I grew up in Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape. There were almost no gay people in my space. The closest I ever came to gay people was seeing Senzo and Jason on TV. They were fictional characters in the popular soapie Generations. I was in a very conservative space, albeit a loving space. I then moved to Cape Town for my high school years. That was when I first understood that gay was real.
The biggest shocker was not gay people, but rather what was said to me or asked of me whenever I didn’t do things that were traditionally masculine. I cooked, for example, and not blow my own horn but I was good at it. I was never the outdoorsy type of teenage boy; I’m still not as a young adult. I didn’t have a bunch of friends that I would go out with on the weekend and chase girls with. During my high school years, I was on the debate team and I wrote poetry. I didn’t play soccer, but I did play basketball which also set me as an outcast to some extent. Basketball is not one of the most loved sports in South Africa, and it being closely related to netball didn’t work in my favour.
All these activities weren’t ones that would make me considered masculine, well at least in Khayelitsha. These events led to the same question: “Are you gay?” Sometimes it wasn’t a question. Sometimes I was just told, “Don’t be gay!”
As it turns out, I’m not gay, but at the time, when I had just hit puberty and hadn’t the slightest grasp of sexuality, these taunts didn’t help my development. It made me rush into things. I didn’t think clearly. I engaged in sexual intercourse to prove I wasn’t gay. It instilled in me a kind of instinctive mentality of having to distance myself from homosexuality.
I ask myself, why is society so homophobic? How many gay kids grew up being told, “Don’t be gay!” and felt something was wrong with them. How many gays kids were asked, “Are you gay?” and couldn’t say “Yes, I am,” because society had instilled in them the idea that being gay was wrong. How many gay people have spent or are spending their lives in the closet because being gay is taboo?
I once watched the movie Love, Simon. In the movie, the main character, Simon poses the question “Why do gay people have come out and straight people don’t have to tell their parents that they are heterosexual?” Why is this the case in the 21st century? Why are we living a country where according to the South African Institute of Race Relations, in 2017, 4 out of 10 people knew someone who had been murdered for “being or was suspected of being” a person classified as LGBT?
And my answer to all these question is miseducation. The idea that homosexuals choose to be homosexuals is ignorant. Unless we can engage on these topics and educate people about sexuality, we will get nowhere. We need to step outside of ourselves and engage with people from different backgrounds to ours, to learn what it’s like to live in other people’s shoes.
I for one long for a world where everyone can be who they are. There is a quote I love from the rapper Kevin Gates. He says in a song, “It’s cheaper to be yourself, ain’t no wrong way to be.” I have taken this and made it my mantra. It’s not only cheaper financially when you don’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. It is also a less toll on you emotionally. We should all be given the freedom to be who we are, without fear of repercussions. This is the kind of world I want to live in.
Tell us: How would you respond to someone who is experiencing homophobia?