The value of the film Inxeba’s gay storyline against a backdrop defined by traditional masculinity is not exclusively for gay men: it’s for everyone. Many of the social media comments about the backlash against its airing question why those who’d suppress the movie haven’t been as vocal against rape culture. In view of Inxeba’s focus on homophobia, this line of questioning can be taken further.
Men nowadays are rightly asked to confront rape culture, but this request often stops short of asking heterosexual people to examine their consumption of heterosexism. As I previously pointed out: “When a lesbian is murdered, or raped, or burned, or mutilated, the #MenAreTrash brigade is nowhere to be found.”
“Corrective rape” is when a lesbian is raped for saying no to every man’s sexual advances, making it an attack against every woman’s right to say no to any man’s sexual advances. There is no point at which the battle against rape culture should be more focused. But because we live in a heterosexist society, there is no point at which it receives less attention.
Where there should be a focus on the “corrective rape” of lesbians, we instead see that anger at rape culture is coloured by the consumeristic demand that men live up to straight women’s Ken-and-Barbie fantasies as loyal, romantic, door-opening, bill-settling partners, as well as disappointment that they bring to life women’s worst nightmares instead.
For while many of the Hollywood-type Valentine’s Day “Ken” behaviours expected of men are admirable, their proximity to pre-existing gender roles is their proximity to traditional heteronormative masculinity — and it’s that masculinity that rapes.
Traditional masculinity’s essence is performativity. There’s nothing sustainable or consistent in basing social norms on the pursuit of the desirable outcomes of that non-stop performativity, while stomping out its less desirable outcomes — masculinity as power-over, as validation-seeking through dominance and as forced access to women’s bodies. Far from being an aberration of heterosexism, rape culture is what happens when heterosexism finally gets its way and dictates all romantic and sexual identities and behaviours.
Addressing rape culture without addressing homophobia isn’t confrontation: it’s negotiation. Because at the end of that negotiation there are no consequences for the “corrective rape” of lesbians, those lesbians’ bodies are the price society is willing to pay for the service rape culture renders — validating heterosexism and Old Testament tribalism.
The same black friends keep embracing definitions of black masculinity in which men are powerful providers — but these definitions only work if they make rape and domestic abuse the effects of landlessness and economic exclusion. The socialisation of boys and their consequent insecurity at having to continually live up to assumptions about masculinity (which sounds flattering so as to pass traditional masculinity off as more intoxicating than toxic) is never questioned. It sounds seductively convenient to lay the blame for male violence at the feet of colonialism and apartheid because then we never have to examine ourselves. But when structural racism becomes the explanation under which we sweep male violence without having to problematise male socialisation, neither structural racism nor male violence are solved on real terms.
We see that socialisation plays a more decisive role than economic displacement in breeding rape culture in that when black men do experience economic empowerment, a considerable number of them direct that newfound wealth not towards providing for their children but into further demonstrations of dominance and power, often through womanisation. The message that masculine value is tied to the power to provide simply compels men to prove that they have that power without deploying it into their children’s service.
If you think that sounds absurd, then tell me why some of the poorest kids in our townships will often have some of the richest fathers. I’ll tell you why: it’s because in its fear of feminising men by letting them nurture children, straight society has the nerve to leave the responsibility of fathering with mothers — and then it still turns around to say it is we, gay people, who have confused the gender agenda for everyone. Even rebuking rapists by saying “real men don’t rape!” reinforces the heterosexist box in dishing out its idea of “real men” without scrutinising it. When the black woman’s intimate partner insults gay people, she ought to pay attention: he is talking about her. Gay bodies are the price straight society is happy to pay for its lease on heterosexism. But what overthrows us, overthrows straight society also.
When they’re not being bashed by homophobes, gay men exist as straight women’s social accessories and entertainment; as their missed sexual and romantic opportunities. “What a waste,” they say. “A waste” because the moment a man ceases existing as a sexual and romantic prospect replete with the performative expectations of traditional masculinity, he ceases existing in the ways men have been trained to count on and believe in for their validation by the very society that acts all surprised by the down-side of traditional masculinity. Gay men are “a waste” for the same reasons straight men are “trash”.
Gavin de Becker wrote: “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.” The common denominator is the socialisation required by heterosexism. These are the wounds Inxeba has ripped wide open.
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Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God