Opinionista Noluthando Yeni 8 February 2018

Robust debate about ‘gay’ film deserves some introspection

South Africa’s discourse has followed a criminal pattern of commonly taking place in spaces where people want to come across as woke and progressive. As noble as this may be the consequence is often white women speaking for all women, the upper middle class speaking for the poor or black men speaking for black people with the disadvantaged suffering even more as a result of this – the robust debate relating to the screening of the film Inxeba is no exception to this trend.

I introduce myself as a feminist and LGBTQI+ movement ally, I also highlight that I only draw parallels from movements such as the feminist movement, #FMF and observations from my gay cousins and friends who have taught me tremendously (and at times tiresomely) the true concept of inter-sectional politics.

I don’t know what happens at initiation school, and perhaps I shouldn’t. I would like to emphasize that my objections with the screening and celebration of the movie Inxeba aren’t an attestation on how the movie supposedly disrespects sacred cultural practises. In fact I don’t subscribe to a universe that believes in oppressing any group of identities and very often ‘sacred’ cultural practises lend themselves into oppressive acts. Until we can dismantle the problematic nature of the space, we should make sure we aren’t contributing to the violence being worse.

Inxeba is a movie that explores the different social identities in a cultural setting, and in many ways highlights that the cishet ideologies of manhood are simply false and backward. The discourse around it being disrespecting cultural practices shies from the pertinent conversation – does this movie in any way positively improve the life of LGBTIQ+ people who belong to communities that are hostile to the public proclamation of a non-cishet identity?

The director, Jason Fiddler said that the threats of violence and censorship were an attack on freedom of speech and expression. He went on to say that, “there is no basis for us, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer citizens of our republic, to cower in fear of homophobic violence or borderline hate speech”. He noted that LGBTQ people were not only targeted by the apartheid state but today still “remain in a near daily struggle against all forms of abuse and discrimination, conveniently wrapped up in religious, cultural and patriarchal excuses”.

Fiddler added: “We can no more ignore the existence of gay men in all communities than we can ignore the fact that many men in our society direct violence towards women and children. There is a genuinely serious problem in our country with regards to how men across all cultures see themselves, and the growing homophobia we are seeing taking root.”

Fiddler is correct in most of his statements however; it is mere ignorance and privilege that can openly say there is no basis for LGBTIQ+ citizens to cower in fear of homophobic violence when the violence faced by black LGBTIQ+ bodies is the most extreme in this country, no different to the violence exerted on black female bodies in this country.

The reality is we all have to live in a patriarchal, oppressive and violent society and where secrecy is a weapon one can use to protect themselves then they should do so without risk of having their story aired for the whole world to know. What have all these international awards done for the closeted gay men who intrinsically subscribe to being Xhosa, who can only reconcile being gay and being Xhosa through secrecy due to the backward nature of their elders?

As a black African child who has been fed and raised emaXhoseni there is an immediate harm on male LGBTQI+ whose daily reality exists in a predominantly Xhosa environment.

Simplistically, the intended positive consequence of iNxeba is to show the existence of gay men in all communities and its interlock to the definition of manhood across all cultures. The idea is that publicising this is an act of activism that highlights the problem in our patriarchal communities as a way of liberating those who are victims by giving them a voice.

As noble as this may be, it is problematic and is proof of how western, white and cosmopolitan activists don’t face the same struggles as others and should refrain from trying to take the lead in fighting some struggles. LGBTIQ+ people and womxn aren’t a homogenous group of people and the approach to any form of activism needs to consider the position that the oppressed is placed in.

Inxeba doesn’t consider the position that it places Xhosa gay people who are at greater risk now of being ostracised and harmed by their patriarchal elders. The potential violence that these people are now subject to without certainty of life is a crime committed by their privileged allies as they are left in a position where it is even more risky to be gay. For some, the mountains were the perfect place where they can leave their fake lives to have a true moment of selfness. Publishing what was considered mere speculation around what happens at initiation school has now made the backward traditionalist concerned about their “reputation” in relation to what they perceive as a Xhosa man.

The premise of Fiddler’s activism taking the form it has suggests that all gay men feel oppressed by having the ability to realise parts of their identity in “secrecy” hence we need to free Xhosa gay men by telling the whole world that this “problem” exists. The Xhosa gay man is equally a part of the LGBTIQ+ community as the gay Xhosa man; compromising the safety of one in the interest of another is anti-revolutionary.

We need to live in a world where someone can be queer, Xhosa and Christian. The homogenisation of oppressed identities is problematic providing shallow insights into the complexities faced by many. While we are criticising the tribal groups and Xhosa leaders around their conduct relating to the screening of Inxeba – lest we forget to introspect our own conduct and what it means for the people we seem to advocate for. DM

Noluthando Yeni is an analyst for the African Investment Bank head-quartered in South Africa. She joined the corporate environment straight out of University in 2015 and has been involved in the origination, structuring and execution of project financing transactions across the continent

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