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.


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.


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



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.

Please follow me @SKhumalo1987

Please contact me

Why The Fight For Gay Rights Is A Fight Against Dictatorships

When government has a say in how consenting adults may behave in the privacy of their bedrooms, it has too much power over its citizen’s choices.  Government’s job should be governing economies and policies and environments, not ruling people or policing morality.

But we see in Africa that when government officials can’t fulfil their promises, they turn to governing what isn’t theirs to govern.  These politicians divide and conquer; they put up scapegoats and play on myths and fears, recklessly endangering the most vulnerable and misunderstood people in society.

When they are asked to dispel the myths behind prejudices like homophobia – which would expose that they’d exploited those myths and prejudices for votes as well – these types of governments hide behind the excuse that the majority has no tolerance for same-sex relationships; therefore, the gays should perish as per the demand of the majority.

But where do we draw the line on the majority’s power?  If the majority can decide that a man should be burned to death for loving another man, then why can’t the majority also be called upon to decide, when a woman is raped for example, whether it was her fault for wearing clothes that indicated she “wanted it,” or whether her attire and make-up that day was that of a modest, “decent girl” who wasn’t out to provoke and tease male lust?  Why, for that matter, couldn’t the majority be called upon to decide whether all men should be castrated seeing as they cannot (and should not, it would seem)  help raping women who wear anything more revealing than a brick house?  Why are there never majorities convened on the issue of general male culpability where rape is concerned?  I digress.

How much power should the majority have over human experiences?  If a gay man’s right to say “Yes” to personal happiness is up for public discussion and may endanger his life and the life of his relatives, then we’re a step away from having a woman’s right to say to say “No” to personal violation also being up for public discussion.  People say that gay rights are a slippery slope to immorality.  But whatever they imagine immorality to be, it pales, pales in comparison to the very real violations currently perpetrated against very real people.

When the majority has the power to make sexual choices for adult citizens, then no individual has sexual autonomy or self-governance.  Majorities are groups of individuals that happen to be invincible at that moment because they’ve got numbers on their side.  In principle, that power is an illusion because, like the gay man and the rape survivor, not one of those individuals comprising that majority ultimately has the power of self-determination, and any of them can end up on the receiving end of the majority’s prejudice.  Power ultimately belongs to some shifting “majority”; depending on who and on whose altar he needs to sacrifice on that day, a politician will shift the power to decide to whichever group of individuals is least likely to see that they have no individual rights themselves, let alone the power of some supposed majority.  Their vulnerability is eclipsed by their immediate context in which they feel morally superior and enjoy the safety of numbers.  Straight-identified people don’t feel threatened by anti-gay laws, so they can be used by prejudiced politicians to decide quickly without thinking deeply.  If they knew what was at stake, they would know how dangerous (and dangerously false) that power is.  Because whatever majority the individuals comprising that majority think they’re part of, it’s a mirage that could and eventually does betray them.

When the South African government was asked why it didn’t condemn the anti-gay laws of other countries, the excuse given was that the other countries’ autonomy must be respected.  But we have just seen that when the majority can decide what happens in the privacy of an adult’s bedroom, then no individual truly has sexual autonomy or the power of self-governance; you can multiply those individuals into a so-called majority and stack them into a so-called government, but they have no more autonomy as a group with titles and offices than they did as individuals without titles and the offices.  In the absence of a noble social contract that protects the rights of each person, rulers use brute force for they too have no real power.  Hence, we have dictatorships thriving wherever individual human rights are not thriving.  Tell me how homophobic your environment is and I will tell you your political destiny.

If you tolerate an environment where it is not okay to be gay, you deserve everything such an environment brings with it and it can be hell on earth.

The fight for gay rights is a fight against dictatorships.  It is a fight for your freedom, no matter who you are or what you currently believe about gay people.

Thank you

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“Corrective” Rape

Hate Crimes, Black Lesbians And Townships

One of the slang words for vagina is the Zulu word for cow (“inkomo”) which is also used to indicate a token in a game.  It’s a transactional term that describes gains and losses, credits and debits.  “When my card showed Ace and the dice rolled that way, I gained izinkomo”.

That’s important to know because when men pay cows (again, izinkomo) to the bride’s father’s family for lobola, it could be said they symbolically “win” or “buy” the female nkomo.  People of pleasant temperaments will discuss this cultural* phenomena with more taste than others but it’s effectively still a transaction and women’s genitals are still men’s real estate.

I’ve asked women why the word for vaginal penetration (“ukuhlaba”) is also the word used when a cow is slaughtered during traditional ceremonies like weddings.  If you’re a girl and you walk down a township street the boys will probably say, loud enough for you to hear it, “Ngizoyihlaba leyangane” which means, “I will penetrate that child”.  I’ve also asked many women why they think the men gather gleefully to slaughter that sacrificial cow during that type of ceremony.  Do women know it’s believed that slaughtering a cow using a sharpened blade symbolizes manhood and courage, but using their bare hands to tear a bull (inkunzi) apart is thought to harness the ancestors’ power channelled through the death of the animal, and empower the men?  Men gain power and ancestral approval by first exercising power over other objects – over izinkomo and izinkunzi – and like Viagra, that power is expected not to “go to waste”.  It must be used on something.

Or someone.

And it is the “duty” of all female someones to avail themselves to a man each.

Without exception, the women I’ve asked these questions have slumped into resigned postures.  There is no other way that life could be, they reply.  It’s always been like this and it’s our identity as black people.

The words nkomo and ukuhlaba, as well as their corresponding ritual symbols of a “cow” being sacrificed, cross paths at the insistence that vaginal penetrability must accompany a woman’s sexuality, and that this sexuality must be exercised in accordance with the system we’ll call heteropatriarchy.

The system awaits the woman’s submission, as though she were a sacrificial animal, to the religion of heteropatriarchy.  In this religion, the husband’s phallus – the idol that is the liturgical “weapon”, the“spear” and “warhead” of conquest – is used to open up and offer her body up on the altar of heterosexual marriage to the only place her sexuality can be completed, redeemed and vindicated before society.

Husbands make “honest women” of their wives.

Now I’m often told that I have a very cynical view of society and marriage.  In response I rattle off rape and domestic abuse statistics.  So on one hand we have people in cultures – white and black, all heteropatriarchal to some extent or another – that insist that they’re absolutely normal and beyond critique, and on the other, we have stories of stunning violence happening in our backyards.  Whose version of the truth do we accept?

In Zulu, rape is “ukudlwengula” which I imagine comes from the sound root “dlwe”.  This is pure guesswork on my part but sounds formed by the “dl-” sound are often active and they’re useful onomatopoeia for the sounds of tearing and breaking.  From words like “udlame”, “uyadlala,” “uyadla” (which mean “violence”, “playing” and “eating” respectively) I’ve heard many Zulu-speaking people instinctively extracting the “dli” syllable, distilling the sense of force in it, and using it as an adverb. “Wayithatha ngodli!”  “He seized it with violence”.

With this particular word “ukudlwengula”, there is the sense of something being wrenched from its rightful place.  That “rightful place” isn’t the woman’s consent, for in township and African cultures the locus of female consent is not only the woman’s will but the socio-cultural context it’s found in.  “Ukudlwengula” is when one man illegitimately takes a woman from where she belongs on the pipeline to mother- and wifehood to another man and household that would have followed the expected steps to procure her, and rapes her.  It is a violation against her but more importantly, against the community, custom and ancestry.

This sounds reassuring, how women’s rights and propriety seem to be woven into the fabric of African traditions.  The problem with having her individual rights stand conditionally beside the culture is that in some instances of rape, other factors obscure justice.  This is especially true in the custom of “ukuthwala” in which a woman is kidnapped, forced into a marriage with her abductor, and her family is given a choice and she is lastly given a “choice” after a long period of disorientation and “decision-making”.

More alarmingly, when individual rights are conditioned on conformance to culture, those rights may be violated to fulfil someone’s idea of cultural demands.  This was the case in July 2013, when Duduzile Zozo was found murdered with a toilet brush in her vagina.  That brush was her rapist’s way of asking, “Well what sort of nkomo is yours anyway?”  She did not have it available for his taking on the playing board, so he violently wrenched it – wamdlwengula – not from its rightful place in the scheme of things, but into it.  She’d strayed, and he was putting her back in place.

Now we have a problem again.  A lesbian claims individual human and sexual rights over her body.  A man claims that his “right” to enforce societal and cultural expectations on her trump her individual rights.  Whose right is right?  Whole societies and cultures say they’re normal, but the rape and murder statistics aren’t normal.  Who’s delusional and who’s in denial?

And by attacking her, her rapist has said there is no room for mere tolerance.  It’s all or nothing.  He forced to the surface all the dilemmas we’re too polite to address.

By putting a toilet brush in Zozo’s body, he spat at every female lover that Zozo had ever had and also told Zozo that unless it’s offered up to heteropatriarchy, her vagina is no better than a dirty toilet because she’s flushed society’s right to her penetrability down that “drain”.  A similar message was sent out at the funeral when her female friends tried to take over ceremonial duties that are normally left to men: the men balked.

Female power and independence from heteropatriarchy is terrifying for it says the men’s monopoly on the meaning of women’s lives is under threat.  If women can skip men and just enjoy sex without them, then the military conquest of men over women is rendered meaningless because a mere woman – that is, a lesbian without a penis, without a “sharpened blade” – can pull off the same feat men had gathered in their cow-slaughtering groups to celebrate. Tearing bulls apart with their hands was for nothing, for that power won’t be transferred on women or used anywhere meaningful (God forbid men ever sleep with men); the “Viagra” was taken for nothing because the lesbian has accomplished alone, without ever preparing for it, what whole armies of boys killing bulls, slaughtering cows and standing on the side of the street just talking about it but never getting it done have failed to do.  It’s an affront to their authority as men and it must be “corrected”.  The phallic gods are outraged that they have not personally overseen the sacrifice by which women’s sexual incompleteness is resolved.

Lesbianism doesn’t render the penis irrelevant but it does make it optional.  Optional penises are as good as castrated ones. Lesbians couldn’t be more threatening if they walked around with butchers’ knives in hands and skull-and-penis necklaces around their throats.

South Africa statistics indicate that one in every four men has raped and that one in every three women has been the victim of sexual assault.  That’s higher than our numbers for literacy.  To counter this, we create slogans like, “Real Men don’t rape”.  Local activist Sian Ferguson wrote: “My entire life, I’ve heard that real men don’t rape. But the man who raped me was not imaginary – he was indeed very real”.  What’s a real man?  I personally am desperate to know.  I was listening to the radio when I heard of an email written by a listener who said that whenever he heard Scissor Sister’s Don’t Feel Like Dancing and caught himself singing along, he questioned his heterosexuality.  The radio DJ laughed and remarked in agreement that liking that particular song could cause any man to question his masculinity.

​That’s how easily the word “heterosexuality” was swapped for the word “masculinity”.  So real men who don’t rape, but actually do, are expected to be heterosexual otherwise they’ll be symbolically castrated by society.  This unspoken demand to “perform” masculinity is powerful.  While there is nothing wrong with any particular expression of typical masculinity as such, there is plenty disturbing with the expectation that every biological male will conform to all that is typically associated with masculinity.  When we say, “Real men don’t rape”, failure and shame are still haunt the men receiving this message; those men are provoked to protecting and proving their masculinity (read: heterosexuality) in some way or another.  The Viagra needs to be used on someone.

​The fight against corrective rape isn’t limited to feminists, lesbians, or to people in academia.  It isn’t just for ministers and NGO-based activists.

​The issue touches on everyone.  The numbers say that 500 women are raped in Western Cape townships a year.  That’s the physical part of it, and it’s devastating.  A fellow Mr Gay South Africa finalist, Zander Barnard, is a medical doctor and he’s seen upfront the damage these crimes can inflict.  He’s used his voice and position to urge government to distinguish corrective rape as a hate crime and attach harsher penalties to it.

When we speak up on human rights, we’re trying to fix problems that are connected in invisible ways to the safety of your body, your finances, your family and your country.  That’s why I’ve been speaking to clergy, especially: depending on how they read their bibles and minister to people, they can shift the culture and make it more humane.

In principle, every single last person is violated by such a crime – including the perpetrator himself – because each person’s human rights are conditional on their playing the role expected of them.  In principle, then, corrective rapists violate not just women’s bodies but the entire body of human rights.

Rape, for whatever reason, is everyone’s battle.

Everyone needs to speak up.

This is why the finalists of Mr GSA 2015 are stepping up to that plate.

*Disclaimer: a nuanced explanation as to why no particular factor behind corrective rape is the decisive one is beyond the scope of this piece.  Culture is not necessarily evil.


The Black Swan Project: Timeliness, Relevance And Beauty

I watched this video from Christopher Olwage’s Black Swan Project after he told me the story behind it. 

In my view, the relevance of the Black Swan Project is that if it gets better for sexual minorities then it gets better for everyone.

In a world swimming in macho testosterone-oriented athleticisms (and suffering grandly for it), we need these courageous masculinities that pull power and grace together.  We need to hear stories of embracive personal truths.  We need to ease off our old heroes, our much-loved “men’s men”, and look for a new kind of man.


Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage


Through the Black Swan Project, Olwage volunteers. 

This instance of Olwage’s craft depicts the “portable closet” carried around like a cross by young gay boys and other people who don’t fit heteronormative gender expectations.  “Do you remember the story of the Ugly Duckling?” he asks.  “The story goes that he was the last duckling to hatch from the nest.  Ugly and grey to behold, he was pecked at pushed about; made fun of by the other ducks and farm animals.

 “So tiresome he became of his wretched existence he decided to throw himself to the beautiful swans to be pecked to death. 

“Upon bowing his head to his fate, he glimpsed his reflection.  He wasn’t an ugly duckling at all, but a beautiful swan.”  He bridges the Brothers Grimm fairytale to his story with the succinct confession, “I was an Ugly Duckling.”

In an article titled, “Five Strategies to Prevent your Sensitive Son from Being Bullied”, author Ted Zeff states that 20% of men possess a “finely tuned nervous system” that makes them highly sensitive.  He also writes that 160,000 children “miss school every day in the United States for fear of being bullied and more than 50 suicides have been linked to prolonged bullying: “Societal values emphasize that males should be aggressive, thick-skinned, and emotionally self-controlled, which is the opposite of a sensitive boy.  When boys don’t conform to the ‘boy code’ and instead show their gentleness and emotions, they are often ostracized and humiliated.  Bullies tend to target kids who seem different from others.

“Bullies also target kids who don’t fight back and who react deeply to teasing.  Research shows that 85 percent of [highly sensitive boys] avoided fighting and most sensitive boys become more emotionally upset from bullying than other boys.”  Christianly turning the other cheek incites more violence.

Highly sensitive boys buffer violence but they pay a very high price for it.  Their experience of bullying is more personal and traumatizing than an innocent rite of passage, or a toughening up and formative experience.  But what if bullying never was anything but toxic malice for anyone?  In another piece, Zeff says, “We are at a turning point for the planet in which our male political leaders can either continue acting in an insensitive, belligerent manner, risking the destruction of humanity, or choose a new, collaborative, understanding approach to foreign, economic, and environmental policy.”

That’s an outside-in report.  The voice-over narration in Olwage’s tour de force gives an intimate insider’s look: “When I was a young boy I found myself at a new school.  My pretty face and red red lips made me an easy target as the new kid.  They called me a girly boy.  I didn’t know what I had done, nor what I could do to make it end.”

Rebecca Mao explains that the “male gaze” is how men are expected to territorially mark the distinction between their place and women’s.  This distinction has men as subjects and women as objects to be “owned” by the men that mark them as their own through looking at or hitting on them.  When a male dares to be beautiful, he unsettles this dynamic.  Encountering male prettiness confounds the insecure.  Depending on the depth of his anxiety, the bully will respond with varying degrees of hatred in his attempt to scratch that beauty out.  Some people hate the light and merely stay away from it; others fling mud at the heavens to blot out the sun.

I see the Project as Olwage’s insistence on subverting the objectification of (wo)men from beneath by offering us the human body at a level that hovers just beyond those of objects and subjects.  He dances at the very edge of the grasping exploitation attendant to the roles of both victimizer and victim, which heteronormative society unwittingly prescribes through its demands that all be unvaryingly, traditionally male or female.  Against demands that he be someone else, he is simply being who he is.

Through dance, he says “This is my body, which is given for you” and that body given is a way out of the small, dehumanizing world we’ve constructed in which we don’t know how to look at beauty without lusting to objectify it or fearing its effect on our exposed souls.  By inviting us to look and just “be”, with him, he makes it ennobling to look, be, and be breath-taken.  He makes it wholesome to be moved by aching desire without any way to resolve it or assure the insecurity within of our personal power and masculine invulnerability in relation to the weightless vision being looked at.  Like meditating on Michelangelo’s David, watching is humanizing and humbling.  A bully is someone who is very, very far from these existential milestones.

Or perhaps too close for his comfort.

Because it happens for reasons largely beyond its survivor’s control, bullying paralyzes children with a sense of helplessness.  “I found myself being a social fringe dweller, isolated and alone, a spit ball target, an easy name-calling dartboard.”  The bullying victim doesn’t know that he’s a beautiful swan surrounded by smaller, frightened birds; a sun mocked by mud-flingers. His helpless takes on a dimension of guilt when the victim discovers that not only is he defective before the heteronormative hypermasculine system but is its antithesis: “Soon the talk of girlfriends and boyfriends became rife.  Boys and girls, girls and boys… the only problem was that I wasn’t fantasizing about the girls.  “Girly boy changed to gay boy… and gay boy soon changed to… FAG.”

No two syllables hold more terror for growing boys than “faggot”.  And when they already don’t fit in, some boys unconsciously compensate by occupying more physical space.  “I sought comfort in food; my ever increasing circumference made me an easier victim.  The more afraid I grew the greater the bullying became.  I was teased, taunted, threatened, chased and beaten.  I cried in the mornings before school for fear of the gauntlet I’d have to run from schoolyard to fence.  Tears turned into rivers nightly as I tried to convince myself that tomorrow would not be as bad, but it was, it always was.  No one understood me, I no longer trusted anyone, I couldn’t find help. I wanted out.”

W. H. Auden begins the understated poetic masterpiece Musee des Beaux Arts with the words, “About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”.  On a normal day, a boy can be “teased, taunted, threatened, chased and beaten”, forced to run a gauntlet “from schoolyard to fence”.  Unable to trust anyone with the details of what’s happening to him, he eventually realizes that he “wants out”.

“Out” means not to have to find another square inch of clean, dry sleeve to wipe the uncontrollable tears and snot on; not to make up another story in response to the question “Is everything all right…?” asked by the well-meaning intruder who stumbles across the secret hiding spot where, still reeling from the latest attack, the bullying victim doubles over to catch his breath, scoop up his scattered schoolbag, or the musical instrument or art equipment that makes him the target of more bullying, along with his dignity. 

“Out” makes sense once others, who until then were just “eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”, find out not only about the bullying but also the crying, the shame, the powerlessness and the hiding spot, and start wondering just what kind of boy you are.  Because it’s proof that your shame has been discovered, even the goodness of curious passers-by becomes torment. 

“Out” becomes the gospel promise of imminent salvation. 

But not everyone agrees.  “Suicide,” my mother used to say, “Is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  But when the bullying is because of who you are, “permanent” and “temporary” become interchangeable.  Parents and bystanders get to intervene in bullying.  But its victim lives in its crosshairs.  His world is an obstacle course – a “gauntlet” – and walking becomes endless running from the same schoolmates with whom one shares a classroom where the teacher is present or the boys’ room where she isn’t.  Suicide becomes a matter of “how”, “when” and “where”, but never of “if” or “why”.  It is therefore “not a logical choice one makes.  It is the only choice we see when we cannot see any others”, explains Olwage.

He survived his first attempt.  “And during my second, when I bowed my head, I saw my reflection.  I found my inner strength.

“I found my Swan.”

Olwage says he accepted himself for who he was.  He forgave himself for his mistakes and forgave others too.  “With time the changes I had set into motion had begun to show; with acceptance I was able to learn to love myself.  With love I was able to become who I am today.”

“Boys Will Be Boys”

Mark Greene notes that “By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports.  And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating.  This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden.” 

What becomes of those young girls?  Wikipedia tells of #YesAllWomen, a Twitter hashtag and social media campaign in which users share examples or stories of misogyny and violence against women.  It was created partly in response to the Twitter hashtag NotAllMen.  “Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming,” says Mike Greene.  “And what about boys who are gay?  In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation.  The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging.  It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.” 

Samantha Allen is more direct.  Proposing that the intimacy between men may save lives, she bluntly says it’s time for men to “quit blaming women for their loneliness and to start finding solace in each other’s company.  Women can’t bear the brunt of men’s misogynistic violence while simultaneously providing them with one hundred percent of their physical and emotional needs.”  She suggests that one of the best places to start might be cultivating meaningful homosocial friendships.  “Men have to learn to take care of each other.  We can’t do it anymore.” 

So Olwage’s acceptance of himself coincides, I hope, with the vindicating realization that it’s not just okay to be gay: it’s necessary. The world needs more closeted gay people to step out into the light.  But they don’t even need to be “gay”.  As Olwage says, “I am not perfect, I am not a label, I will probably never be what you expect me to be.  But I am me, I am Unique… I AM THE BLACK SWAN.”

The Black Swan Project is the timely, prophetic call for a new kind of humanity.  Watch it.  Be moved.

Chris is on twitter @ChrisMOlwage

Thank you for reading.  Please follow me on @Skhumalo1987

Feel free to email me

For information on Mr Gay South Africa please follow @mr_gsa or search the hashtag (on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) #MrGSA2015

Homophobic Uganda Parliamentarian Speaker Comes Out As Lesbian

Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda's Parliamentary Speaker, Accidentally Comes Out As Lesbian

Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s Parliamentary Speaker, Accidentally Comes Out As Lesbian

By repeatedly anticipating every step in the insidious “gay agenda”, Rebecca Kadaga has shown that she is secretly lesbian. She would not have so much uncanny insight into the enemy’s schemes if this were not the case. How else would she have known that donated computers were being used to recruit young people into the homosexual lifestyle?

She’ll probably deny that she is lesbian, which may be because of internalized homophobia. But the evidence is clear: she knows too much to not be lesbian. #RebeccaKadagaIsLesbian

One possible explanation for how Kadaga could eerily know so much about the gay agenda is supernatural revelation. I expect someone to propose that very soon, seeing as Uganda’s anti-gay stance is mostly religiously motivated. The problem with this explanation is that anyone and everyone can say “God” has commanded that any John Doe be killed. Surely, “God” would do more than just whisper in someone’s imagination, if he were that serious about it? If “God” can whisper into anyone’s ears without accompanying signs and wonders, then communication from “God” becomes meaningless. Does anybody remember the Salem Witch Trials? If God hates gays, he must be more organized about getting them killed. The explanation for Kadaga’s knowledge of the gay agenda is that she is one of its defectors, using her anti-gay words to make sure that nobody ever suspects that she is or ever was one of “them”.

But she was, is, and always will be.


I did a search on the internet for whether Kadaga is married with children or not. That, after all, is the mark of “real” heterosexual womanhood. I found nothing, except, ironically, posts by other internet users who also wondered the same thing. Even if she were married, many people marry opposite-sex partners in spite of their same-sex attractions. So, she’s lesbian.


In view of the human rights’ atrocities she has encouraged towards the gay and lesbian community, I can upon them to, at this time, embrace her and not hold against her the weight of her misguided words and actions. Wherever she is mentioned and on whatever social media she has, I call upon the LGBTI Community to post messages of acceptance towards her as a sister in the cause of equality. I also call upon the heterosexual community to congratulate her on the courageous step of coming out, whether it was accidental or not. We must shower her with all the love and affirmation she needs at this tumultuous time of her life.


Oh, she might deny everything. But we’ve seen that she must be lesbian; why else would she be so obsessed with and knowledgable about gays? So we must embrace her and make her see that contrary to her sentiment, we would have the world a safe and wonderful place for her. Where she has said, “Kill the gays”, we must kill her with love.


It must be terrifying for her, living in a country whose poeple may want to “cure” or kill her; it must be worse, knowing that she played a role in making Uganda that kind of country and is now being haunted by her own karma. So we must just shower her with love, and be as vocal about her recent coming out as we can be. We must hail her as a gay rights’ icon, broadcasting her recent coming out as often as is possible until everyone in Uganda knows that she is lesbian, and that homosexuality, confirmed or not, is the only plausible explanation for why she knows so much. “This is a lie!” they’ll say. But it’s the only hypothesis that fits the evidence. It has too many anchor points not to be true.


Celebrating her coming out may endanger her life – but it’s so common for the Matthew Shepards and David Katos of this world to get killed because of such intolerance for being who they are. If, God forbid, something happpened to Kadaga because of the celebratory welcome she’ll get from the international LGBTI community, she, too, will just become another statistic; another victim of the hatred she promoted. The victim of a tragic misunderstanding. Which she had a hand in.


We must celebrate the fact that she is lesbian, and carry signs of support towards her during Pride marches. We must use her as the face of LGBTI inclusion, relentlessly naming her as one of us. The media may deny that she’s lesbian, as may she, as may the Ugandan government. But denial is normal in such situations. We love her anyway, and we will point out all the evidence and signs that she is lesbian.


Tell it it everyone in Uganda who would use her words as justification for hate crime: Kadaga is lesbian. Tell them that she’s been hiding this terrible secret, and making up lies about some made-up gay agenda revealing so many of the gay agenda’s secrets, because she herself is lesbian. Get the people to question her motives and understand the self-loathing beneath them.


And that’s perfectly okay for the rest of us. We never hated lesbians. She did. May the gods show her more mercy than she has shown others. At any rate, the cat’s out the bag. Twitter and Facebook gay allies, prepare to do your thing. Take your weapons. Aim. Place your finger on your mouse. And fire at will. Tell the world. #RebeccaKadagaIsLesbian