Defend Truth


Religious teachings still serve the oppression of colonialism and apartheid

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’ (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (Insta and Twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.

The culture in which violence perpetrated by half the world’s population is tolerated in the name of culture or God, results from the violence perpetrated on their psyches in their grooming as “real men” — and it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.

After I came out to a Ugandan friend who was Catholic, he said that the kinds of societal changes I sought would “take decades, perhaps lifetimes”. I was stunned at the glacial pace at which truth seeps through institutions mollycoddled by privilege to treat mental health science and morality as optional.

That was one of the formative moments at which I realised could not wait to have my consensual sexual choices tolerated, gradually, condescendingly, by a heteronormativity that had yet to make up its mind that consent was what distinguished sex from rape in the first place.

I felt helpless in the face, first, of repression, and second, of my own rage at the hypocrisy that in turn polices, trivialises and demonises rightful frustration with said repression — while sadistically turning a blind eye to evidence of sexual abuse by its clergy.

This helplessness led from depression to sustained suicidal ideation. As debilitating as they can be, I could name and navigate the mental forces I was in the grip of because throughout my life, I’d had some exposure to mental health practitioners who turned out to be the literal difference between life and death. Of what significance is this personal account of depression, in a country where every second social media post is about depression or about politics or gender-based violence or Mark Minnie and Chris Steyn’s Lost Boys of Bird Island (Tafelberg, 2018)? It’s history lesson time.

The American Psychiatric Association de-pathologised “homosexuality” in 1973 by removing it from its list of mental illnesses; many still think it’s a disease even today. Post-liberation, African countries maintain colonial-era penal codes against what they call the “white man’s import”. In an ironic twist, some historians do suspect there was more to, say, Adolf Hitler’s acceptance of Ernst Röhm (a gay man) than he let on when he appointed him to head the Sturmabteilung, only to murder him afterwards.

Hitler described Cecil John Rhodes as “the only Englishman who truly understood Anglo-Saxon ideals and destiny”; given the historical evidence for Rhodes’ homosexuality is only dwarfed by that of his cruelty, I understand this to mean Hitler viewed the capacity for self-repression as the capacity for oppressing others.

The men Hitler and other fascists lauded as the torchbearers of white supremacist violence were, overwhelmingly, repressed homosexuals or homophobes. Just like I was when I was being distorted by shame and rage into someone I wouldn’t recognise today.

Neither Rhodes’ nor Hitler’s apologists would admit either man’s proximity to — or involvement in — homosexuality because their denialism places its premium on what they have in common with their immediate communities (skin colour), setting this surface trait over and against those whose surface traits are obviously different in order to divert attention from their own concealed “otherness”.

The self-loathing that produces homophobia as internalised disgust of what is unseen in oneself and in others, necessitates and projects the other-loathing that produces racism as fixation on the exterior of “the other”, taking the spotlight off one’s secret — and persuading a man like Hitler that one’s self-loathing will serve racist imperialism well. So, homophobia is racism in another skin.

Lost Boys alleges that apartheid-era ministers Magnus Malan and John Wiley, among others, were paedophiles who trafficked children — mostly boys of colour — to clandestine locations where they sexually abused them. On his Radio 702 talk show, Eusebius McKaiser suggested the National Party’s projection of a “Christian” veneer of moral legitimacy now underscores the denialist backlash towards Lost Boys; that the rush to reduce this to a story about simple paedophilia looks away from the pattern of white-supremacist heteropatriarchal violence and its reduction of black bodies to “things” on which self-loathing at one’s sexuality collides with the choice to offer this self-repression (homophobia) up to other-oppression (racism).

The Aversion Project reports that in Namibia, “Ovambo and Herero women were raped and gang-raped” by gay military conscripts who were forced to do this; in the decades since the state deployed psychiatrists to systematically torture homosexuality out of young men, lest they be rendered impotent to further perpetrate racist violence, voices advocating the acceptance of gender and sexual diversity have grown to a tipping point.

This is evidenced by the ground-breaking publication of Africa’s first Practice Guidelines For Psychology Professionals Working With Sexually And Gender-Diverse People by the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA). It was authored by their members in the Africa LGBTI Human Rights Project and will be launched in KwaZulu-Natal this Wednesday, August 22.

Its goal is promoting the mental health and human rights of LGBTI people.But I contend everyone’s mental health and human rights will be advanced by this work: anyone is invited to freely RSVP to attend via email.

Having written You Have To Be Gay To Know God (Kwela Books, 2018) I will proudly be on this launch panel to — despite the relentless backlash that’s been coming for doing so — continue highlighting how religious teachings that have gone unchanged since they served colonialism and apartheid, serve those oppressive systems decades after they’ve been dismantled on paper.

The culture in which violence perpetrated by half the world’s population is tolerated in the name of culture or God, results from the violence perpetrated on their psyches in their grooming as “real men” — and it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. DM


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