Call me weird but in school I never put my name on the cover of my workbooks. I always wrote it on the inside, on the second last page in the bottom right quadrant. Most other kids put their names and the picture of a celebrity on the cover. That was probably important, the celebrity on the workbook cover or on the bedroom wall. Having a future version of a future self to look foward to says that one at least believes oneself to have a future. That’s why it’s important for developing teenagers to have role models.
My name? I wrote the name of the subject and the kind of workbook it was (self-study, exercise, homework – whatever) and tried not to show whose book it was if I could help it. When anyone else covered my books and put my name on the front, I’d redo it. Though I didn’t know what the closet was I had instinctively conformed to its demands. It’s first requirement is invisibility. It’s hiding right out in the open under people’s assumptions about who you are and who everyone else is.
Like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, the closet is something you carry around with your other mental burdens and masks. It uses up a lot of personal bandwidth. It filters your words and the pronouns you choose (“he”, “she”) and steers you from the conversations you must avoid. It is the excuse for why you’re single (as far as people who don’t know are concerned) or the distance between your and that (imaginary?) girl who lives on the other side of the country. Or overseas. Or on Venus. You can’t get into a relationship with anyone the people around you know because you’re already involved with someone who lives so far away, whom they won’t meet for an indefinite period. It can’t be helped. It’s your apology for depriving others the joy of seeing you affirm that yes, the institution of (heterosexual) marriage is still intact and can still sustain everyone’s hope for a better life.
The closet is the high-minded rationalizations for “discretion” used by gay men who won’t let the world know. “My private life is private. I don’t see why I should walk around with a billboard saying who I am or make my sexuality what defines me like it’s a political statement”. Of course they don’t see that sex and the body are extremely political and that the right to privacy is also subject to the political whims of the Powers-That-Be. The unbearable brightness of being out is terrifying. It’s safer to avoid it and not see the legislation of countries steeped in homophobia or the “corrective” rapes happening in our backyard. It’s more polite to dismiss the entire business of being “out” as a construct that applies only to those in the “the scene” who want to celebrate what should be left in private (incidentally, this kind of talk exposes, upfront, the belief that being gay is shameful).
Coming out is messy, disruptive and transgressive; the closet is safe, decent, and polite. There is no judgment in these observations but there is conviction in them. The struggle is real, much too real for us to pretend otherwise.
The power of the closet is that it convinces you this particular struggle is illigitimate and that you’re a whining baby for wishing that things were easier or different. It teaches you to internalize the low-self worth daily pushed on gay people. It tells you that the rights you’re asking for are special rights (when they’re the same human rights enjoyed by other members of society), the protections you’re asking for are special protections (when the very concept of “hate crime” shows they’re not special but appropriate) and that the issues being brought to the surface are shamefully personal when it’s really the status quo that’s shamefully dehumanizing.
The closet convinces you that your name shouldn’t be on the front cover.
So when I clicked “send” and watched Gmail swallow my form to drop it off with the people manning the MrGSA applications’ inbox, I began writing my name down on it. I haven’t looked back. People’s responses have restored my faith in humanity. The other weekend when the other eleven heroes, the organizers and I met for Pride, I grew to see that I was surrounded by some of the most talented, beautiful, creative and evolved beings this planet has. I realized just what the world is missing out on. This is the missing piece of the human rights’ puzzle.
My name is Siyathokoza Khumalo and I’m putting it on my life’s storybook. I am nowhere near perfect but I am a good person in continuous development. And like eleven heroes I met past weekend, I am a son any parent would be proud to have.
Things are going to change for the better. The caked ways in which we’ve pretended to be a healthy society will be shaken; the reality of who we are will come to the surface and we’ll have an opportunity to choose between what’s real and what poses for a polite, sanitized version of reality.
If we choose reality we’ll be surprised at how beautiful it can become.
Thank you for being on this journey.