No home for bisexual black men

BODY LANGUAGE

Our solidarity is often built on trauma. And as we attempt to extend brotherhood and love in the quest to create new and safer homes, it is necessary to be reminded of how we arrived here: in my case, in the city of Johannesburg.

From the outside, Johannesburg offers salvation to many of us. For those wanting to be seen, the city positions itself as a place where the unmasking is possible, a place where our humanity may begin to take form.

I repeated the legacies of the generations of black men who left for Johannesburg in search of their promised dignity, among them my uncles and my father. For me, passing my matric exams was the ticket to my freedom.

This was a rite of passage, previously only possible for the untainted in a cultural sense, for a Zulu man brought in line with Basotho traditions in the Free State, in a household where Christian values reigned supreme. We are my mother’s sons, though our father is a Mosotho man. As the oldest of four, my duty was to go to Johannesburg to study and work.

This moment meant something else to me: the idea of freedom whose time had come. If things worked out as planned, it would mean that my suffering and suppressing of my true self would come to an end. I would be able to express myself without anyone judging me.

To recognise trauma as something that glues our extension of love and solidarity in Johannesburg is to hope that we can be kinder and gentler to one another.

I compared my experience of the city with that of Youri Songuza, a bisexual Congolese model now based here, and there are commonalities in our experiences of coming to Johannesburg.

Twitter user @itsMbasa created a thread in which she called for bisexual people to share their selfies, in celebration of the beauty of bisexuality and the annual #bivisibility month celebrated in September.

READ MORE: Bisexuality: Being an ‘outcast among outcasts’

We have to write ourselves into public memory and archive the lives of queer people, including those who are bisexual. This is what Mbasa did with her tweet. There were few responses from black men.

It was also a first step towards counteracting some of the violent forms of erasure faced by black youth like ourselves, which often become masked by the idea of a “community”, which is actually very fragile and fragmented.

In my own experience as an openly bisexual man, I have concluded that many black men who are bisexual do not come out, as they fear rejection. Bisexuality is seen as invalid, and this invalidation also comes from within the South African Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI+) community.

Many in the LGBTI+ community believe we are invalid, transitional, unnecessary, greedy and unfaithful. It becomes harder to think of this community as a home of some sort, one that becomes open for those who cis hetero-patriarchy has for decades been violently attempting to erase. One would then expect this community to rely on its shared trauma to build stronger ties.

Yet, in the same way as we have black men who want to replace white men as the oppressors of the larger black society, there exist various forms of collaboration between the queer community and cis heterosexual black men and womxn. Some gay men refuse to date bisexual men; we are rendered “strangers” in the LGBTI+ community because of a lack of shared trust and allegiance.

It is important to understand that one can be a victim and an oppressor at the same time.

Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola wrote that, “in the binary oppositional way we have been programmed to think, and often we become complicit with, this means one is good and the other is bad”.

There’s also a collaboration in which the quest for control sees the coming together of cis heterosexual men and womxn, who primarily rely on traditional ideas of masculinity. For cis heterosexual womxn, their man cannot have been with other men. For straight men, the rejection of bisexual men as “gay and transitioning” also relies on this idea of pure masculinities.

Thus, the search for belonging and a home is a dream yet to be attained.

The entrenched patriarchal ideals upon which the understanding of masculinity is built render people such as Songuza “strangers” in Johannesburg. These continued legacies of internalised ideas of what a man can and cannot do remain the rallying point for our questioning.

Being an openly bisexual man means that you may become entangled in a web of violence. Your identity is constantly under attack; many of us have often done the same things that anti-queer society has done to us.

Looking at the experiences of bisexual black men, my interest here is to interrogate the ways in which we exist in our queerness, and how we view our place in society.

When does the search for home stop? Perhaps to find a home, we have to find each other.

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Mpho Ndaba
Mpho Ndaba
Mpho Ndaba is an activist scholar of international relations, media and development. He is a member of the board and chairperson of the campaigns subcommittee at SOS Coalition. He is currently reading for his MPhil at the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Humanities South.

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