Opinionista Simon Williamson 7 July 2010

Coming out against strategic essentialism

If gays and lesbians continue to insist on portraying ourselves as separate, then it’s our (un)doing if heterosexuals treat us as different. These days, we’ve won the right to be loud and proud (at least in South Africa), so we should rather channel our energies towards fighting the evils that remain, like corrective rape.

I get the point of the Rainbow Nation. I am well aware that we’re not all supposed to be the same. We’re not trying to forge one identity – well, we shouldn’t be. In fact, South Africa’s unique selling point is that we’re all different, and for the most part, okay with it. But as we continue to forge new relations across race lines – more successfully every day, I might add – I do feel that there is finite progression still to be made between homosexuals and heterosexual people.
And I blame homosexuals for this.

The Pride rallies had a point and a place in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots, discriminatory legislation, blatant and publicly accepted homophobia, bullying, and the generally accepted notion that homosexuality was a threat to a stable country. Rallies were a legitimate protest against practices that denied gays, lesbians, transsexual and transgender people the potential of a happy existence. It was largely because of these rallies that laws changed, and many straight people began to understand that homosexuals were not so far removed from the general culture of “normality” that relations couldn’t be forged across sexual-preference boundaries.

But these days, it seems to be the homosexual who wishes to maintain his aloof stance from the general population, and this contributes hugely to some destructive ideas and discriminatory fodder. Pride rallies, the gay Olympics and such events may appear to fight discrimination, but seem rather to maintain an air of exclusivity and separatism. Think about the mentality: We think you are discriminating against us, so instead of welcoming you into our world so you can see for yourselves we’re going to just have our own shit – sports we won’t let you play, parades where we’re going to paint you all with the same discriminating brush. We’ll walk around Cape Town screaming “we’re here and we’re queer so get used to it”, instead of engaging with why people may have a problem with this, and why it’s a ludicrous mentality.

This urge to stay separate doesn’t help and is unnecessary. Take, for example, the mentality of Women24 – the website isn’t read exclusively by women and there is huge interaction with men (as much as you may struggle to believe it). The ANC is not a party which discriminates against whites, white folks are welcome in it. Yet when the gays begin something it’s for gays only. And this is supposed to stop discrimination and prejudice? It is the Orania of democratic and freedom movements.

As long as we continue to want our own categories in competitions (such as Best GLBT Blog as a category in the South African Blog Awards), our own parades (which have far more emphasis on screaming and shouting that we exist than on campaigning for the rights of lesbians in the disgusting face of corrective rape), and protests against things that don’t actually exist (like the popular right-wing American prejudices – such as a link between homosexuals and paedophilia), we will continue to be seen as separate. And it will be our own doing.

In most urban settings, gays find less discrimination nowadays and it is due to the fact that people who are not gay have interacted with us and realise we’re not so different. It has sweet nothing to do with a parade they ignored while complaining that the streets of Cape Town were closed again.

If, as homosexuals, we took the energy we put into the aforementioned ridiculousness and engaged with other people to the degree that we should, our potential for a homophobia-free world would be far more realistic, with progression towards it far more rapid. A far better use for our energy is fighting against corrective rape, or campaigning for counselling for depressed and bullied homosexual schoolchildren. We could emphasise that homosexuals are not a threat, as opposed to being as in-your-face as we possibly can.

Progress is not far away if we change the manner in which we deal with our lot. But as long as we want to stay separate, and act to that effect, we’d better get used to the way things are.

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