By Lwando Scott
The women’s struggle is often talked about as something only women should be involved in. This is wrong, it’s a struggle for us all, and yes that includes gay men.
There’s often a silence on the part of gay men when it comes to women’s rights. This is unfortunate because the sexual freedom of gay men is directly linked to the emancipation of women. Many gender activists argue that homophobia is used to police and discipline men who don’t act like “men” and women who don’t know their place. Homophobia is particularly directed at visibly effeminate men because being an effeminate man is seen as degrading, only because being a woman is seen as degrading.
As a gay man you are seen as weaker, as someone who is betraying their sex, someone who doesn’t understand how good pussy is, someone who needs to be changed and someone who does not understand they are the “better sex”. For these sins you are punished, you need to be fixed, you need a beating that will straighten you out. Wait, isn’t this the same thing that happens to women who are “out of line”, who don’t perform normative understandings of gender in this country?
It’s misleading to think that women’s day and women’s month means nothing to gay men. The fight for sexual liberation has its foundations in the fight for women’s emancipation; the one cannot take place without the other. For gay men to be free, women must be free. Gays that can camouflage as “straight” are very quick to distance themselves from anything that makes them look “too gay” or “too effeminate” for all kinds of reasons, chief among them is internalising the homophobia. These “straight-acting” gays need to interrogate why they find effeminate behaviour objectionable. What is it that causes discomfort or even hatred towards effeminate men?
If you look across the world, almost everywhere where women are severely oppressed, the gays are also oppressed if not more so. The need to police women’s bodies shows its ugly head through homophobia because same-sex relations destabilise the power men have over women. This is what homophobia is about; it’s about trying to rebalance society, to ensure power is situated with the heterosexual male.
The violence and threat of violence women experience on a daily basis is what keeps the gender system in place. It’s what ensures everybody behaves accordingly. Gay men need to recognise that their freedom is women’s freedom and they should fight for women’s rights.
Black lesbians in SA have an acute understanding of the intersection of sexual liberation and the women’s liberation struggle. The murder of butch, black lesbians is a manifestation of the collusion of misogyny and homophobia wrapped up in heterosexism. Failing to acknowledge this is a tragic blindness, one that will not aid us in creating a non-sexist and non-homophobic SA. In fact, negating this is what will ensure gender inequality persists.
Too often I have heard gay men talk about feminism as something they “don’t understand”, not their battle. I have also witnessed sexist conversations among gay men, blind of their male privilege. The irony is that many gay men have extremely close relationships with women. Many often talk about how their female friends helped them get through high school, and how women are often easier to come out to. There’s even a word for these women, fag-hag, which some people find distasteful.
Gay men should take part in the marches against rape and violence against women. This is a struggle gay men need to take part in actively. Get involved in gender-related community initiatives, donate time and money to NGOs that help women, ask your girlfriends (girls that are friends) how it is and how it feels like to be a woman in this country, read up on the women’s liberation and educate your friends about the issues. Put pressure on politicians to take gender issues seriously. Take gender issues seriously. If only out of selfishness because your emancipation is intricately tied to the emancipation of women.
Lwando Scott is a PhD student in sociology with the University of Cape Town.