiatives in countries all over the continent.

In April 2017, the institution launched their ground-breaking AWDF Futures Project. The initiative is basically composed of projections on the future of the continent as seen through an African feminist lens. These projections are based on a mix of data/trends analysis and sheer imagination.

The AWDF Scenario Stories is one aspect of the project. It comprises of four short stories imagining four different kinds of futures—desirable, undesirable, wild card, transitional—for African women, in Africa. The protagonist in each of these scenarios (set in August 2030) is Mariam; a queer, intelligent and free-spirited young woman in a wheelchair.

The full narratives of Mariam navigating each of these four futures can be accessed, in both text and animated audio-visual formats, on AWDF's website, together with the Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 report.

What will Africa be like in 2030? What would we see if we looked through the eyes of a woman? The AWDF Futures page holds a number of possible answers to these questions.

AfroCyberPunk Interactive

Photo courtesy of AfroCyberPunk Interactive.

Sci-fi writer and self-proclaimed afrofuturist, Jonathan Dotse, created AfroCyberPunk in 2010. Then, it was a blog whose focus was on "exploring the creative potential of African science fiction and speculative narratives."

Almost a decade after running as a blog, AfroCyberPunk morphed into AfroCyberPunk Interactive—a digital hypermedia content developer and publishing house—in 2017. Still, the preoccupation with "exploring the future of Africa" (as went the blog's tagline) remains prime. A part of what could be referred to as their mission statement reads thus: "Our roots in afrofuturism continue to inspire the recurrent themes, motifs and aesthetics of our publications. We aspire to [...] address the global imbalance in the representation of marginalised peoples and perspectives."

Founder Jonathan Dotse is himself at work on his debut novel, a cyberpunk mystery/ psychological thriller set in Accra, Ghana circa 2060 AD.

All of the above certainly do echo these words offered by Jonathan in a blog post titled Why Africa Needs Science Fiction: "As Africa marches onward into the future it is important that we as Africans begin to critically visualize the development that will take place on our own soil, and our vision must be based on our own unique reality, cut from the cloth of our own societies and tailored to our specific needs."

Drama Queens

Photo courtesy of Drama Queens.

This feminist and Pan-Africanist theatre organisation optimally embodies the idea of Sankofa: an examination of heritage to select and use, presently, the positive and helpful values, in the ultimate service of creating the future.

Drama Queens is founded on the ancient Egyptian philosophy of Ma'at—which adjures for justice, balance and harmony as ways of being. The world being as it is now—generally unjust, imbalanced and disharmonious, against black people specifically, and more specifically against marginalized black communities—renders Drama Queens' work futuristic.

To ground this, they are avowedly working towards "a just, balanced and harmonious world where highest respect is given to nature and all nature creates."

This year, for instance, is Drama Queens' year of "contributing to an end to homophobia towards the African LGBTQ+ community" through various activities such as theatre productions, facilitating queer film production workshops, social media discussions and talk events.

Nana Akosua Hanson, founder and director of Drama Queens has said in an interview that her organization aims, ultimately, "to end oppression by changing mindsets through the use of cultural tools, to revolutionalize thinking and bring forth the existence of an Africa without heteropatriarchy, and a continent free from the exploitation and destruction of racist nations." Sounds about Afrofuturist.

Squid Magazine

Photo courtesy of Squid Magazine.

Comics, games and animation are probably the most popular media through which creators indulge in futuristic thinking. Add to this the truism that critical, intellectual engagement and documentation are of lifeblood importance to the efflorescence of a culture. Put together, it adds up to the fact that Squid Magazine (simply, Squid Mag) is doing essential afrofuturist work.

Started in 2015 by Kadi Yao Tay and Kofi Asare, Squid Mag is dedicated to the "exploration, critique, promotion and archiving of African creativity manifested within comics, games, animation..." As it happens, Squid Mag is one of the very few, if not only, platforms on the continent that wholesomely covers African output in the above mentioned media.

There's a rather poetic resonance as to why this outfit is named 'Squid.' Here's the import of the name, as explained on their website:

The name is inspired by squids, sea invertebrates that release ink as a defense mechanism. We find it poetic how such a mechanism can be a metaphor for painting a people's realities and dreams fluidly in an ocean of canvases. An ocean that is threatened to be overrun with narratives that exclude us.

So now you know, if you didn't know before, where to go in search of a sea of narratives—of realities and dreams—that include us.

*

There is a great deal more than can be said for the imagination—and exercising it. It begets creation, after all. Thus, what these and other entities are doing—engendering alternative socio-political imaginaries for all peoples of African descent—is such a needful venture. But after all is said and visualized, the ultimate challenge, most probably, is to act, to create. Blitz the Ambassador puts it succinctly on his afrofuturist song, "Africa Is The Future" (long since renamed "Africa Is Now"): There ain't no future unless we build it now.

moshood lives in Accra, from where he writes across genres. He has recently taken on painting. He tweets here: @thehamzay

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Following Government Suppression, Sierra Leone's 'People's Popstar' Is Finally Allowed to Perform

Emmerson's music has influenced past elections in Sierra Leone. Here's why his performance at the National Stadium is a win for artistic freedom.

Early December 2017, a flyer was circulating on Whatsapp in Freetown announcing one of the most exciting concerts of the year. Sierra Leonean superstar Emmerson Bockarie, stage name Emmerson, was going to perform live alongside two other popular artists. The concert was to be held at the National Stadium, Freetown's foremost and largest concert venue where the likes of Timaya and Wizkid have performed in the past.

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