Defend Truth


Neither queer nor there

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Homophobes aren’t the only people making gay (and bisexual) life difficult these days. There are also those people who think homosexuality is a biological absolute, that it’s okay to be gay because the poor dears can’t help it. Puh-leeze! Sexuality is fluid, it’s a choice, and no one has the right to tell others what to do – or to pigeonhole them for doing it.

Gays these days! What’s up with all the hatin’ on Steven and Tiwonge? Sure, young love is fickle. One minute you’re all Romeo and Romeo, embracing lifelong incarceration for the man of your dreams. Next thing you’re hot-footing it back to your home village, trotting into the sunset with some hussy named Dorothy.

Jawellnofine, love hurts. But why is the rest of the world acting as if they’ve been slapped in the face? Let me tell you something: if I had the whole of Malawi threatening to give me a spanking – and not the fun kind – I’d also let Dorothy munch on my Mbatata cookie. And I don’t think that would delegitimise the relationship that came before.

There’s a funny trend going on here; the assumption that a) being gay is absolute and b) there’s no choice involved. That it’s some kind of biological finality made null and void the second someone displays any ambivalence or looks at their orientation from another vantage point. And the second they do, bam! There goes any claim to support. Because obviously they can help it, the little ingrates.

So personally, I’ve found a breed out there I hate far more than homophobes. And that’s the type who trumpets, righteously, that gays shouldn’t be judged because they can’t help it. Seriously? That’s the best defence you can come up with?

Every debate around homophobia has some do-gooder tacked on the end, bleating lamely that homosexuality appears in animals or that some chemical explanation has been found for it in humans. But intentions aside, are they any better than their homo-bashing brothers and sisters? Their logical process is both patronising and fundamentally flawed. I’ll rather take an honest-to-goodness conservative any day. At least they have the balls to nail their colours to a mast. But limply cooing that the poor gays can’t help their abnormality, and then patting yourself on the head for being such a stand-up, open-minded guy? Stick it, bru. We don’t need your pity.

People claiming gayness is a biological absolute belong in the same category as the so-called Caster Semenya supporters who kept snivelling that she was a “real girl”. Just take a moment and think about what you’re saying. That Caster would only be okay if she weren’t intersex? That being gay wouldn’t be okay if there were an element of choice?

Here’s another newsflash for you, my friend. There’s always a choice. Sexual bonding is fluid and many people the world over – regardless of orientation – are married to, or sleep with people they aren’t 100% in love with. It can be done. Whether they are in an arranged marriage or married for money or the romance died or perhaps they just made a poor choice of partner, staying there always boils down to free will. People prioritise what they need most. For some, this is status, morality, convenience, acceptance or even basic safety. For others, it’s love.

But that’s not the point. The point is we should be allowed to explore our options. We shouldn’t be open to dissection by either homophobes or homophiles. It’s nobody’s bloody business but our own.

Moreover, the idea of absolute sexual orientation – betrayed by any exception to a person’s general preference – is tripe. Many of us have the capacity to fall in love not with a gender, but an individual. I know many people – myself included – who have been attracted to both men and women in varying degrees, depending on who they were. I know many people with powerful attractions to the same sex, who manage, happily, to love partners of the opposite sex, and vice-versa. Being gay isn’t a physical abnormality that leaves you totally unable to connect with someone of the opposite sex. Ultimately it’s a sexual preference – what you prefer; an orientation, that is, where you place yourself. Yes, there are gay people who are attracted only to the same sex and straight people who are attracted only to the opposite sex. But they’re on two ends of a spectrum. The rest of us fall somewhere in between, and we shouldn’t have to hide behind “I can’t help it” to justify our choices. Or commit to one gender for life to validate public support.

Those who say gays should be accepted because they can’t help it – because the poor lambs just can’t bear someone of the opposite sex – are still reading from the same moral rulebook as any homophobe; they’re just on a different page. They still aren’t seeing that choice or no choice, no one has the right to tell others what to do.

Our legal system is here to prevent people and animals getting hurt. No more, no less. It prevents injustice, violence, and abuse of beings who can be overpowered into sex against their will. It is not here to make moral statements about private relationships between consenting adults.

So please, defenders, next time you’re feeling magnanimous and handing out badges for Pat a Gay Day, please remember that we are not ill and we are not children.

And then, for the love of Pete (and his partner Gerald), just shut the fuck up.


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