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Bumsters, big black organs and old white gold: Embodied racial myths in sexual relationships of Gambian beach boys

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Sexuality is a platform upon which ideologies are enacted. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in The Gambia, this paper discusses the embodiment of racial myths about male Black bodies and Western affluence. Methods utilized included participant observation, focus group discussions and in‐depth interviews. Beach‐boys, locally called bumsters , are a common feature of the country's tourism. Societal attitudes to bumsters are ambivalent. Bumsters variously indulge in a complex web of sexual activity ranging from commercial to non‐commercial, voluntary to socially‐imposed, individual to peer‐driven, heterosexual to homosexual, casual to regular, particularly with foreign tourists. Narratives about their sexuality reveal an enactment of myths about the male Black body and superior sexual performance on one hand, and images of plundered wealth sitting in ‘the West'—a dream destination flowing with milk and honey, and physically represented by the toubab —a local label for White foreigners—on the other. This highly fantasized wealth forms the core of youth aspirations to travel abroad. Sexual activity with a toubab is the ticket out of Africa's inherent scarcity. Metaphors and idioms of unlimited virility and dynamic manhood are reinforced through sex tourism and form part of the identity of Gambian bumsters . These self‐images reinstate and reinforce racial stereotypes.
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Keywords: Bumsters; Gambia; male sexwork; transactional sex

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Health Policy Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

Publication date: 01 November 2005

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