The Down Low, RSA Edition

They say they’re straight. But I’m often haunted by an underlying chemistry that tells me that given six beers and a room, they wouldn’t be so straight.

This isn’t hypothetical. It’s happened with the suspects I have in mind as I write this. Look, I don’t want to be another moffie Oprahficating about this phenomenon that only God has seen – gay men being hit on by straight-identified men – because the more you make claims that no other witnesses are willing to back up, the less people trust your stories. But here I am writing about it.

When you meet them, these straight-identified men give off a similar energy signature. It’s extremely self-conscious, almost paranoid about someone seeing through the surface. When they know that I do see through it and don’t judge them, their energy then seems to say, “Yes, you’ve caught me out. A part of me may be ‘that way’ but I have figured the way out into decency, to normalcy, and I’ll make it work.” The impression they push forward is that society doesn’t need to make concessions for them. Pride march? No, thanks. A discussion of their sexuality to make people aware of their struggles? Not necessary: there is no “struggle”. They are not “strugglers” or “oppressed” people. They’re invulnerable to such states of being. Would they ask for more understanding? That’s an insult. They are perfectly normal people, if not superior. They don’t need anyone’s understanding.

Because whatever the “true” and required standard for manhood is, these men are it. They don’t need society to pity them, or form new categories and labels, or stretch its gender paradigms or sensitize people on their behalf.

The very words “gender paradigm” cause the hairs on the back of their necks to stand up. Because if gender is a perfect given in the scheme of things, why does anyone need a paradigm to help us understand it? We don’t create paradigms to demystify simple, self-evident realities like gender. Why must we examine gender more closely than is needed to just say men are men and women are women or that men belong with women? They don’t understand it because they don’t want it to be understood.

They would never darken the doorway of an NGO or a support group’s premises. Ambiguity terrifies them. For them, being in the position of the “acted upon”, the “patient”, the “needy”, the “vulnerable” “targeted”, hapless victims of discrimination for something they “can’t change”, is down there with being annihilated.

The thought of gender being stripped naked for a close-up examination in the abstract terrifies them: the thought of their ambiguous sexuality being billboarded for the world to see is intolerable.

And that’s why they cringe at “concessions” being made for LGBTI people that keep insisting on their rights (which they will put in quotation marks). They blanch at the sight of pride marches and at the sound of touchy-feely words like tolerance. Tolerance is for weaklings and weirdoes. They squirm at everything that looks like LGBTI people broadcasting their ambiguous gender, sex and sexuality to the world. “Look, I don’t mind if they’re that way,” I’ve heard them stammer as though reading a script written by the Committee for the Abolition of All Personal Truth. “I just don’t understand why they see the need to share the way they live their private lives with the rest of the world” – while turning to channel surf through television channels, flip through magazines or dial their way through radio stations, which feature nothing but a few people’s choice to impose the way they live their private lives on the rest of society anyway.

What these men are saying with every action is that they are not like “them”, that is, other gay men, who found themselves attracted to other men but were too weak to fight the feelings off. “I know what the right thing to do is, and I’ll do it,” is their unspoken claim to normalcy. Because I am a Good Man. I did all my subjects on higher grade. I aced all of them. I did a seventh subject on higher grade. I aced that too. My blazer was weighed down with colours and honours. Sports, too. I maintained my varsity bursary until I graduated and still qualify for another to pay for my Masters, should I choose to complete it. I accomplish; therefore, I am. Because I am a Good Man.

Any life choices that deviate from “the script” are deviant – they’re “other”; they’re made by “other” people in “other” societies, abnormal people, people who weren’t raised right the way my parents raised me. Not us. Not me.

Because I am a Good Man.

Two of my colleagues recently shared their description of the ideal wife with me. Though I have not tested the 6-beer theory on these gentlemen (I am not a laboratory), I have picked up “vibes” from both of them. In a word, their ideal wife is traditional. God-fearing. Church-going. Because nothing quite completes the picture of masculinity that they’ve been weaned on quite like that woman. It isn’t always her, but it’s normally her.

What’s driven me to write about this is these men’s tacit suggestion, always put forward so, so sweetly that I’ve almost considered it, is that I should just… try.

Try.

Try to find a girl.

Try to fall in love with her.

Try to … to just… you know. These crazy ideas I’ve developed about being true to myself, this false feeling of happiness and pride… just, you know… try to ignore it. It isn’t really who I am. It has to be false.

They’re not asking me to fight this part of myself. Oh no. Fighting implies that the problem is much bigger than it is. Fighting is what Superman only does when the situation is serious. This situation isn’t Serious because it isn’t even there. It can be wished away. It can’t be there. You can’t fight this and look respectable at the same time. So what they’re saying is that I should just… you know… nje.

Be a Good Man.

Because, I think, they’re desperately looking for someone who will validate their choice. They’re looking for another man who’s been in the same boat and has made the same choice, the right choice – because he is a Good Man, raised in a Good Church – and he has made it work. Meeting such a man who’s walked down the same road would provide them with hope that there is a light at the end of this tunnel that nobody knows they’re stuck in. If I agreed to be that other man, I would become a beacon of hope and solidarity for them. And they could grow into that Good Man with me. By my side. After 6 beers. In a room. Alone. Unexpectedly, but consistently. And repeatedly. Until the kids leave the nest. Maybe then we’ll reveal our relationship to our respective wives and families.

See how subtly the circle just completes itself? As quietly as the circle of a marriage ring sliding over a trusting finger. As voluptuously as a man sliding into a woman. As naturally and smoothly as the years floating past. They’re among us. Respectable. Decent. God-fearing. Married. To the lovely wife. With 2.4 kids. Good Men.

You don’t have to be straight to sit on the Municipal Council anymore. But you still have to be straight to be in the Council of Elders where your Dad was a pillar of the community. Nobody plans this. But we make these situations. We hand the script out to men and women around us every day. I have met Society, and Society is We. We’ve agreed on this lie. It’s our unspoken social contract, less tangible but much realer than even the Constitution.

We have two options. The first is that we tear up the old contract and aggressively work to establish a new one, one based on honesty. The second option is that we continue lying. Let me know which you’d prefer our world to be based on.

Thank you

@SKhumalo1987
SKhumalo1987@gmail.com

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