Violence begets violence

'I had to find ways to compensate for my lack of masculinity,' says the writer (Graphic: John McCann/M&G)

'I had to find ways to compensate for my lack of masculinity,' says the writer (Graphic: John McCann/M&G)

BODY LANGUAGE

You no longer experience sex the way other people do once you have been raped. The invasion is indelible. It returns to haunt you in many ways every time you have to respond to intimacy.

As a gay man, it came with the idea of being obsessed with dominating other men in bed — a typical hyper-masculine gay man. But, beneath that, being feminine, meant walking around with a contradiction.

For years, looking for sexual mates, and to be seen as a legitimate top, meant hiding other parts of myself. I had a hunting uniform, a tank top and shorts, because who would refuse a muscled Zulu man speaking with an authoritative voice? It was an easy sell to a crowd who hates femininity.

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My sexual trauma amplified my misogyny. It became a pain that I sat on. I hated the idea of bottoming because I grew up being called a girl. I was shamed for being soft.

My family did not make it easier either because my uncle once tried to set the house on fire because I was gay. My mother made it a point every time I picked up a broom that ngiyisiyoyo (I am weak).

It meant I had to find ways to compensate for my lack of masculinity. An investment in literature is where I cocooned my manhood, coddling it in literature: “Little boy don’t die, little boy you will grow up to have a voice.”

But that is not how the story ended because books taught me I could refuse all of that and could be what I wanted to be. I started to walk around Jo’burg in feminine clothes and was met with disgust by men and women. They hated me and what I represented.

“Colonised bitch”, “mfana ntombazane”, “inkonkoni”, ungqingili”. The world was more vocal about its hatred than before.

Taxis ranks were no longer a place where I could just whip out my penis and pee in public — the way men assert their authority in public spaces. Taxis were war zones. But as the violence from the outside grew, my misogyny amplified.

The antagonism I was experiencing was because I was so close to being a woman. In my bedroom, it meant I had to try very hard to be dominant. I was having sex to a person and not with a person. My partners had an orgasm so there was nothing wrong with what I was doing, I reasoned; in fact, I was a party trick — bitch in the streets, dick in the sheets.

But my many sexual assaults were also staring me in the face during every encounter. I looked at myself in the mirror every time I had sex. I still looked like Thabiso, the victim. I had to do something to fix my body.

I started going to gym and I became muscular. The world was less loud; I could move around in places and not have to be careful about who or what was around me.I could spill coffee and know someone would clean up after me. I was just being a boy after all, right?

The bedroom caricature of dominance was a contradiction that I lived with, but then I felt a growing need to start investigating it. After all, what does it mean to claim a spiritual pan-Africanist, Marxist, feminist philosophy and then think being dominated is beneath me?

“What about my trauma?” my internal voice would scream.

“So, no! You are not a misogynist,” I would reassure myself.

“For crying out loud, I am in a dress,” my mind retorted.

The other contradictions included my curiosity about what it would feel like not to have these hang-ups. I watched muscular, regular gay men getting fucked in porn. I bought sexual toys. I googled stories of gay black men who had been sexually assaulted. But that still wasn’t enough.

I had a deep-rooted problem and that was misogyny.

This revelation came about from reading and from friendships with feminists who were pursuing social justice in all aspects of their lives. They made an immense contribution to how I now relate with my sexuality in positive ways.

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Twitter has been incredibly helpful in unlearning how I relate with femininity. #TwitterAfterDark, which was initiated by black women and queers, became a place where I could unpack this discomfort. I learned that exploring your body can involve having to understand the intricate and complex relationships between your trauma and your oppressive world view. For gay men, there is a thin line between homophobic trauma and misogyny as a form of retaliation.

My sex life now is much richer and more liberated. I am no longer trying to overcome the assault on my body and the extreme trauma by denying myself pleasures that have always been there.

Thabiso Bhengu is a senior content producer for @TheBigDebateSA

Thabiso Bhengu

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