Nessette Falu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCF, delivered the second lecture in the 2019 James Weldon Johnson Lecture Series, “Afrofuturistic Bem-Estar: Black Lesbians’ Wellbeing, Liberation, and Gynecology in Brazil.”
Falu spoke about her forthcoming book, which explores how Black lesbians in Salvador-Bahia, Brazil understand and navigate their own sexual health and wellbeing, or bem-estar, given heteronormative social structures in Brazil and the entrenched racial, sexual, class, and gender discrimination present in the field of gynecology. The book argues that for Black lesbians, “the pursuit of bem-estar drives their praxis of social change, self-care, and communal action.” Dr. Falu framed the discussion in the context of the growing field of Afrofuturism, and used “an afrofuturistic vision to reimagine freedom and legitimize non-normative Black female patient bodies’ creativity, beauty, love, and collective wellbeing.”
Conducting extensive fieldwork for the book in Salvador, Brazil, Falu used discussions and interviews with patients and practitioners to explore how Black lesbians experience gynecologic consultations, and the effect that these experiences, or minha vivência, have on their relationship to sexual self. She explains, “When Black women respond to the unwelcomeness of their bodies and experiences when seeking care, it opens up a series of inhibiting conditions for them as Black lesbians within these spaces that really taps into how they guard and defend their own well being.”
Falu discussed how she brought her previous experience as a health care provider, as well as her training in the humanities and Black feminist studies, into her current work as an anthropologist. Her work as a Physician Assistant in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Houston inspired her to explore gynecology through an anthropological lens, examining the medical field and the “consultation space” as what she calls “a laboratory for the social dilemmas of society.” She also explored issues of ethics, social justice, and the Black feminist/Womanist movements while pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at New York Theological Seminary.
The goal in writing her book was to highlight “experiences that are often invisible” by contributing to the limited body of research on Black lesbians in the social sciences. Faul stated that her motivation included a “deep authentic care” for the city of Salvador and for the women she has studied. She hopes her book is “accessible to many stakeholders,” which include Black lesbians, Black feminists and anthropologists, and physicians and other medical practitioners.
Dr. Nessette Falu is a socio-cultural anthropologist with interdisciplinary research that intersects feminist/race/queer anthropologies, medical anthropology, and anthropology of ethics as well as the humanities. She is currently an assistant professor of Anthropology at UCF, where she teaches classes on cultural and medical anthropology, Latin American culture, and the anthropology of racism. Her next book will focus on gynecological sexual misconduct in the US.
The annual James Weldon Johnson lecture series is sponsored by the Africana Studies Program, and named in honor of the noted Harlem Renaissance author and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. You can find information on upcoming lectures in the series here.