After I came out to a Ugandan friend, who is Catholic, he said that the kinds of societal changes I sought would “take decades, perhaps lifetimes”. I was stunned by the glacial pace at which truth seeps through institutions mollycoddled by privilege to treat mental health science and morality as optional.
That was one of the formative moments at which I realised I could not wait to have my consensual sexual choices tolerated, gradually, condescendingly, by a heteronormativity that had yet to make up its mind that consent was what distinguished sex from rape.
I felt helpless in the face of, first, repression and, second, my own rage at the hypocrisy that in turns polices, trivialises and demonises rightful frustration with repression while sadistically turning a blind eye to evidence of sexual abuse by its clergy.
This helplessness led to depression and sustained suicidal ideation. As debilitating as they can be, I could name and navigate the mental forces I was in the grip of because, throughout my life, I’d had some exposure to mental health practitioners who turned out to be the literal difference between life and death.
Of what significance is this personal account of depression, in a country where every second social media post is about depression or about politics or gender-based violence or Mark Minnie and Chris Steyn’s The Lost Boys of Bird Island? It’s history lesson time.
The American Psychiatric Association depathologised homosexuality in 1973 by removing it from its list of mental illnesses; many still think it’s a disease.
Post-liberation, African countries maintain colonial-era penal codes against the “white man’s import”. In an ironic twist, some historians suspect there was more to, say, Adolf Hitler’s acceptance of Ernst Röhm (a gay man) than he let on when he appointed him to head up the Sturmabteilung (SA, Brownshirts, Stormtroopers). But Röhm sought to build the SA contrary to Hitler’s orders and, after the Night of the Long Knives — a purge by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) to consolidate the Führer’s power — Hitler ordered Röhm’s death.
Hitler described Cecil John Rhodes as “the only Englishman who truly understood Anglo-Saxon ideals and destiny”. Given Rhodes’s cruelty and the historical evidence of his tendency towards homosexuality, I understand this to mean Hitler viewed the capacity for self-repression as the capacity for oppressing others.
The men Hitler and other fascists lauded as the torchbearers of white supremacist violence were, overwhelmingly, repressed homosexuals or homophobes. Just like I was when I was being distorted by shame and rage into someone I wouldn’t recognise today.
Neither Rhodes’s nor Hitler’s apologists would admit either man’s proximity to — or involvement in — homosexuality because their denialism places its premium on what they have in common with their immediate communities (skin colour), setting this surface trait against those whose surface traits are obviously different to divert attention from their own concealed “otherness”.
The self-loathing that produces homophobia as internalised disgust of what is unseen in oneself and in others necessitates and projects the other-loathing that produces racism as fixation on the exterior of “the other”, taking the spotlight off of one’s secret — and persuading a man like Hitler that one’s self-loathing will serve racist imperialism well.So, homophobia is racism in another skin.
Lost Boys alleges that apartheid-era ministers Magnus Malan and John Wiley, among others, were paedophiles who trafficked children — mostly boys of colour — off to clandestine locations where they sexually abused them.
On his Radio 702 talk show, Eusebius Mckaiser suggested the National Party’s projection of a “Christian” veneer of moral legitimacy now underscores the denialist backlash towards Lost Boys; that the rush to reduce this to a story about simple paedophilia looks away from the pattern of white-supremacist heteropatriarchal violence and its reduction of black bodies to “things” on which self-loathing about one’s sexuality collides with the choice to offer this self-repression (homophobia) up to other-oppression (racism).
The Aversion Project reports that, in Namibia, “Ovambo and Herero women were raped and gang-raped” by gay military conscripts who were forced to do this; in the decades since the state deployed psychiatrists to systemically torture homosexuality out of young men, lest they be rendered impotent to further perpetrate racist violence, voices advocating the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity have grown to a tipping point.
This is evidenced by the ground-breaking publication of Africa’s first Practice Guidelines for Psychology Professionals Working with Sexually and Gender-Diverse People by the Psychological Society of South Africa. It was authored by their members in the Africa LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Human Rights Project. Its goal is to promote the mental health and human rights of LGBTI people.But I contend everyone’s mental health and human rights will be advanced by this work.
As the author of You Have to Be Gay to Know God, I will proudly be on the panel at the launch of the guidelines to — despite the relentless backlash for doing so — continue highlighting how religious teachings, which have gone unchanged since they served colonialism and apartheid, serve those oppressive systems decades after they’ve been dismantled on paper.
The culture in which violence perpetrated by half the world’s population is tolerated in the name of culture or God, results from the violence perpetrated on their psyches in their grooming as “real men” — and it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.
Practice Guidelines for Psychology Professionals Working with Sexually and Gender-Diverse People will be launched at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on August 22. Email an RSVP to [email protected]