It was on 15 September 2011 that I spent about 59 minutes and 35 seconds talking to you over the phone on my way home as – as that time – I was still on leave and had just left Rustenburg for home, Seoding village, near Pampierstad in the Northern Cape Province,South Africa. What started as “Hi, Ak. How are you doing?” turned into “How dare you go behind your (our) friend’s back and bad-mouth him like that?”
The conversation was innocent to begin with until you, my friend, started to talk with a tone I found uncalled for from someone who called himself a friend of mine and others. Your tone was that of a backstabber because you were talking about someone I knew, someone I thought was our friend. This was someone I thought as friends to us we could not go behind his back, pretending to be his friends yet talk in a bad way about him lime you did. Unfortunately, you showed me that you are not that kind of a friend. I was shocked at what you had told me that I immediately – for reference, I think – updated our phonecall duration of my Facebook status. I was shocked at what you said, my friend, and disappointed too. And that’s putting it mildly, I should add.
To refresh your memory let me remind you of what had transpired in our conversation at the time but before I do – I need to make it clear from the onset that since that day I have since wondered whether or not I should call you my friend simply because of what you said and how you said it. And for the purpose of this letter allow me to address you as “My Friend”. This, of course, is not to say I am perfect. I am not.
My friend you asked about my love life and I told you that part of my life was going pretty okay (without making any hint whether I had a partner or not as it was not important to me to make that known at the time, or maybe ever). You went further to ask who I was dating. “Lerato”, I responded. To the shock of my life, you asked if Lerato was a he or a she. Out of this shock, I asked you back: “Have you ever heard of a he Lerato?”. And then you laughed, adding that at least you knew of one of two to which I said: “Well, only in your City you can find Lerato who happens to be a male”.
With the same breath I asked you why the hell you would ask if I was dating a man or a woman or both. And that’s the gist of this open letter to you. You said you asked me because you likened me to a very good friend of mine who you said had dated previously. You went further to ask me whether I was just like him: dating man and women=bisexual. I found your comment offensive and insensitive, at best, because it was an accusation which sought to question my sexuality. As if it’s any of you damn business. More than that, I found your likening me to my friend as backstabbing, insensitive and judgemental.
Asked why the hell you would question my sexuality as if it was any of your business – you mentioned how you had previously asked some of your friends who you have you had suspected and questioned their sexuality and even had the guts to bring it to their attention which they first denied and only later admitted that they were what you’ve suspected them to being. I found this fishing expedition of yours problematic in that people did not voluntarily confined their sexuality but that instead you went and asked them. This, I told you at the time of our conversation, was unfair as it sort of put these poor guys in an awkward position. A position whereby I feel was also being discriminated against.
“And what do you do once they have told you their sexuality” I asked you. Without even feeling ashamed of yourself and your judgmental tendencies, you responded: “Nothing. I do nothing”. Well my friend, I remember telling you that: “Your questioning your friends’ sexuality gives me the impression that you probably are of the same sexuality as them and are only asking them just so that you would know that at least you are not alone, that at least you would now have people [of the same sexuality as that which you did not disclose to them] that you can associate yourself with so that you do not feel like you are alone [in your sexuality], that you are not lost”. I told you this much and you did not dispute the truthfulness of my assertion of your unfound and unconfirmed sexuality except that you seemed to indirectly deny it. Whatever.
It was just after speaking to you that I remembered a research with these alarming statistics which had found that about 50% of black men having have sex with men (MSM) in Soweto were HIV+. I found this in a Mail & Guardian newspaper report in May this year which said the number was increasing, and I suspected this was likely to spread to other parts of the country. Well, you may be surprised as to why I am bringing these to your attention. Don’t worry, here’s why…
I am bringing this and many others (to follow later) to your attention, my friend, because I suspect the reason why your friends did not disclose their sexual preference to you is because of the stigma often attached to people of sexuality other than heterosexuals. People are afraid of “coming out” and would rather – and would feel much better to – remain in the “closet” than coming out and being criticised while some of them would fear being demeaned. Your comments reminded me of an article I wrote in my personal blog and elsewhere sometime this year in which I urged all South Africans – government from all spheres, and civil and non-profit organisations – to come together and talk about LGBT challenges (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders).
The night before we talked I came across another research by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United Stated – apparently released on 3 August 2011 but published on www.colourlines.com on 4 August 2011 – that found that young black gay and bisexual men were the only population on the US in which the pace of HIV was increasing. Director of the centre Jonathan Mermin was quoted as saying: “We are deeply concerned by the alarming rise in new HIV infections in young, black gay and bisexual men and the continued impact of HIV among young gay and bisexual men of all races”. Mermin said: “We cannot allow the health of a new generation of gay men to be lost to a preventable disease. It’s time to renew the focus on HIV among gay men and confront the homophobia and stigma that all too often accompany this disease”.
Another reason why I am bringing this to your attention, my dear friend, is because if we have people like you going around suspecting people’s sexuality and even asking their friends their sexuality only (to do nothing about it) because they suspect they are as gay/bisexual as their other friends – then we sure as hell have a serious problem and should therefore not be surprised when we see statistics like these in Soweto where 50% of MSM are HIV+ and those in the US whereby young black gay and bisexual men had an increasing number of HIV+ infections.
I am not sure whether or not you are homophobic but as I have said before – I suspect not, for now – except that you probably are bisexual/gay because you seemingly are just looking for people who you can relate to hence your sickening questioning of people’s sexuality. The challenges of LGBT – and of people like who you seem unsure of their own sexuality yet seem interested in others’ – are something that we as South Africans and the world over need to start talking about. It probably was good that you re-brought this to my attention but I deplore in totality the manner in which you went about doing it. Remember this is not one subject that is discussed in many of the conversations we have either in our social and or political gatherings. Never.
As I said before: “South African President Jacob Zuma’s comments in 2006 that when he was growing up “[a gay] would not have stood in front of me” as he “would knock him out” – for which he has since apologised – also seem to have justified people’s discriminations of the LGBTs”. In that article I mentioned two guys (Kaene and Floyd) who had experienced so many challenges with their sexuality. I wrote of Kaene:
For example, a couple of months prior to writing this story I came a very interesting story of a young, black and proud man in Botswana who shared his ordeal about being a gay man in that country. Writing in Mmegi newspaper in February this year , Kaene, as he called himself, acknowledged that he was a “very proud gay gentleman” and described in lengths how he had gone to trying to deny his sexuality. Kaene said he went from one church to another thinking he would be a “born again”. He went on to saying how much he not only relied on others’ prayers, but that he even prayed for himself believing that God would change him to being a “normal” person like other men he was told of and that he even consulted a shrink during this gay-discovery-journey process thinking he’d be told something different to what he had long known, that he is gay. As he grew older, said Kaene, he became “more miserable” with his gayness-hard-to-believe part of his life. “I would cry myself to sleep every night but still had hoped that one day I will be a changed person. I ended up being depressed and distant from everyone”. And as a last resort to his hard life, Kaene thought of committing suicide for it seemed the only option he had because others that he had tried failed. “My other option was suicide”. Like any other suicidal person, Kaene “would plan on how to kill myself and everyday something stopped [him] as [he] would pass out before (he) went ahead with it.” That must have been God talking to him, I think. That what he was trying to do was so not on and just had to stop. Remember, God [for those who believe in him] resembles himself in different ways to many of us. It is Kaene’s story that one of my colleagues’ child may attempt if his father – assuming he is an LGBT – does not accept him for who he is. That’s why we need to talk about not just about LGBTs’ acceptance of themselves but our effort and need, too, as a society and a democratic country, to accepting them.
Prior to Kaene’s story I came a very moving story and account of Brandon Floyd – a graduate from Ohio University – when he wrote about his father’s expectation of him as his son. Writing in The Fresh Expression web site in June this year, Floyd (@bfloyd86) describes what a “pretty gay kid” he was when growing up, how he “played with Barbies with my female cousins for a tad too long” and that his favorite Disney movie was The Little Mermaid”. “I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, says Floyd, and that “the first (second & third) artist I saw in concert was Janet Jackson. I was young”. “I was obviously gay”, admits Floyd. Raised by a single, black father who had “no CNN special or scholarly debate panel teaching him to raise a boy, who might be gay” – Floyd says his “sexual orientation became clearer to my father”. At 11 year-old and while listening to Aaliyah, Floyd speaks of how his father told him: “I’ve only ever wanted a son, and if you decide that you’re gay don’t ever tell me. I’ll want nothing to do with you.”
“I wanted to hate him, but I didn’t know how to do that because I knew that he loved me. Instead I settled for being angry with him, and hating myself because I knew that I’d never be able to change myself”, wrote Floyd of how he felt after his father told him that he would want nothing to do with him if he ever were gay. “Being gay had never been a cognitive choice for me, and so the only ‘decision’ I had in the matter was whether or not I would tell my father or any other person. In the instant that my father told me it was wrong for me to be gay I felt like I would never be anything else. No other part of my being mattered, as my existence seemed to turn exclusively toward finding a way to hide what I had been told was an unforgivable flaw,” said Floyd. It took him years to “recognize that cycle, and begin to make peace with my sexuality” and that a “large part of that journey has been about forgiving my father and working to see him as a person, not just as my parent”. He asks: “What does it mean for a man to recognize that his only son is gay; and how does he negotiate the space where expectation meets reality?” Well, I think it differs from one father to another and from parents to parents.
Floyd mentioned that a boy’s sexuality and masculinity from an African-American family cites a “strong father figure as the necessary component to rearing a boy toward manhood”. He said that Americans believed that single parents are “praised… for their vitality, but still consider them in the absence of a male presence” and that “gay men weren’t properly conditioned as men by an older male in their youth, and that’s the reason for their sexuality”. Of course this is crap. It is indeed crap because, as Floyd related:
My father went to work every day. He attended every single parent/teacher conference, and was the first one at any extracurricular event I participated in –even as it became obvious that it would always be school plays, and never a football game. He knew that he was a good provider, and the best parent that he could be. But I imagine that noticing that his only son might be gay made him feel like he had failed at being a good man –because he had been told that a good man raises his son to be the same, and a good man is not a gay man. So I watched my father work to appreciate me, and separate the son he was raising from the son that he thought I should be. I’m sure that for so many fathers of gay men the struggle is quite the same: working against the confines of traditional masculinity”.
Now explain that…
Another import reason I wrote the article was because of a discussion I had with some of my colleagues, one of whose comments I found shocking because he, as a father:
“… at a certain age he expects his son to have girlfriends, a family and children and to have sex with girls and that if that does not happen he would sit him [his son] down and explain to him what is expected of him as son and that if he happened to be gay or bisexual and thereof could not have girlfriends and bring Makoti as is expected of him – he would nicely ask him to get the heck of his house and do those things [things he believes gays and transgenders do] far away from his house because he would certainly not accept that his son had turned out to be someone he did not expect: gay or bisexual. This means in order for my colleague’s son to live with him (if he still wanted to and wanted to be accepted by him) he would have to suppress his feelings for people of the same gender/sex as he, and thereby remain trapped and living his life with discomfort.”
My friend, if you still remember our conversation – you would remember the conservation referred to quite clearly. I have thought of an appropriate way to addressing this issue with you but seeing that I am a blogger/writer who can damn well write – after a couple of friends of mine thought I shouldn’t have listened to your bitching, but I did because I had to listened to your reasoning on this debate – I then thought an open letter such as this would be appropriate. In conclusion, my friend, I would like to put the following to you:
- It is none of you business what sexuality your friends are – if you are a true friend,
- You have to stop asking people – whether or not they are your friends – their sexuality because to others such questions are still deemed sensitive and private given the historical contexts and the society’s perception on that issue,
- To suggest that I might as well be of certain sexuality because of my friends’ was insulting, insensitive and uncalled for. Who the hell are you to pass a moral judgement on what constitutes the “right’ sexuality?
- If you are to be a friend that I think a good friend is to his/her friends – that’s if I still regard you as one – you need to stop judging people whether you know them or you don’t,
- You need to stop talking about behind your friends’ back. Friends don’t do that,
- Like I said to you at that time – if people of ‘another’ sexuality make you feel uncomfortable, cut the friendship so that they no longer have to make you feel that way. I mean why become friends in the first place if that’s the case?
Lastly, my friend, get a life… Oh, I have attached a copy of the piece I referred to for your understanding (or lack thereof). I had to do this because I am a Human Rights Activist in my own right.
NOTE: On 26 September I sent this letter for response to my friend but had not responded at the time of publishing it here.