Gay times, hard times
Is the world becoming a better place when a fortysomething Tsonga man is angered by the news that two Malawian men have been sentenced to 14 years of hard labour for publicly celebrating their love for each other?
While driving with him, from his hometown of Giyani back to Soweto, we were listening to a radio report about the story when he nearly jumped out of his seat. “What if this was the judge’s own child?” he asked.
I was genuinely pleased that this unlikely character (given his gender, race and age, he should have been homophobic) was so empathetic towards gay rights. But, I wondered, is he the exception or are attitudes changing around us?
My first thought was that Generations has something to do with this. South Africa’s most popular television show continues to rock some zealot boats by having two openly gay male characters who tend to be more affectionate than others in prime-time TV slots.
Whether viewers like it or not, the writers have had the gumption to bring the issue of homosexuality and homosexual rights into the living rooms of a demographic that has generally claimed homosexuality to be “unAfrican”.
The best thing about the result is that it has started an ongoing conversation about a subject that everybody seems to have an opinion about.
The mother of one of my best friends is a staunch Christian. A few months ago the woman, who attends church every Sunday, was satisfied when a bunch of heterosexual male characters in Society—another high-profile local drama on SABC 1—beat up a defenceless lesbian character. Ironically, in real life, this could have been her daughter because my friend is a lesbian and her mother does not know it.
Looking into the future one assumes some benefit will be derived from shows like these, which portray the human element of homosexuality with some attempt at honesty. I like to think that we’re living through what may be called the “female century”, and that we women are making our mark in looking beyond our experience as a bruised and battered generation.
We are waking up to the fact that the system of men on top, profit at all costs, white is right and nature is inexhaustible has failed us. In this new female century, everyone should know that environmental awareness is cool, corporate social responsibility isn’t an afterthought and queer culture has a right to be visible and unthreatened.
On the other hand, though, it’s painful to realise that the majority is still in a deep bigoted slumber.
This week two gay men were arrested in Zimbabwe after posting a letter criticising Mugabe’s stance on gender rights on the internet. Sadly, there will probably be a limited outcry and people across Africa will continue to hold beliefs on something about which they are quite ignorant. There’s been talk of a xenophobic outbreak after the football season and—who knows?—maybe the violence won’t stop at that ...
But the most bigoted should be careful, because the stones that are being thrown by people in glass houses may break open the closets in their own yards.