Maverick Citizen Op-Ed
Reflections on nonconforming gender
When you reveal yourself to the world as neither a man nor a woman, funny things will happen.
In their regular column in Maverick Citizen, Kneo Mokgopa hopes to conjure ‘there’ where there has been ‘unthere’ through contemporary analysis, archival research, cultural studies, videography, photography, installations, interviews and narratives.
“It is a country where black and white are like islands in the middle of some vast ocean, where between these islands billowing tides of confused sexual feelings often rise and threaten to overflow the traditional barriers of legal sanction and Calvinist restraint, only to be beaten back by the fury of even more strident guilt-ridden law.”
— Lewis Nkosi, ‘Sex and the Law in South Africa’.
Funny things will happen…
The flowers will open to you the way sunlight opens to the day and colours will shimmer their charm for you alone. Nobody knows what you are, not even you. There will be attempts, from the voice in your head and the voices of those around you, to measure you, attempts to goad you to reconsider, to track the supposed migration of your gender with that of your sexual proclivities. You will come to stand outside of the war between men and women, watch your kin look to women like hated idols. And you recognise that fight inside of you too. You will wonder, the way sunflowers wonder at the sun, how men could allow themselves to become agents of fear and terror. You will wonder at the matrix of intersectionality, detangling it in search of a strand for you. You will consider the world and it will not consider you. Hope for it and it will not hope for you. You will squeeze yourself sure like a fistful of a single mustard seed argument.
The argument that it is possible that you could be. You will fight the way stars fight the night, pristine and unceasingly small, against words, against spaces, against the wisdom of generations, against yourself and against the future. Your armour will be your lay research into Dogon and Igbo tribes that you share feverishly anywhere people are watching, you will twist the works of Butler and Oyeronke into evidence that you are real. You will labour. The way the sea labours against mountains.
And that’s it. That’s all it is. All of it. Every thought in your Black head. Barely enough real estate left to grow thoughts of a family, life insurance, bond, barely anything whatever.
So you find the word. Non-binary. Nonconforming. But this is not a word but an unword. Through unwords you discover, again, that you are not anything at all. Later still, or maybe before or because, you leave the closet for the ghetto — Queer. A word so big and tall that you can stop searching for yourself because you know that you are in there somewhere. Soon enough you will discover that even here you have found not an identity but a monocle adopted in critique of identity itself.
So destruct gender, in the academy, in Medium articles, in your dreams. But never in the taxi rank, in traditional and Western rituals and ceremonies, in the bedroom, on your tax returns. And still, if you do this, pull the curtain, take the mask off, look up the skirt and see the body for what it really is — a format for communication — you remove women of every kind from their historical claim to justice for everything that has been done to them too. A messy and unsure alliance. You should write carefully about this one day.
And what of patriarchy, that global monarchy of fathers, that religion of violence and power, that sublime love for men and masculinities. Well you’ve never touched your grandfather, not proverbially, not to edge past him in the living room, not ever. Your grandfather expressed his existential dread on all of you. You love him. You love him. You never imagined him afraid of anything-on-Earth. He is big and scary and nothing can touch you under his providence. When he is there, you are safe enough to be to yourself more sweet than pollen to honeybees. On your grandfather’s shoulders, you feel like a Nimbus cloud. His is an exquisite exhibition of masculinity. The jazz of it all. An exquisite distraction from the Things he has inherited into you, bounties upon bounties buried beneath the mine dump into which patriarchy folds you into its swampy, oily tentacles.
You realise or rather come to know that the stakes are high. You haunt how loves can be loved. You haunt religion and haunt bureaucracy, haunt the difference between the two, haunt the architecture of the world as we know it. The horror you feel wearing a dress hidden away in your mother’s bathroom is the terror you pour into the world. What a terrible thing you must be.
But you must know that it is you sunflowers wonder for. That colours are only colours when you are there. “Stop acting so small, you are the universe in ecstatic motion.” Like everybody else. DM/MC
Kneo Mokgopa is the communications manager at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Their Unthere column appears in Maverick Citizen.
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