One of the things I think about a lot is the trauma of homophobia and queerphobia and how to avoid and end it. I think about my own experiences of it; during the few times that I’ve made TV appearances, in my community and in random occasions in public spaces. And then, invariably, I find myself asking if there is anything that I did in those moments that might have contributed to the incidents.
My logical mind might say no but there is another part of me that does the dance with the question: What did you do that resulted in the catcall, the slur being thrown at you, or other forms of violence?
In recent weeks, YouTube sensation Lasizwe Dambuza became embroiled in a social media backlash due to his tweets. The first tweet was in support of the protection of human rights of Zimbabweans and the second was when he called for inclusive education that would result in learners being taught about homosexuality so as to normalise same-sex attractions.
Both these tweets were not especially unique. In fact, many other people in the social media universe have expressed similar sentiments but both his tweets were received with great antagonism. It quickly escalated into blatant homophobia. I wondered, was it in the words he used to tweet that led to the backlash or was it that he is a young, successful Black queer man that set off the dogs?
Is our occupation of space such an affront to heterosexist society that whenever we step out, even when our claiming of space has nothing to do with our sexual orientation or gender identity, that it feels it needs to call us out and put us in our place? Is there ever a moment in time when our actions, noble or nefarious, will ever be responded to on the merit of those actions and not because of our sexual orientation and gender identity? Is our mere existence a horrible reminder to the staunch hetero world that it failed to keep the world order and somehow the ‘gay agenda’ is progressing with unrelenting fervour? And by purely co-existing with it, are we contributing to the homophobia that is visited upon us?
I ask these questions because I have myself been verbally abused by viewers on a number of occasions when taking part in media interviews – mostly when talking about the rights of LGBTQ people. But I have also seen that there are people who go out of their way to find LGBTQ people, online and in physical spaces, and then antagonise them. I can refer to the reactions to Lasizwe’s tweets and his YouTube content. Yes, most people who watch are ardent fans, but there are those who seem to find his content simply to spew hate.
I have also seen it in response to Somizi’s flamboyant and outrageous persona on his TV shows and in reactions to his husband, Mohale Motaung. There is an incessant need to remind these celebrities and, by extension, anyone who relates to them and identifies with them, that they are aliens on this earth. It would appear that the default position of many cisgender heterosexual people is homophobia and transphobia. And there seems to be no clear trigger; our very existence is the trigger. Our joy, happiness, self-expression and sometimes simply success is a provocation to the homophobe.
Is there anything we can do to change this? How do we curb this homophobia that continues to brew and multiply? If left unaddressed, we know what it can lead to. But what could be the ‘right’ remedy?
Does Lasizwe stop doing his comedy skits in drag? Does Somizi tone it down? Does Mohale divorce Somizi? Do I disappear from the face of the earth? Would this cure it? I don’t think so. Because it is not about me, it is not about the aforesaid public figures and sadly, it is not even about the perpetrators of this violence. It’s about our societies, which remain highly Christianised (religious, if you will), heterosexist and patriarchal. Societies where violence is still seen as a viable and valid solution to difference and disagreement and where we seek the weak to tame and own.
Our lives are performed in a predatory chase and we, LGBTQ people, are prey. We cannot decide not to be; the collective has to decide that. We deserve equal rights, equal protection, dignity and respect without having to take any action or changing who and what we are. We cannot decide that we are going to stop being victims of GBV and IPV and then not be secondarily victimised by the police and health care workers. We cannot decide that we are going to stop being the butt of every lame comedian’s punchline. We cannot decide that we only want to occupy dark spaces and never be seen in the light; we deserve to be seen, adored and appreciated in both the dark and the light.
So, do we contribute to the homophobia we face? No! And we never will. A heterosexist society will always take the opportunity to remind us that we are trespassers who won’t be forgiven for whatever sin it believes we have committed. The line to draw is on our humanity and safety; it remains compromised and we cannot let that continue. We might be many years in our democracy and have many more rights, but the change we deserve has not yet come and we cannot stop fighting for it.