Anglo-Saxon maps of antiquity bear dragons and other mythical figures on them as a way of warning travellers of the known unknown that lay there: “Here be dragons” is also the apt title of an essay by James Baldwin, originally titled “Freaks and the American Ideal of Masculinity” and published in January of 1985 in Playboy:
“Ancient maps of the world – when the world was flat – inform us, concerning that void where America was waiting to be discovered, HERE BE DRAGONS. Dragons may not have been here then, but they are certainly here now, breathing fire, belching smoke; or, to be less literary and biblical about it, attempting to intimidate the mores, morals, and morality of this particular and peculiar time and place.
“The condition that is now called gay was then called queer. The operative word was faggot and, later, pussy, but those epithets really had nothing to do with the question of sexual preference: You were being told simply that you had no balls. I certainly had no desire to harm anyone, nor did I understand how anyone could look at me and suppose me physically capable of causing any harm. But boys and men chased me, saying I was a danger to their sisters. I was thrown out of cafeterias and rooming houses because I was ‘bad’ for the neighbourhood.”
What is it about sex, sexuality and gender that haunts societies so desperately that the Western colonised world kills for it? My regular Maverick Citizen column UnThere is an attempt to make a there of what has been described as not a there at all – as “a sign signifying nothing”; There, but queer, so not there; absolute other; other internalised; a non-space occupied by subalterns, hybridities, the colonised, the oriental and the perpetual other.
In this project with Maverick Citizen, I hope to conjure there where there has been unthere through contemporary analysis, archival research, cultural studies, videography, photography, installations, interviews and narratives.
I am sure that I will get it spectacularly wrong on more occasions than not, but I hope we can have these conversations in good faith and try to know what it has meant to be black and queer in South Africa, and what it will take to gift the world a more human face. MC
Kneo Mokgopa is a graduate of the Wilfred & Jules Kramer Law School at the University of Cape Town. They are currently writing their Masters in Rhetoric Studies at UCT on South African identity systems and are the Communications Manager at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Kneo has been publishing since 2016 in Daily Maverick, The Cape Times, The Sunday Times, Amandla! Magazine and Hola Africa magazine and has published a chapter in We are No Longer at Ease: The Struggle for Free Education, the upcoming 2020 CAPS Life Orientation textbook, and many other platforms.