#MduduziManana: Shocking, Yes; Surprising?  Not So Much

It’s barely Tuesday, and South Africa’s high-drama news diet has already served up Higher Education Deputy Minister, Mduduzi Manana, assaulting Mandisa Duma for calling him gay.  Yet, subsequent discussions and apologies have unpacked neither the homophobia in her using the word as a slur, nor his frame of reference for clearly agreeing it was an insult.

I’ve shared before that in high school, I, too, stumbled upon that girl who used the taunt, “But you are gay” as a weapon.  Such is intended to emasculate you amongst male bystanders.  If you don’t aggressively (read: violently) disprove it, her gender be damned, you’re seen as allowing the taunter to get away with it.  This is as good as saying it’s true that you’re gay.

Gayness is seen as letting others wield power over you (by calling you gay, for example); the idea of being dominated this way has sexual connotations I won’t go into.  Femininity is framed as weakness before others’ insults, which carries the same connotations as gayness is thought to.  The only way a man can shift being feminised (or made gay) off of himself at that point is by feminising others back.  Ergo, violence.

Verbal bullying is more complex than that, of course: the accused is belittled simply in being put on the defensive because he’s likely to become defensive.  The defensiveness is self-evident weakness, making this an instantaneous vicious cycle — a perfect political trap.  The insulted is caught off-guard and already on the back-foot.  Without violence, denialism arouses suspicion amongst bystanders until it’s vindicated through violence.

Is there a choice, besides violence?  Yes, there are two.  One can enter a spiral of helplessness and shame leading to suicide.  Bottled frustration corrodes and putrefies from within.  The other choice takes, not so much inner strength as it does patience; so much so I’m convinced it comes from a higher power.

For after the antidepressants, psychotherapists and good friends have held you back from the pit, and pulled you back again when the depersonalisation, the dissociation and the disjointedness become part of your being, or non-being, this self-exile coming from being convinced your body’s impulses are so much more evil than “normal” teenagers’ that though they still get to date, have first kisses and Matric Dances, you don’t, can’t and shouldn’t.  It all starts blending into the same muffled, colourless procession of events happening on the other side of a kilometre-thick glass separating you from anything and anyone else.

And all you can really do from there is map out the socio-political terrain that produced the teenage quadrilemma of bully/be bullied/kill/be killed.  You calmly, clinically do a post-mortem of who you used to be, the imaginary being who was willed out of existence by years of self-hate, and share the reports as opinion articles for others to read and scrutinise.  You bisect yourself, and invite others to take a look, all the while wondering whether they can really hear you since you’re having some sort of permanent out-of-body experience.

You tell them that the Donald Trump who asserts his masculinity by threatening to bomb everyone is no different from the Donald Trump who brags about molesting women, is no different from the Trump who disparages gay and transgender rights after flip-flopping on them.  The Jacob Zuma who asserts his masculinity through tribalistic othering is not an innocent bystander from the Jacob Zuma who showers after possibly non-consensual sex (otherwise known as rape) with his friend’s daughter, and that this Zuma is not surprised at another Zuma, alien to himself, who goes off-script with gay rights.

Still, the society that made “gay” a slur trusts individuals whose modus operandi is domination to willingly hand over their tax returns and account for their homestead upgrades; it trusts them to do the “honourable thing”.  And you know, you wonder if you’re changing anything or if your sense of disconnectedness derives from society’s paralysis; if your trauma is an expression of theirs.  Except you know about it, and they don’t.

The ANC makes room for Manana’s and Zuma’s behaviour.  If its MPs vote against Zuma in today’s motion of no confidence, it won’t be because of the party’s commitment to respecting the Constitutional Court’s say-so on their parliamentary oath.  Likewise, if the ANC finally caught up on Nkandla, it wasn’t because it respected the Public Protector’s constitutional mandate.  If it’s horrified by State Capture it isn’t because it respects the Constitution’s view of South Africa as a sovereign state whose integrity must be upheld by its office bearers.  If the ANC seemingly champions gay or women’s rights, it isn’t because its president or its deputy ministers fundamentally believe in these causes.  Come to think of it, the ANC doesn’t seem to believe much in the supremacy of the Constitution or the inviolability of human rights.

“When someone shows you who they are,” Dr. Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.”  When we hear of people in the ANC behaving as Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana did, we should certainly be shocked and outraged; we should do everything we can to shield their victims from further harm.

But be surprised?  If we’re still surprised, then the emotional putridness has corroded and decayed the last bit of sense from within us.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Please follow and retweet: @SKhumalo1987

Book loading, catch it mid-April 2018

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#KeeganHirst Is Still The Hero – And Why That’s A Problem

“Rugby League Player Keegan Hirst – First British Professional To Openly Say He Is Gay,” the news headlines say.  They talk of the outpouring of support he’s been getting.  He tells of his past denial regarding his sexuality.  “I had a wife and kids.  I’ve been a builder, doorman, worked in factories – I play rugby.  I tick every macho box.  How could I be gay?  I’m from Batley for goodness sake.  No one is gay in Batley.”

Now I don’t want to be that guy who takes anything from Keegan Hirst’s coming out story, or from him.  His achievements are remarkable.  No doubt he is a wonderful person.  Whatever this moment means to him, it is his moment.  He doesn’t need my or anyone else’s permission to do that.  And of course, he’s in the UK and hasn’t got a clue that this piece is being written.

But I’ve run out of credit to give to these big athletes coming out.

When the straight-acting, white, beautiful white male rugby player comes out, what actually changes?  We’re still celebrating the fact that his world has not disclaimed him.  He’s still the hero on that world’s terms.  So what’s changed is that the matrices of dominance – male hegemonies and the bro code – have expanded to include gay people who, in essence, don’t look or act different from everyone else, and therefore don’t disturb the equilibrium.  The most importants part of the package he represents as a brand have not changed.

He is still the promise of physical prowess and machismo and coolness.  Nobody actually has to see what he does in his bedroom anyway, so the “important” bits are still there.

What changed in Uganda when Keegan Hirst came out?  Did something improve in the situation of the township lesbian in South Africa who has been brave enough to live her life as authentically as she could from the start despite the overwhelming risk?  Why did Duduzile Zozo have to die for me to find out who she was?

How can I share and celebrate the coming-out story of a highly-paid athlete who has sacrificed – what? a shot at one endorsement but the greater prospect of that other one instead now that there’s a story to sell? only he and God and those close to him know what he has sacrificed – when all it is, is us convincing the same power-brokers and gate-keepers that the brand, the surface appearance, the thing that people like and buy into and find familiar, can accommodate a homosexual orientation?

How is that bringing about fundamental change in a world that is desperate for more than just a cosmetic face-lift?

What are we trying to do as consciousness-raisers?  Convince the same people within the same structures that we’re just like them, or critique their structures completely?

Another example.  I’m tired of hearing people say, “Wow, I like this new Pope.”  Why do we want the Pope to have an epiphany about gay people when we should want for gay people to have an epiphany about themselves and stop trying to get that system, that establishment, that institution, to “accept” them?  The question shouldn’t be whether that establishment can accept gay people.  The question should be – how in God’s name can gay people forgive and accept these establishments.  This Stockholm Syndrome business has got to end.  This sucking up business, this thing of believing the Oppressor’s narrative about his superiority or the order, the security and the stability of the world he’s selling, has got to come to an end.  It is  religious establishments that need diversity and gay people, not the other way around.

So I ask you again: what changed for the sensitive, artistic gay kid who is being bullied in school?  He won’t be called “faggot” but the underlying attitude will still be there.  The words change.  The intent behind them doesn’t because all that’s happened is that “faggot” got shifted from the “insults” column to the “we don’t call people that anymore because some macho rugby players are gay” column.  That’s what political correctness will do.  But the underlying contempt for difference and femininity and vulnerability is still there, fundamentally undisturbed.  I can’t, in good conscience, play along any longer.

So congratulations, Mr Keegan Hirst.  Whatever this moment means to you, take it in and relish it.  You don’t need my or anyone else’s permission to do that.  You have every right to be proud of yourself, and the people around you have a right to be proud of you.

But you could be the among the last sports’ stars to be celebrated for coming out.  It’s achievement that’s been done to death – and I do mean to death – by heroes whose names will never make as many news headlines.  Their stories were just not as glamorous, I guess.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

About That Sowetan News Headline: What’s Wrong With Being Called A Woman?

Yesterday Facebook went crazy over a Sowetan headline that read, “Gays Can Join ANC Women’s League” because what the paper really meant was that transgendered women can join the ANCWL.

If we’re talking technicalities, the headline was wrong; if we’re speaking colloquialisms, maybe a few years ago the word “gay” would have been a fitting catch-all for all sorts of gender non-conforming types of people. Should the headline have provoked the outrage it did? I don’t know.

I believe that once upon a time, faced by a mob of homophobic thugs with baseball bats, some gay guys defended themselves by saying, “We are not the women impersonators/fraudsters you’re looking for! No! We are just men who love men in private. We are harmless. We do not confuse little children about gender identity. We are men. We can do man things. We can fight in wars and play sports. The people you’re looking for (who we are now distancing ourselves from) are technically called…”

Thus were born the letters LGBTIQ+ in man’s attempt to identify and box every deviance from heteroexpectancy. Separated by the hills we chose to die on (because we were dying) the masculine/straight-acting gay guys ran one way, denying any connection whatsoever with the feminine/flamboyant/obviously gay guys running the other way. And to avoid the embarrassment of not acknowledging the balance of the lot, we hastily stuck the label “transgendered” on anyone who felt that his biological sex was different from his gender identity. But we still pretended that there don’t exist gay (and straight!) men who embrace their feminine side but do not, for whatever reason, experience many of the internal struggles typical to transgendered persons.

We tried to capture Job’s whirlwind in a teacup.

What if we protect and distinguish these labels because we are afraid? Out of one side of our mouths we preach that sexual orientation, sex and gender exist on continuums; out of the other side we lash out at the implications, terrified when a label used to identify one landmark on that spectrum is used instead of a more accurate technical term. Isn’t it all part of the same humanscape?

We lash out not in the interest of preserving scientific accuracy but because whatever we have set ourselves up as is under threat and the perception management is not working. When someone calls you something other than what you would call yourself, he is telling you what he understands you to be. And people will see you as what they see you no matter how hard you’d want them to see you another way. Here is the reality: whoever created that headline has been not been exposed to the technical knowledge we have agreed upon about LGBTIs (for that knowledge did not fall from the sky but was artificially manufactured in laboratories and lecture halls) but that person has been exposed to enough feminine gay women, and myths about them, that to him, rightly or not, “gay” is synonymous with “transgender woman.”

Are we not just afraid, maybe? Shoring up a masculine identity that has been a “get out of jail free” card, so to speak, through most of our lives? The more masculine you are, the less suspicious everyone else is about you? Of course the headline was wrong. But if you are unsure about your particular constellation of gender, sex and sexual orientation, it comes as a relief, I imagine, that some social scientist is saying, “No; gay men are not women at all.” So your doubt is just paranoia, and the person who dares say that there is something very woman about (some) gay men, is just ignorant. Isn’t that a relief? You never have to face the issue because it is that other person that is ignorant, not you who is anxious.

A gay friend of mine seemed to agree with some of these observations. “It is necessary that we overreact to some of these errors,” he said. Surprised, I asked why. “Well, after the hell we have endured from them (heteronormative society?), we must, must draw lines in the sand.” He used Zizipho Pae as an example of necessary overreaction and outrage. “They made their beds. They have to lie in them.” We cannot afford to let such remarks slide. In an ideal society you could find out how someone truly feels about you without feeling threatened; in our society, the more we allow prejudiced opinions free reign, the more likely they are to lead to violence.

He went on to explain that while it is tacitly understood that a gay man may be feminine relative to his partner, we do not, ever, tolerate the question, “So which one of you is the man and which the woman?” We do not just reject the question because it conflates gender identity with sexual orientation, or because it denies our identity as men, or because of any disinterested or technical reason like that. Rather, at the, er, bottom of our rage (for the issue is not academic but truly visceral) is The Fear Of Being Called A Woman (TFOBCAW).

Because there is nothing worse that you can call a man in our society.

Let that sink in.

Woman. Weakness. Receptivity. Vulnerability. Powerlessness. Dependence. Being blamed for the ills of society. Seen as trying to be pretty or using one’s looks. Asserting individual rights but not having the balls to back it up. That is what comes to mind to many, whatever we say to fill the white noise through August.

I dare gay guys to tell me they’re so secure in their masculinity that I am talking nonsense, that they simply respect the essential, God-given differences between men and women. Because I have no doubt that many will give me this reasoned response instead of admitting that part of the reason so many of us got upset was TFOBCAW.

Gentlemen, gay and straight, I do not think we have a right to defend our masculinity for any reason, however lofty, if doing so affords us an opportunity to turn aside from the reality that in our society, many suffer from TFOBCAW. That is misogyny, and it is a far worse problem than being mistaken for women.

Let me explain it another way. A straight celebrity is rumoured to be gay. How would we want him to react? If he strongly affirms and defends his heterosexuality, is he in fact saying there is something wrong with being perceived to be gay? Sure, he could be setting the record straight (pun intended) for the sake of setting the record straight. But let us not be naïve: many straight men feel they have a lot to lose from being seen as something other than completely straight. People of certain races feel there would be something to lose if they were thought to be members of another race. And so on. Is the humanity of “the other” not dignifying enough? Must we preserve the distinction in the details as well? Apparently so.

By all means, ladies and gentlemen, stay up to date with the latest glossary of terms by which people are calling themselves and one another. But we should use labels as a guide and not as the Gospel truth. Don’t believe everything you read.

My friend would not relent though. “When you move,” he said, “You must pack things in boxes and label those boxes to avoid confusion.”

I replied, “I’m not moving anywhere. We’re here, we’re queer (whatever that means) and we’re not going anywhere. My boxes are unpacked. Everything of me is in the open, not in a box. This is my world, too. I have every right to make myself at home in it.”

Regardless of whether a journalist somewhere thinks “gay” is the same thing as “transgendered woman.” The thugs with the baseball bats are now the defeated minority, I would hope.

Or am I just idealistic?

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

Church And Kids: 18 Reasons Why Not

Ecclesia de Lange’s experience as a lesbian minister who was fired from the Methodist Church after her engagement announcement will make its way to the Constitutional Court where we will test the relationship between church and state.

But many have argued that churches are voluntary membership associations; as such, they do not have to be constitutional at all points. They can have their own rules. Within reason.

But if that’s so, then shouldn’t people have to be 18 years old before they are allowed to attend church sermons or homilies?

Shouldn’t churches that do admit minors adhere to publicly-known broadcasting and pedagogical standards?

I really would like to know: what has the State put in place to regulate the influence that churches and other religious institutions have over children? I am happy to admit ignorance but if any measures do exist, then their effectiveness must be limited because from what I see and hear, children are still present in church audiences where the sermon material is not entirely suitable for people of all ages.

This is something I have written to the Human Rights Commission about (giving its local office many headaches) – churches’ unmitigated influence over vast portions of society, as well as the absence of any aggressive public push to regulate what children are exposed to in churches.

Are children able to consent to having this influence exerted over their impressionable minds? Dare we believe that their sponge-like minds do not absorb everything they see and hear? Some churches have the good sense to send children off to kid’s church when preaching starts. Some preachers ensure their messages are age-sensitive. But I imagine that many don’t; they simply steamroll through the message with little or no thought about the smaller ears in the audience. The number of churches this happens in might not be great, but I imagine it is significant; we cannot rely on complainants to highlight issues before we take action. We must be pro-active and ask for the upfront regulation of the church’s influence on the public, I believe.

If courts cannot force churches to behave constitutionally, then to whatever degree churches refuse to play along with the Bill of Rights, to that degree sermons, homilies and the like should not be broadcast to minors.

True, nobody should have his freedom of speech, religion or conscience curtailed. But neither should minors suffer any form of harm as a result of another person’s spiritual beliefs. Minors are suffering even if the damage is not apparent.

My Testimony 
When I heard my first anti-gay sermon, my vocabulary and sexual awareness had not advanced to the point that the term “sodomite” should have made sense, or, for that matter, have meant something significant to me. But that does not mean I should have been exposed to an atmosphere where such vitriol could be stirred up and revelled in on account of people’s sexual preferences and choices; that left an impression. And I believe I was one of the lucky ones.

Nothing but rape and other forms of coercive, abusive and otherwise deceitful (but still blatantly hurtful) sexual choices should provoke even a fraction of that sheer congregational outrage or the self-righteous chorus of Amens. Peer pressure, crowd psychology and the impressionability of young minds form an intoxicating cocktail of influences that in turn shape young minds towards prejudices and attitudes they otherwise may not have picked up and clung to.

Nobody should be in a position to instil the idea in a young mind that to fit in with those who “know best” and hold the power to include and exclude, he has to absorb and perpetuate the same prejudices. But many are in such positions, and worshiped and admired as they are, they and their teachings are beyond question, beyond reproach.

So while I applaud the Constitution for protecting adults’ right to believe whatever they want and sign up for whatever private clubs they want to sign up for, eating and drinking snakes, rats petrol and fire as they wish, I have to ask: who is protecting the children from the adults’ choices? Are kids driven out when “exorcisms” (otherwise known as beat-downs) are conducted? My mother told me about one in Umlazi J section, I think it was, where the exorcist managed to pull out a child’s entrails in a bid to cast out demons. It may be an anecdotal account, but it is still indicative of a disturbing trend. There is a real danger here; I see striking parallels with ritual circumcision but that is a whole other can of, er, worms.

Real or not, the child in this instance died. But do these preachers even say, “Kids, don’t try this at home!” before doing the holy work of God? Or do they rely on the Holy Ghost to clean up after them?

Hellfire And Brimstone Sermons Are Not Suitable For Young And Sensitive Audiences

Does there exist a being with the power to send vast numbers of people to an everlasting hell? Perhaps. Probably. But there is no good reason to introduce the imagery of it to young, fertile imaginations.

The doctrine of hell is mentally violent. It is intended to scare people into obedience, and often it accomplishes that goal. But more so than adults, children’s understanding of personhood is limited. The idea that some people should be cast into hell can undermine the foundation of the understanding of personhood, which, in turn, will undermine children’s ability to grasp the ethos of the Bill of Rights. We do not (or should not) torture criminals. But according to the doctrine of hell, the God of the bible subjects his criminals to everlasting torment. The State images benevolence as non-violence; God, however, vindicates his benevolence by threatening its alternative, and that is supreme, absolute violence. Are children able to cope with this dissonance? I doubt it.

Piousness is not necessarily a constitutional value. Don’t children living in a constitutional democracy have a right to learn more constitutional ideas before being exposed to the idea of hell (or, for that matter, many biblical motifs)? It is traumatising and dehumanising to learn such a potent idea at such a young age, much like being exposed to a no-holds-barred talk about sex when you are just seven years old.

None of this actually has to do with whether these beliefs are true or ethical; the point I am stressing is that there is nothing to be gained from exposing children to these concepts that cannot be gained by other, better-thought through means. The fact that we have not, generally speaking, really discussed alternatives (as members of churches or as citizens of the State or both) is a sign of our collective lethargy when it comes to constitutionalism.

Sexual Orientation And Religious Homophobia   

The Constitutional Court will hear the story of Ecclesia de Lange. But maybe it is an opportunity for us to also discuss children and other vulnerable people in the cross-hairs of religious discrimination. There is nothing to be gained from exposing children to sermons teaching that some kinds of boys, girls, men and women are more deserving of hell because the popular prejudice of the day says so. History tells of great religious trauma over the centuries. This is to say nothing about immersing children in normalised sexism passing itself off as orthodoxy. That is what many children are exposed to, is it not?

My formative years were spent under the fiery preaching of a Charismatic-Pentecostal church whose homophobic head pastor infamously raped a slew of high school boys. Whoever wants to go deal with that kind of twisted, toxic, hypocritical, repressive shit has my blessing and the constitutional right to sign up for it.

But for Christ’s sake – and I do mean for Christ’s sake – suffer the children to be kept out of it: not for such is what masquerades as the kingdom of heaven.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com 

The Crucial Queering Of Women’s Month

If you’re straight, there’s a great likelihood you’ve only read this far because your eyes took in more than just the title that may have otherwise put you off.

Queer things are, you might believe, for and about queer people who queerly go on and on about how marginalized and victimized they are. And on some level you might want to say “Boohoo” but it’s not PC since we’ve all suddenly woken up to tolerance and non-discrimination and all this namby-pamby inclusivity stuff.

Well, I am very pleased to tell you that “they” and “us” is an illusion. If all the oxygen on this planet evaporated out of our atmosphere, the disaster wouldn’t befall just “us” and leave “them.” We would all be in trouble.

A queer perspective on society is on exactly the same group of people that comprises and holds together them and us. It’s about stuff that’s happening in your backyard.

What we call “corrective rape” makes it way in and out of public discourse whenever the media highlights a particularly gruesome case. Wow. They raped her because she was lesbian. That’s awful. Then we move on, as we feel we can, because it only affected that isolated group of people there, namely, women who have sexual and romantic relationships with other women.

If August is to be Women’s Month in any meaningful way, we, and not just some government departments, need to talk, as society, about why corrective rape happens. On National Women’s Day, we commemorate the march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in 1956 to petition against pass laws. After we observe that day, scores of women will continue in relationships with scores of men who, at one fight or break-up, will circulate naked pictures of their bodies on social media, or beat them – or worse.

And the people who knew them will take sides and say things like, “He is such a reasonable boyfriend and has given her everything a woman could have asked for, so she must have done something to bring this on herself.”

We do not say it in so many words. But we think it. 

The scandal with our society is that as a collective, we have decided we would rather have a woman in an abusive relationship with a man who still has work to do on his character, than have her in no relationship or in a same-sex relationship.

That’s why “corrective” rape happens: women’s rights over their bodies are contested all the way beyond even the boundaries of heterosexuality. Women belong to men: she may choose which man she belongs to – see? she has rights! – but she cannot choose not to belong to one if, as a visual and sexual commodity, she is deemed desirable enough.

The prettier and more desirable women are as potential trophy wife material, the less capable they must be of, well, doing anything on their own, right? Good femininity is prettiness, and prettiness is objectifiability. Every woman belongs to a man and it is each man’s responsibility to protect the woman who belongs to him. The prettier she is, the more of a man he must be. And this all gives him near-total power over her body. Yay.

We call it corrective rape because the norm, the default, is a woman who has no rights except in and through that man. And when she assumes any right, any self-determination outside of a relationship with that man who is to be her protection and her “head,” she is corrected. 

We call it corrective rape because it reveals the true status quo. Everything else (including Women’s Month) is a holiday from the way things really are.

That’s my queer perspective on Woman’s Month.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com  

If We’re Serious About Women’s Month, We Will Seriously Legalize Polyandry

Some say two’s company and three’s a crowd. Others reckon, the more the merrier.

For some people I know within the Zulu culture I am (supposedly a very treacherous) member of, having more than one wife signifies the ability to establish and maintain large or multiple households, which, in turn, gives you social kudos and say-so among fellow male household heads in society. Because you’re responsible for more of society’s growth and sustenance.

It’s not purely about one-upmanship, but it is an opportunity to display raw virility and capability. Whichever way you spin it, the number of female spouses, kids, cattle, etc. is seen as directly proportional to a man’s power, and therefore, rights.

This is why, for example, a certain high-ranking government employee in a polygamous marriage is willing to all but break the public bank to keep the pomp and shine of that living arrangement. And it is why vast numbers of his worshipers are willing to sacrifice almost anything to his network of patronage and friends. For his is the power, the honour, dominion, glory and praise, forever and ever, amen.

As a real Zulu man he has single-handedly populated a sizable part of our Zulu nation, rescuing it from oblivion, insignificance and erasure among the other black tribes and, for that matter, other races.

So we owe himhe does not owe us for the cost of this exercise or for Nkaaaaaaandla. So much for #PayBackTheMoney

I digress.

As a country, we legally recognize polygamous (technically, polygynious, “to many women”) marriages but not polyandrous (“to many men”) marriages. When asked why polygamous relationships are recognized, the experts I’ve spoken to cited people’s right to self-determination. If many women want to marry one man and vice-versa, our Constitution makes provision for the choice.

But when asked why polyandry isn’t recognized on the same grounds, they quickly change the reason we recognize polygamy in the first place. Then it becomes the recognition of indigenous customs and customary marriage. The Constitution of South Africa prioritizes the protection of indigenous cultures because colonialism and apartheid disparaged the heritage of indigenous people-groups; in fact, some people do even now, unable to distinguish between critiquing a culture and outright dissing it.

And that’s the problem: many people think the constitution’s protecting a culture from disparagement is the same as protecting it from examination. And while this assumption props up the enchanting mystique and impenetrability of the “it’s our culture” trope, the reason is circumstantial without on-going relevance at best, and a generous allowance we’ve made for traditionalism at worst. In our constitutional democracy, nothing should fall beneath the realization of the Bill of Rights. Not even the culture that my proud, wise ancestors handed down to me as a Zulu man, nor, for that matter, the President’s right to practice it beyond the reasonable boundaries of public need and safety.

As for that much-lauded commodity consent (“But these women have agreed to marry the one man”) I think we owe it to one another and ourselves not to always accept a person’s consent at face value but to try to see whether it was in any way coerced, if not by people, then by circumstance. And to resolve those circumstances.

In other words, if I am reading my Bill of Rights correctly, we ought to work for the maximal empowerment and emancipation of each and every individual in our country.

The most loving thing societies can do for their girls and women is instil a culture-based sense of identity in them as women.

The most loving thing I can do as feminist is withhold my rage against that understanding of love.

Do you see the conflict?

Self-determination in its fullest sense is only real when a person has been exposed to and empowered to pick from many prospective ways of being in the world.

An empowered, educated woman may legitimately choose marry a man with many other wives. This is hypothetically possible.

But she should just as easily be able choose to have more than one husband herself. For that is also hypothetically possible.

that thing about all persons being equal before the Law of the Land, yes?

Your thoughts?

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com 

White Atheism: The Individual’s Denial Of Invisible Ideas

In the last 24 hours I found myself (once again) in a Facebook post-thread-reply orgy. At one point, a scary-smart straight white guy asked me to define “white privilege” for him “and then apply it to the following rant: 

“What of white-privilege – that fine institution that welcomes other people’s bigoted opinions without violent retaliation (think Islam & Communism), ended slavery (which still exists in Africa and Asia), doesn’t behead or necklace gay people (still happening in Africa), and is the only culture that will censor and admonish its own members publicly ([himself]) – must I pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative? Or should I stay here and use it to empower as many people as I can influence?”

I offered to derive a definition of white privilege from his rant instead of creating a definition and then applying it to his rant: 

“White privilege is the ability to identify with the actions of the skin-pigment group to which biology assigned you only insofar as it’s convenient, believing that the world will overlook this selective individualism since whiteness (being strongly represented in media and in corporate in its infinite, nuanced human complexity) is the unsuspicious, trusted default. For this reason, white people are often thought of and treated as individuals while everyone else is thought of more often as part of a group. 

 “That privilege, which you wouldn’t see as such because it’s only right that you be treated as an individual, allows you to cherry-pick the best of which your immediate racial compatriots have done in the deceptively recent past, hold that up as representative of whiteness in general, then ask me to apply an alien definition of white privilege that won’t match up to the picture of whiteness that white privilege has allowed you to put up anyway. Then I look like an idiot trying. I might be wrong and it might be due to our own social failing as black people, but from where I stand, most white okes have the luxury of more interior, #DawsonsCreek type struggles, which come with having been afforded more room and education to define and assert your individuality. I envy that.”

I also said,

“What gives you away is the paternalism (which bordered on but didn’t cross over into a patronizing tone) when you ask whether you should ‘pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative.’ So you admit that you have the option of global mobility, to an extent, and it is by sheer graciousness that you deign to stick around where you are accused of being the bad guy by virtue of your skin, and try to show people that you are an individual white guy who isn’t as bad as some groups of white guys have been. You’re typing this from the United States where a great number of black men have a relationship with the police force that is precisely the opposite of that privilege: they cannot just pack up and go though many probably wish, desperately wish, that they could. Just to feel safe in the black skins that get them accused of being the bad guy.”

 Parts of my response were inspired by American John Metta’s I, Racist, where he explains that 

“Black people think in terms of we because we live in a society where the social and political structures interact with us as Black people. White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are ‘you,’ I am ‘one of them.’ Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it. What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that ‘people in The North are racist’ is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a Black person says ‘Racism still exists. It is real,’ and a white person argues ‘You’re wrong, I’m not racist at all. I don’t even see any racism’.”

He also says,

“Even the fact that America has a growing number of violent hate groups, populated mostly by white men, and that nearly all serial killers are white men cannot shadow the fundamental truth of white male goodness. In fact, we like White serial killers so much, we make mini-series about them.”

 He describes black people’s relationship with the system by saying they are “systematically challenged in a thousand small ways that actually made it easier for you to succeed in life.”

“Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”

 It is often argued that it is black people who keep racism alive. This argument is often made by people who can afford to individualate from the group they come from, its past, its guilts and its issues. But not its privileges, for it is by those privileges that they afford real estate at a respectable distance from everything negative about the group. 

We all owe a debt to whiteness for inventing (or discovering) the precious but high-maintenance commodity that is the individual in all of his infinite, nuanced complex humanity. When my Facebook friend identifies white privilege as “that fine institution that welcomes other people’s bigoted opinions without violent retaliation….doesn’t behead or necklace gay people (still happening in Africa), and is the only culture that will censor and admonish its own members publicly” and whose individuals have the right to “pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative” as well as the option to “stay here and use it to empower…many people,” he is admitting that it is whiteness that invented, refined, perfected and redeemed the individual from the mire of historic group guilt and, by extension, individual complicity. 

But what he and many white people cannot admit is that to do so, whiteness required resources, time and sweat, which it took from non-white people-groups at those points in history when whiteness had perfected the exploitation of non-white bodies within those groups before turning around, calling such exploitation uncivilized and pointing out how it still happens “in Africa.” 

If we cannot call this the hypocrisy that it is, it is because the greatest gift whiteness afforded its children was a clear conscience through a liberal education and upbringing; as individuals, they never have and never would have done what some of their ancestors and other white people have done. It is not polite to ask how this gift of moral white whiteness was bought because those kinds of conversations have separated white abolitionist from white church, white integrationist from white separatist, white father from white son and white brother from white brother. So it is that the denial of even whiteness as a construct has this alibi: white people have not agreed on what to do with the other races for long enough, they argue, that they should not even be viewed as a group.

This is why the Western emergence of the individual is viewed with suspicion by other people-groups: white people have not, as a group, admitted that they could only navel-gaze upon and develop the inviolable individual with his human rights (i.e. humanism) while slaves of colour were doing all the manual labour out of sight in those distant colonies. When I talk of human rights to black people, I am speaking in the language of the Oppressor who has denied that he is such.

When today individuals in the West deny the bulk and consequences of past group exploitation perpetrated by ancestral groups from which they have unhinged with a change of mind but not a questioning or disinheritance of privilege, they can’t expect to be taken seriously when they advocate for human (women’s and gay) rights. The about-turn is not accepted at face value by African and Asian countries: it is regarded as another step in another conspiracy to destabilize non-western people-groups and tribes, or at the least dictate a new ethic to them in the implementation of a moral neo-colonialism.

White privilege is the freedom to deny that constructs exist because once you have the resources and mobility to opt in and out of the group, its guilts and its prejudices, you have no reason to admit that constructs have been constructed, let alone that you have unduly benefited from them. White privilege is the gift of not knowing about white privilege whilst benefiting from it.

A few months ago I told leaders at the church I was affiliated with that I was going to come out and get vocal about homophobia. The pastors graciously offered to formulate a church stance in relation to my decision, if I could convince them theologically that embracing openly gay people and offering them the sacrament of marriage was the right thing to do. In the end, I think what stopped them from accepting the scriptural hypothesis I offered them was who they were: as a group of white individuals, they were unwitting deniers of constructs even while they used their more sanitized permutations to hold their group together.

While they alleviate the effects of practical suffering, I have not heard them preach consistently, cohesively and deeply from a single lexicon be it that of feminism or Calvinism or Queer Theory or Arminianism. I believe they are scared to admit this world of invisible ideas exists and they have to pick one and all its ramifications; they deny the existence of invisible ideas even as they preach an invisible God.

They are sorry for homophobia but cannot denounce (or recognize) church heterosexism as a construct. They do not recognize constructs, at least not in their ugly totality. Their individuality and his innocence from group guilt is too precious a commodity to trade in for the sickening truth of how their individuality was afforded and removed from the constructed world and its connection to slaves that constructed it in the concrete while philosophers were deconstructing it in the abstract, making the world “safe for democracy” and democratic individuals. They suffer from what has been called “white fragility” and I did not have the steel to break it to or for them.

To have white privilege is to be given from birth the tools needed to move through the world without having to reckon with the power of constructs. The final straw was the church’s good-hearted attempt to acclimatize me to a theology of “pure grace” that said that because of Jesus’ atonement for my sins, I was pure in God’s eyes. In not so many words, they said I was as good as straight. But when the blood of Jesus is used not only to redeem white individuals from the guilt of their fathers’ sin (from which individuals still unwittingly benefit today) but also transform gay black individuals with a chip on their shoulder into good-as-straight white-as-snow individuals, then there is no room to discuss the devastation caused by still-existing, persistent constructs, or, for that matter, the price paid for anyone’s ability to remain above the fray. Lambs remain silent as they are sent off for slaughter by the good intentions and white fragility of those entrusted with ministering to the hurt in the world. They put band aids on gunshot wounds. The Atonement they appropriated in their further distancing of the individual from their group’s guilt was also used to sterilize (in every sense) and separate me from my right to speak up about group suffering. There are no groups in Christ because Christianity is a matter of the individual heart.

The white church needs a God who can turn gay people straight even if it’s in their imagination or by legal fiction; such a God supports white Christians’ right to deny the construct and effects of heterosexism, the denial of non-straight bodies and blackness, along with the denial of all constructs and their effects. All I had to do was nod along. I did so while they were watching. And when they weren’t, with more pain than I could explain (but no surprise whatsoever) I turned and left them in the numbing hands of their out-of-touch God. 

I imagine the rise of gay visibility to mean the dwindling of heterosexist white congregations. For once whiteness parted ways with constructs and group accountability; once enslavement and colonialism went out of vogue and colonies had attained liberation, the white male Jesus also lost relevance to his white beneficiaries and pioneers. Christianity once bought colonialists the moral right to annex and enslave; today, it is a lukewarm, toothless faith system that neither denounces the entire package of constructs that allowed it to do this, nor repents to help build a better world based on the destabilization of sexist and racist constructs. Christianity exists now, in part, because the idea of God has been incubated by non-white groups who saved it from the humanistic de-grouping of white individuals. That, or the idea of God has ricocheted between the West and the rest of the world enough times and with enough tweaks to keep him (or her, or it, or them) tenable through one revival after another. But as more black people afford to become individuals, more of them will trash God altogether.

Until then, we have to make-do with “God,” that is, an invisible realm of constructs and indescribably powerful ideas that privileges (straight white male) persons while blinding them to their scope and extent of that privilege. We cannot as yet afford to adopt white atheism in relation to this God: like apartheid police or the boys in blue using black men as target practice, he is still out to get us. Whether we believe in him does not stop him from believing in us.

We cannot afford the luxury of white atheism.

This morning, I saw a post by author Gillian Schutte:

“Just to be clear I am of the opinion that the killing of Cecil the Lion and the killing of Black people is part of the same ‘phallocratic homophobic self-centred resource extraction murderous entitled white male settler bullshit’ syndrome. They do not care about the wild life, the ecosystems, the feminine and black lives. The only women that matter to them are patriarchy-servers contorted into barby bodies and high heels with the sole purpose of patting their phallic egos. The only good black to them is one who can be exploited oppressed bribed monetised deified and eaten. The only appealing land is land with resources that can be raped by them. The only interest in wild life is whether killing a majestic lion will make them feel something akin to being truly alive because they are dead with power. It is a form of sickly ego driven cannibalism and emptiness. They will destroy our world with their voracious vacuous idiocy. The police who do their bidding are there to serve this vampirish brutal class of pac men.

Having said all that why have over 1 million Americans signed a petition for a lion and ignored the deaths of so many fellow citizens. WHY? Because they are part of the same syndrome I have just described in that they willingly serve it. That is the syndrome I will rail against with all my might. They will not have my humanity and none of us should stay silent on the issue of the denigration and devaluation of black lives around the globe.”

I rest my case.

White Jesus v.s. Black South African Liberation Struggle Heroes

White Jesus v.s. Black South African Liberation Struggle Heroes

The genius of racism

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

Dear Black People In The U.S: Please Join Forces With The Gays

I’ve been observing the endless liberation struggle in the land of the free (ha!) with great interest, waiting for the day that black people realize the truth of the saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” 

It’s astounding: having raised preachers, orators, writers and all manners of excellent academics to highlight the plight of ethnic minorities in America, you, broadly speaking, have not realized that you and sexual minorities have the same problem and could join forces to tackle it. Good people, why are so many of you so slow to realize and speak up about this?

By “enemy,” of course, I don’t necessarily mean white individuals: I mean a pervasive system that “others” those who are not white, not male and not heterosexual – othering them often with fatal consequences – with your aid. To the degree that you allow homophobia, to that degree you are complicit. Your struggles have so many overlaps with the struggles of the LGBT community that I don’t understand how you and they have not become best friends. If you are black in America, homophobia and transphobia are not things you want to tolerate, let alone perpetuate. You cannot afford to.

“But homosexuality is against God!” many of you will say. That argument has been used against emancipation, desegregation and against everything black people have needed to enjoy full equality in the U.S. It’s the same argument dressed in the same pious hypocrisy and the same imitation of godliness.

Homosexuality will undermine black society, they say. Will it do that in the same sense that racists say full black  emancipation will undermine American society, or am I only imagining the one argument to be an echo of the other?

Black people and sexual minorities have faced the same kind of hatred, similar types of endangerment and have been viewed with the same disgust and mistrust. It’s all learned and it can be unlearned. A change in laws and national policies are not going to help; in fact their multiplication will antagonize and intimidate those who do not understand. You have to internalize and become the change you want to see.

The LGBT community can help amplify the voices of black people fighting for justice but you need to make it safe for them to come out. Many say the murders of black people at the hands of white policemen have been senseless. Well, so has much of the murderous hatred faced by the LGBT community. The gender, social and religious constructs you’ve used to shun LGBT people are part of the package of ideas that have been used to shun black people. It’s the same poison, copied-and-pasted, and many of you have embraced it wholeheartedly as Gospel Truth. Many of you have thusly embraced and agreed to your own genocide. If you have kept quiet about the struggles of the LGBT community, you have exacerbated your own, tacitly saying Yes to the violence against people of colour.

You will not see justice until the LGBT community sees justice. You must understand that the senseless, systemic hatred you’ve felt directed against you is the same that the LGBT community has been receiving; the complaints and rationalizations and excuses you’ve received from the beneficiaries of the system that privileges white people are the same complaints, rationalizations and excuses that the LGBT community has received from the beneficiaries of heterosexism. If same-sex love is the same love, then racism and homophobia are the same hatred. For God’s sake, denounce the evil.

The belief that creating room for LGBTs will somehow take from straight people is the same fear held by many white people in your country. You cannot afford to hold to it any longer.

Form more and bigger coalitions. Get deliberate about tackling the intersectionality of your struggles, and use one another’s struggles to corroborate what you’re saying. It’s leverage; use it. Vast numbers of white people won’t understand what you’re going on when you insist that you feel systematically trapped or endangered, unless and until gay people get an opportunity to explain the same oppression in terms of being a sexual minority. Then both your stories will be understood, and the system that oppresses both black and gay people will be illuminated from both sides to the visibility of all. You will unmask the system as a team.

In other words, your chains fall off when you loosen those that bind the ones you have kept chained until now. If you want The Other to transform revulsion to understanding, start with your own hearts if you have not.

The world is watching, and, for better or for worse, taking your country’s lead on many issues. Kindly see this responsibility for what it is, and step up to the plate.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

 

The Albatross Of Straight Male Privilege

This afternoon I made the mistake of entering a discussion on male privilege. Male privilege has been described as greater-than-normal exposure to a set of unearned social, economic, and political advantages on the basis of being male.

I believe the real requirement for receiving these privileges is not maleness but one’s relationship to and positioning with or within maleness. Gay men and transgendered women are not necessarily safe from victimization and exploitation by those who possess male privilege. They pay a price for being different; they may pay that price throughout their lives and with their lives.

image

Look at what men do because they are stupid and we don’t insure them.

(Straight) women can be commoditized by that patriarchy. To the degree that women can or would resist being subjugated, they are victims of patriarchy; to the degree that they freely welcome it and the rewards that come with partaking in the oppression of their own sex, to that degree the oppressed is also the oppressor. In other words, the universal victimhood of women is a truth that needs to escape its own gravity if it is to be grasped clearly. When they emasculate a men on misogynistic grounds or tolerate homophobia, women support heteropatriarchy. Erica Jong described women as “the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness.” I digress.

When I was young, I realized that there is a language to society (colloquially referred to as “social cues”) that escaped my awareness though it was expected that I would “get” its claims on me as a male. It was the tacit rhythms of boyhood that just didn’t stick in my mind.  Everyone assumes that maleness is the all-access ticket and backstage pass to male privilege. They do not realize that you first have to “get” its “language” and adhere to it. Being male is not enough.

For that, and not necessarily a penis, is the locus of male privilege. That’s what counts when you network and play golf and make small talk and nod at other men in the corridor. It’s an unspoken “Yes” to partaking in dominant masculinity; it’s a “Yes” to treating women like objects and trophies to crown men’s achievements in life; it’s a “Yes” to that strange blend of endless one-upmanship and solidarity among men. It is a “Yes” to not showing women that they are actually prey and targets and trophies and tokens in a game understandable only to the men playing it; it is a “Yes” to using chivalry and generosity and being a player or charmer or pick-up artist (or whatever they call it these days) as a respectable disguise for this game. Acting and passing straight is not enough: you have to “get” this. And I did not. This is an unspoken, body-language promise to remain invincible and stoic and impassive and close ranks; it is a promise to never cry, never show any emotion other than fear or anger, never flinch, never back down from a challenge and never question patriarchy. It’s a body-language commitment to never articulate these issues or make other men vulnerable by speaking about them. It is to never cast the shadow of doubt on the idols of patriarchy, tribalism and feudalism (if you are Zulu and Zwelithini and Zuma are your kings and fathers). I never got this, and other guys knew, instinctively, that I never got this. So, I was not, and could not ever be, “one of the boys.”

In other words, there is an agreement among penis-bearers to never expose the burdens and dynamics of being a penis-bearer, or expose other penis bearers to criticism and scrutiny on the basis of their being penis-bearers. Male privilege is a pact among men who “get” this language, this secret handshake. I think it is biological and instinctive. And I never got it.

And if you do not get this, and others can sense that you do not, you get ostracized, “othered,” excluded, bullied and so on. You are free to do yourself and other men a favour by committing suicide because your existence makes them uncomfortable and threatens to expose the whole deal. Of course, nobody talks out loud about why you’ve been left out because nobody talks about Fight Club, so those who don’t “get it” (such as women, who are not supposed to get it, who never have to get it, whose only role in this is to look pretty and stay in the kitchen) will never know why you have been othered. Wait, I lie. Some women do get it. My mother hired someone to help around the house. After seeing me for a split second, she privately said to my mother, “You know that your son will never bring home a makoti, right?” My mother fired her, of course, but that does not change what she saw, or that others will see it until the day I die.

And on some level everyone else in straight society “gets it”. Whenever someone sympathetically says of gay people, “Who would choose so much victimization and suffering?” what they are admitting, whether they realize it or not, is that there is a bro code among men that goes beyond its commitment to limiting all sexual affection to women and the control and possession of women; they are admitting that this unspoken bro code is the essence of male privilege, and they are admitting that gay men have been left out on the side-lines, some gay men more so than others. When gay people say, “I did not choose to be gay,” they may be stating a simple truth about themselves and their sexuality. But they may also be admitting that simple biological maleness was not sufficient for the acquisition of male privilege, and they now suffer. It takes biological maleness, plus heterosexuality, plus, plus, plus a lot of other tacit agreements with the hegemony, to actually benefit from male privilege.

Of course male privilege exists. I would know. I spent my whole sixth grade avoiding being further victimized by it by point-blank not going to school. Puberty was setting in, the differences were getting pronounced and magnified, I felt more vulnerable and exposed, the bullying was intensifying, and I just could not cope. I went through a slew of psycho-somatic illnesses and studied from home for years, literally only showing up for major tests and examns, before mustering up the courage to eventually get back into the fray and navigate it. My greatest achievement in school, I believe, was that I went to school. I pulled through because I learned to tolerate and navigate and block out abuse I cannot talk about. And I know that I am not the only person who has been through stuff like this. I do not normally talk about it, but the Facebook conversation compels me.

Whether you accept male privilege or not, it becomes an albatross, a cross, that you carry around for being male unless you are built to benefit form it. “You cannot be the victim of ____ (name a form of sexual or any other kind of violence coming from men or women,) because you’re a man.” When a woman violates my personal space in ways that would be frowned upon if roles were reversed, I am told, “You’re a guy, so you must feel very lucky that ____ is happening to you.” You are a guy, so you have three emotions, three modes of being: horny, angry and aggressive. You do not have the right to be more human than that. Suffering from an emotional trauma as debilitating or dehumanizing as can be? Pull yourself together. You are privileged, so your suffering is not real.

That’s why, when I stumbled across a Facebook thread touching on First For Women’s ads, I ranted off about their adverts. Most of their ads seem premised on a very simplistic (but not simple) idea: men enjoy risky and stupid behaviour; therefore, we will cater solely to women’s insurance needs. I see women lauded as the only other, and superior, way of being in the world. By exaggerating the dichotomy, the brand exacerbates it. Instead of questioning the idea of superiority on the basis of gender and fighting the status quo, the brand’s adverts simply take the status quo and flips it, giving women power (which is good) on an inversion, not an elimination, of the bases that patriarchy has given it to men all along. The status quo is not abolished; it is turned the other way which simply means the knife cuts me (and many like me) the other way. It still cuts, though this time the hand wielding it has nail polish, and the person, the common decency not to have a penis. It is a different language and a different hegemony, but it is still a language that upholds one hegemony over another. I do not apologize for abhorring the brand. Do not get me started on the women who actually buy into this because of this man-shaming or the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. That would be too small a thing to be angry about, and I am not that petty.

image

I have yet to see an ad by the gay-niched insurance companies sells its insurance products comparing them to straight people to the detriment of straight people. First For Women, on the other hand, has, with one exception, consistently made ads that have taken the worst fauxs men are known for, and projected them onto all maleness. No nuances and no exeptions: pure gender binary reinforcement and misandry, packaged as harmless advertising and therefore much more difficult to call out. You become the chronically angry screaming queer if you say anything. “Male privilege is the very capacity to be angry about this,” I was told. “We have a lot of room to be angry about so little.” I beg to differ. I replied, “Your critique overlooks those of us who are male and don’t want male privilege” – because it hurts and terrifies us, viscerally, every day. “That aversion to male privilege is not something we can opt in and out of: it’s the essence of who we are and the uphill struggle we’ve been involved in to be ourselves. The ‘lot of room’ is as much an effect of patriarchy as the trivializing of the ‘so little’ that you and many others do so glibly – knowing not what you do.”

This lots of room is actually a big stage with a massive audience, and you are called on to perform your masculinity. You have a penis; therefore, you have no excuse: you are supposed to tick all the boxes that the boys you are not one of have ticked by your age. If you say you are against the system that has privileged them, you are told you are lying because you have also benefited from the system. If you say you have been hurt by it, you are told that you have a lot of room to be angry about so little. If you use your voice to call out male privilege, you are reminded that you at least have a voice as a man to call out male privilege. Your critics forget that to speak about the system is to be marked for death by it, and that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Fact is, you were damned from birth. I know I was.

Shouldn’t she be just so grateful that she is not a man, because men are just so dumb? She should, and we are insuring her.

In the thread, someone commented, “Without changing the status quo, the only other way to ‘lose’ your male privilege is by dying. You don’t want it, but you have it.”

To which I responded, “Is that why gay kids are at a four times greater risk of committing suicide than their straight counterparts?”

It was an honest question. I would hope for an honest answer.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

Random Thoughts On The Vatican, The Irish Referendum And Child Molestation

Trigger alert – see title.

Now and then I draft a blog post I feel is too risky.  This was one of those posts.  I’m willing to do a face-plant on this, though, because as much as it will make me lose more credibility with some readers, it might empower someone, somewhere, in some way.  So here goes nothing.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin called the outcome of the Irish gay marriage referendum a “defeat for humanity.”  My Facebook friends pointed out that the Church’s complicity in various abuses – especially of children – has been a greater  “defeat for humanity” than the Irish constitution’s recognition of same-sex unions.

I think this disagreement is an opportunity to speak about the relationship between the church’s homophobia and its hideous track record with young boys.

Image And Narrative Management

From childhood, we internalize scripts that allow us to navigate the world and manage other people’s impact on us.  They also help us manage the way others perceive and experience us.

Society expects its boys grow into the heterosexual script.  When one of those boys is abused by an older male, his relatives may see the violation at one of three levels:

At the first level, one human being wronged a more vulnerable human being; the injury is not coloured by the genders and ages of the people involved.  That would say something about the society in which such an interpretation would arise.

At the second interpretation, an adult took advantage of a young child.  Age counts.  Gender does not.  That would say something about the society in which such an interpretation would arise.

At the third level, “one of those” homosexual paedophiles violated the forming heterosexual identity of an innocent, wholesome (read, straight) child of godly society.  At the third interpretation, gender counts more than anything else; the offense is all the more grievous because it is a homosexual offense.

What would that say about the kind society in which such an interpretation would arise?

I think that kind of society is a fertile soil for sexual abuses.

At this third level, the legendary homosexual pedophiles are recruiting and “we,” also known as “normal people,” must protect “our” churches, schools, communities and country from “them,” abnormal people.  If  “we” are African, then the homosexuals are Westerners that have imported  “their” depravity to undermine “our” norms.

At this interpretation, all homosexuals are adult male paedophiles: male, because female sexuality is meaningless unless complemented by male sexuality (so women have no right to refuse men sex because they are supporting cast at best and property at worst); adult, because children are too young to experience anything like a so-called sexual orientation without adult influence (so those teenage suicides must have all killed themselves because they hated what they had been recruited into and not because society unfairly discriminates against who they truly are); and paedophiles because a relationship between two men does not have a  “man” and a  “woman” so those perverts must try to emasculate little boys who would otherwise grow up to be wholesome (straight), assertive (dominant) men (not women or anything with traces of femininity).  So the third interpretation of sexual abuse manages to inject misogyny into situations that have no women in them.

At this third level, is believed that sexual abuse at a young age has the power to create homosexual desires by “confusing” the self-understanding of the developing heterosexual child; this is how gospel music star Donnie McClurkin and others explain their homosexuality.  McClurkin believes that theoretically, he could overcome his same-sex longings; the fact that the “homosexual imprinting” happened when he was so young and impressionable becomes his explanation as to why he is instead overcome by his longings in reality.

But I have a chicken-and-egg question: does sexual abuse “create” homosexual longings, or does the abuser target young boys because he intuits they are already questioning their sexuality?  Do not misunderstand me.  When a priest abuses his influence over a young boy, it is a violation of the victim’s mind, body and soul no matter what his sexual orientation is.  But in most instances, the effect of sexual abuse is less decisive and more nuanced in the formation of sexual orientation than heteroexpectant society wants to believe it is.  Sexual orientation is what it is from a very young age, and if sexual abusers did not exist we would imagine other causes of homosexuality other than nature; the nurture-not-nature side does not just rely on sexual abusers.

Sexual abuse does many things.  It opens a Pandora’s Box of forbidden curiosities which, I believe, were probably already there.  It distorts existing desires.  But it does not “create” new curiosities.

Case Scenario*

Imagine that over a series of interactions , a paedophile methodically builds up a conversational theme in his relationship with his target.  The theme of these conversations seems innocent on the surface.  But like an insider joke that is forced on the target to take him off guard each time it is brought up, the theme is actually a double entendre designed to gauge the his affinity to “alternative” meanings.

So to a third party, it would seem as though Father So-And-So strongly believes that Andrew would really enjoy bowling and has been trying to talk him into trying it.  Father So-And-So seems to believe it would develop Andrew’s character, focus and sportsmanship.  But Andrew seems resistant for some reason; he looks uneasy whenever Father Andrew brings up the topic as though Andrew senses something in his tone that no one else can.  It is a coded message specifically for Andrew, and given a room of people, Andrew alone would get it, and recoil.  It is not difficult to turn anything sexual, nor is it impossible, in a cloistered setting, to ensure over time that the target gets it.

The observing third party unknowingly chalks Andrew’s anxiety up to Andrew having a timid temperament that Father So-And-So is trying to help him overcome.  So the third party sympathetically makes a note to move out of Father S0-And-So’s way. 

This sounds improbable and far-fetched.  But so does paedophilia. 

As the abuser gets bolder, he also begins to close the physical gap between himself and his target more and more with each interaction.  One day, he plants suggestions into his victim’s mind as he normally does, and seeing the discomfort in his face, takes the extra step of “catching out” his “excitement” by literally grabbing him at the physical explanation for his facial discomfort.

Now he and Andrew know that Andrew’s face has been showing so much discomfort because the boy has understood a sexual subtext in Father So-And-So’s conversation.  And the fundamental reason he has understood the “alternative” meaning of Father So-And-So’s communication (coloured, as it were, by nuances, tonal inflections and facial expressions) about an otherwise innocuous topic is that the connotation has been resonating with him at a level deeper than the surface meaning of the conversation.  The priest has seen to it that it would.

At the mercy of his sexual predator, the prey is exposed, trapped and helpless; worst of all, and this is what the priest’s groped discovery implies, on some level he is curious to the point of arousal about where this is going.  His body has betrayed him.  But he really has no idea what the priest is up to.  Is Father going to launch into a condemning homily about the evils of Andrew’s sexuality?  If he yells “I knew your mind was twisting everything I said, you dirty, perverted child!  Get away from me!” or feigns some indignant expression of moral outrage, the groping would then be “explained” as his necessary “test” of Andrew’s moral state.  But Andrew suspects it would be naïve to believe that upfront; he would open himself up to further violation if he were so trusting, and even as a teenager he knows that.

If Andrew gambles on his hunch that this is harassment but turns out to be wrong, he would have horribly misunderstood the situation and offended a holy man of God; even asking for forgiveness after such a misunderstanding would be asking for too great a kindness; the priest would be within his rights to report Andrew to his parents, who would be scandalized, disgusted and disappointed.

If at any time he wants to retreat, the priest can pull up one of many personae (priest, friend, pillar of society) and make it continuous with his subsequent behavior.  So if Andrew reveals that he has been (mis)reading a sexual subtext into the priest’s communication and actions then he is at the disadvantage for revealing his pre-existing affinity with “alternate” meanings in innocent banter and actions.  Any step in any direction is a bigger gamble than Andrew can afford; the priest has him trapped and exposed, deliberately or not, behind a big, inscrutable wall of mystery.  Mystery.  Religion’s favourite word.

The victim’s script as an innocent child of God is in peril.  The young  believer’s felt obligation to remain pure towards God and society is used to bludgeon his presence of mind and narrow his range of responses.  Remember, if you’re sick and the doctor examines you in a certain area, you are the pervert if you get aroused; if you’re getting a massage and lose control, you’re sick and should be kept away from unsuspecting members of the public who are just trying to earn a decent living; if your priest senses that you are morally sick and you dare read into the beginnings of his “probings” more than is truly there, then not only do you prove your moral sickness but you blaspheme by implicating God in your wicked fantasies, disguised, as they are, as accusations that some sort of sexual advance is being performed by the priest when he is simply doing his duty as the moral physician who will go to any extreme to diagnose your spiritual sickness.  Even if that puts his reputation and purity in peril.  This may seem silly and improbable to some readers but in a book titled The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional, Reverend Charles P. Chiniquy (1809 – 1899) wrote that

“They make the people believe that the vow of perpetual chastity changes their nature, turns them into angels, and puts them above the common frailties of the fallen children of Adam.  Bravely, and with a brazen face, when they are interrogated on that subject, they say that they have special graces to remain pure and undefiled in the midst of the greatest dangers; that the Virgin Mary, to whom they are consecrated, is their powerful advocate to obtain from her Son that superhuman virtue of chastity; that what would be a cause of sure perdition to common men, is without peril and danger for a true Son of Mary; and, with amazing stupidity, the people consent to be duped, blinded, and deceived by those fooleries.”

Now, Father So-And-So goes in for the kill: “Andrew, I see now that you have a… problem.

“I have suspected that it was this way with you for some time now.

“By God’s grace I can help you solve this problem.

“We can keep this just between the two of us.  Nobody else has to know.”

With each sentence, the priest simultaneously propositions and confuses Andrew.  Andrew is not sure whether he is being offered salvation or something else.

“My son, God loves you and he wants your soul to be saved.  But nobody else has to know about your condition.  They would be devastated, no?”

The priest has the power to give absolution and save Andrew’s standing in society.  If he abuses that power, Andrew will be made to feel it was his fault for being worthless.  The priest has now graduated from a relationship with Andrew that is like the relationship doctors enjoy with patients and men in uniform with obedient members of the law-abiding public, to a relationship where he is effectively God.

But he has one power that not even God has: he can re-write history and scramble people’s memories.  So if he goes too far with all this doctoring and Andrew dares to tell, he can argue that the child must have misunderstood what was being done to him because Father So-And-So is a holy man of God who could never do the terrible thing Satan has whispered into the confused child’s mind.  And why wait until the child tells and destroys both his own and the priest’s reputation?  Why not plant the seed of doubt from the start of the abuse?  Victims can’t tell if they don’t believe their own stories.  Institutions don’t believe victim’s stories.

Abusers know that boys are very sexual creatures, that their sexuality is more fluid than they want it to be, and that they repress that fluidity when it doesn’t fit society’s heterosexist script.  By playing on what Andrew does not know and on his need to preserve his script, Father So-And-So makes him an unwitting accomplice in his own abuse.

Even if decades later Andrew goes back to confront the priest, the priest will say with impunity that he did not abuse Andrew.  Andrew imagined the whole thing.  Andrew is such a broken, twisted person in need of salvation.  Of absolution.

And just to twist the knife, he will say this with a sly lift of the brow.

*The usual disclaimers apply: it is not every priest, nor is it all religion, that abuses people.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

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Please contact me SKhumalo1987@gmail.com