Simon Nkoli once said “In South Africa, I am oppressed because I am a black man and I am oppressed because I am gay. So when I fight for my freedom I must fight against both oppressions”. This is the dichotomy that many black gay men find themselves in. What comes first, what is more important and which do you choose to advance and fight for? Should we even have to choose, or do we embrace our diversity and plurality as individuals and fight a collective cause for identity? I too am a gay and black man. In addition, I am from the township, went to a top-tier university, practise in a field that refuses to transform and still live in the township. Is that not the 21st century “Mzansi dilemma”?
While being gay is not as taboo as it once was in black communities, identifying as such and living as an “out and proud” gay man is often seen as dangerous. Many of the young gay men I have met in my life have often stated that they can only come out once they are economically independent. Therefore, young gay men are not coming out, but rather, often forced out. What do these gay men (and boys) require from their friends and family? Love and support or economic comforts? Both are important, objectively and subjectively. There is also the issue of ridicule, being called various names ranging from the now reclaimed “istabane” to more vile versions such as “stjuzana” and worse. Owing to the proliferation of Christianity, the church is the enemy and not the refuge for gay men. How is one to be gay, black, living in a township and free?
Despite a so-called democratic government, black people remain on the receiving end of economic disadvantage. Limited resources in education and finance in furthering post-matric studies means most black youths will opt to work rather than go straight from high school to university. This happens despite our denial and turning the other cheek. Gay men who are “out and proud”, will often find it harder to get employment in more formal professions. Gay men who present a more feminine persona will find it even harder to find work anywhere, formal or otherwise. This battle is not one limited to those with just matric but affects professionals as well. Being black, gay (and effeminate) and looking for work is a problem, and no one seems to care enough about it to do anything.
Humans exist in layers and these layers sometimes collide and conflict with one another. Pastors who are unmarried and have sex, politicians who are in business with the government they serve, black people who are ashamed of being black, gay men who shame other gay men for being feminine, irrespective of the setting, these are human conditions and realities. A different approach and thinking on the issue of social inclusion, transformation and diversity is needed to resolve or at the least move towards resolving this one problem.
A personal question is: Do we want tolerance or acceptance? I personally want neither. I want my rights and freedoms to be respected just as the next (and possibly straight) person’s are. I don’t want to be singled out for special treatment but I believe in getting what I deserve. I don’t deserve to be violated or denied an economic opportunity because I am black and gay and feminine. I may present a dilemma to the ordinary bigot on the street, but in a society that is about respect and dignity, I am human like anyone else and ought to be treated as such.
While we push for progress on equity and inclusion of all races and genders, we ought to also push for inclusion and transformation of our corporates and societies to not only be tolerant but respect and be sensitive to diverse gender and sexual identities. After all, corporates and societies are not only served by but are also inhabited by humans. Humans are complicated, different and unique. My pink, black and blue is worthy of recognition and respect just like any other.