DA Councilor Martin Meyer requested that the Council endorse Durban’s Gay Pride celebrations and speak out against homophobia. According to Mambaonline, the response he received from the ANC councilors is not too different from the one given to the DA’s Deputy Chief Whip Sandy Kaylan in Parliament when she proposed that the South African government condemn Uganda’s anti-gay laws. When Meyer turned to Speaker Logie Naidoo for help, he was refused and told, “Sorry Sisi” by another one of the councillors. Mambaonline has emailed the Mayor and Speaker of the EThekwini Municipality asking for comment on the matter.
While we wait for that, let us take a moment to look at the bright side of eThekwini Municipal Council’s choice not to endorse the Durban Pride March.
This incident has exposed what we have always just suspected: it is socially more palatable for women to adopt elements of traditional masculinity, than it is for males to adopt aspects of traditional femininity. This shows us that regardless of the gender self-identity of its target, homophobia normally arises from contempt for the feminine. It is not just heterosexism, that is, an innocent preference for people who stick to conventionally prescribed gender and sexual roles; rather, it is heteropatriarchy – a social atmosphere in which relations between men and women get preference to all other types, and in which men and masculinity are viewed as possessing greater dignity and personhood than women and femininity.
Some women internalize this bias because it’s just “the way things are”; like water to a fish, it is normal that “real men” beat their partners sometimes, just as it’s normal that if a woman decides to walk alone in the night she might get raped. By that logic, gay men, by having attractions that are normally associated with femininity, are asking to be beaten like women.
Because contempt for women is refreshingly normal in this province. There are no attempts to hide it; you will see it in broad daylight, on the streets. It is a strikingly overlooked part of our collective identity.
A woman who plays soccer is esteemed more than a man who plays netball, and most women don’t realize that into that respect for the female who has made the “upward” move into a male-dominated world, is built an equal and opposite disrespect for the male that has “lowered” himself to playing a “woman’s sport”. In the end, even these grounds for respecting some women while disrespecting some men, is disrespect for femininity. It has many different permutations but at root it’s the same contempt.
That is the sting behind the “Sisi” comment. So it is that in our society, a man accused of raping a woman has a greater chance of receiving a leadership position and all-round kudos for being a “man’s man” than is a man caught dead wearing pink feathers.
And that’s the bright side of the Municipality’s choice not endorse the Durban Pride March. Because if we had to celebrate gender and sexual diversity or acknowledge how badly previous legislation has harmed, and continues to harm, those whose gender and sexuality don’t fit into the heterosexist box, we would be on the slippery slope towards ending violence towards women and children because we’d be questioning the legitimacy of heteropatriarchy as a social ordering system.
They talk about righting the wrongs of the past, but they are also the ones who use words – as the councillor is reported to have done – to re-inflict precisely the hurt that they’ve promised to heal the people from. Pride is an attack on the heteropatriarchy that keeps some rich and the rest in squalid poverty. There, they cannot see that it’s precisely that sexism that keep our rape, crime and corruption statistics ahead of any other developing nation’s and ahead of our girls’ literacy rates. It is our unconstitutional preference for unequal power structures that empowers heteropatriarchs to exploit us all the way they think men should exploit their wives. Having worked so hard to shape our society around a particular picture of masculine power, we find that we are still treated “like women” by politicians that disregard the public the way sexists disregard the female sex. We wouldn’t want to break these mutually reinforcing vicious cycles and false perceptions anytime soon. Poverty is too convenient to those in power for them to address its root through the power of the Constitution and the influence afforded by their positions. That is the bright side of the eThekwini Metropolitan’s Council’s homophobia: it lays the naked truth out in the open for the world to see.
Am I being too cynical? After all, our President recently appointed Lynne Brown, a lesbian, to Cabinet. It’s not fair to believe that the ANC is homophobic if its leader can do that, right?
It’s not fair that we are so cynical, but it is just. See, homophobic listeners are more likely to absorb and run with messages that reinforce their homophobia than they are to absorb subsequent apologies and retractions of those statements, no matter how sincere or public those apologies are. It takes longer to glue a vase together than it does to break it, and that’s something we must remember every time we have to apologize for speaking words that could, quite literally, end up breaking someone’s bones. “Sorry Sisi” will not fix lesbians who’ve experience corrective rape. So while it’s not fair to focus on the ANC’s mistakes more than on the things it does right, it is a justifiable unfairness; it’s “fair discrimination”.
Many ANC supporters say that the ANC’s spirit is captured in the Constitution, and that the mistakes are an anomaly. What if it’s the other way around? What if, excepting a number of individuals, the errors unmask the real ANC while the it is the Constitution that is the real anomaly, the inconvenient obstacle blocking the ANC from exploiting our country to enrich its own? A politician that says some tax-payers don’t deserve to be treated with respect not only sets a terrible example with effects that will take a lot of work to undo; he also views that public with varying shades of contempt depending on whether its members are male, female, or in defiance of his view of what it means to be male or female. When you pay taxes to the government to eradicate the effects of apartheid, you also pay that man that then uses his position to spread the mentality that created the problem in the first place. If one of the councillors really said what he’s reported to have said – we are awaiting a response – then he is the willing host of a parasitic mindset that will leech every last drop of progress out of our country. If you personally feel spat upon by that man, it may just be that you have been.
Pride must scare government because it challenges ordinary discourse. “What are those people marching and dancing for?” “Oh, they’re celebrating that they have the freedom to express gender and sexuality as they feel fit so long as they don’t harm anyone.” “Wait, you mean we can do that? For real? It’s not just something on paper, like words in the bible that people pick-and-choose from selectively and subjectively? You mean the Constitution is South Africa’s final authority?” We dare not endorse such ideas. They would break mental and material poverty to pieces, and we are – if nothing else – a poor people. Thank you, eThekwini Municipal Council, for protecting our identity as poor, deprived and scared people who must not dare to know any better.
An overwhelming number of crimes are committed by men who have been fed heterosexist messages about what it means to be a man. By elevating heterosexuality as the self-referencing norm, we create dangerous, competitive and aggressive masculinities that engage with no alternatives to themselves to offset their collective impact. When the tacit pressure to prove that they, too, possess the brand of masculinity suggested by the term “straight” creeps up on boys and men, they will have something to prove. When those men have something to prove, women and children suffer because women’s bodies are where this proof is played out.
If we endorsed Pride, it would be an endorsement of diversity in masculinities; that would take the pressure off of men to fit into just one box or to “prove” themselves in just one orientation or through power-imbalanced relationships, which, in turn, would improve the lived experiences of South Africans. We’d probably see a drop in crime levels because as much as crime is a result of poverty, that poverty is exacerbated by heteropatriarchy. By simply shifting paradigms, we can solve a plethora of social ills.
But the Municipal Council has no such interest; KwaZulu Natal is steeped in traditional notions of gender and sexuality. If it were otherwise, more women would be self-sufficient and empowered; less people would be dependent on government support. When less people are dependent on government support, there is less of a smokescreen behind which to hide the fraud, corruption, mismanagement and underperformance that government gets away with while making a show of serving those needs. CNN says that Durban is the “undiscovered jewel of South Africa”. If our Municipality had to endorse Pride, less people would be inhibited by tradition and would begin to exercise their rights, freedoms and responsibilities to the full. If that happened, funds would be directed to the projects they’re supposed to go to and the whole hidden system of illicitly gained tenders would either be exposed in its fullness or silently starved to death. The jewel would be discovered.
But as a nation set on creating creative tenderpreneurs whom the resource-monopolizing government will not empower to follow the correct tender process, the abrupt disruption of a system built on lies would be devastating, especially for the rich that get richer off of the poor getting poorer. Thank you, Speaker Logie Naidoo, for not supporting the motion to endorse the Pride March: you have saved us from having to suddenly wake up to what’s happening around us. We cry for change but change nothing.
Gay Pride is for people who understand that variety in sexual and gender expressions gives the world a break from the traditional expressions, the way commas let sentences breathe and stretching allows limbs to dance without injuring themselves.
Without these breaks, the traditional expressions of gender and sexuality pick up so much momentum that, like a car driven by a preoccupied driver down a road without speed bumps, they end up endangering everyone.
Pride is for people who’ve had enough of police brutality, sexual violence, and a milieu wherein men think manhood is entitlement to women’s bodies. It’s for people who know that the old ways of solving crime don’t work and we have to change the patriarchal mindsets that produce antisocial masculinities in the first place, instead of trying to solve problems at the same mental level at which they were created.
Pride is a need.
When I was offered an opportunity to be on a Pride float representing a challenge to traditional masculinity – or perhaps a creative redemption, a comma, a speed bump and a relaxing stretch from it – I agreed. I was then dressed as “King Shaka Zulu in Pink”. But I wasn’t alone in my foolishness: what were those taxi and bus drivers and other road users of varying backgrounds thinking when they hooted in support for the LGBTI community? What were factory workers, shop-keepers, worshipers of differing faiths – samples of South Africa’s diversity, of people who can sense the paradigm shift afoot – thinking when they stepped forward to applaud us as we proceeded past them on the street? Don’t they know that the thing they’re celebrating would, if allowed enough time in the sun, unsettle the heteropatriarchal strongholds that allow the current government to exploit us without anyone challenging the system? We hold on so tightly to the lies we’ve been fed because if we had to question them or demand government performance, the David-and-Goliath story of the black liberation movement that single-handedly demolished the white discriminatory regime and now faithfully serves us all would have to also be called into question and with it, the demonization of that other political party would also have to be questioned. We’d have to acknowledge nuance and complexity in the story of our hard-won but incomplete liberation, which would be heresy.
Heck, with that line of thinking we would just as well vote that other political party into power.
After all, it’s the only one that dared to show up at Durban’s Gay Pride celebrations not just before, but also after elections.
Edited 12:10, please email if you have queries