This year’s Johannesburg – Jo’burg Pride Parade was very much controversial: something actually happened. But I missed the commotion. Choosing instead to forego the parade and attend the festivities at the Rosebank – Zoo lake – park grounds, where the pride-party would take place much later in the afternoon.
It was a very different Pride Indeed.
The first Pride March I ever attended was mandatory. I was the new journalist in the newsroom and was on duty the weekend of that year’s Pride. I was assigned to cover it. This is a decade ago. It was to be treated as a colour piece: journalism speak for a fun and entertaining story, nothing serious sans les Politik. This suited me fine because I was, so to speak so very green, in matters concerning or affecting the LGBTQi community be they political or otherwise.
This time I went early and started walking with the happy Kings and Queens. I was mesmerized. The March was Lilly white and 80 percent male. I felt very conspicuous among the roaring crowds. A very rare species being – black and female – like an exotic African curiosity on the concrete runway. But I was on duty so I discounted my presence there.
As the march proceeded, I conducted vox-pops with revelers – gingerly – I was (and still am) slightly (it’s getting better now) intimidated by gay people, gay men especially. One is often too much to deal with for me (I have a very low self-esteem) much less a whole group of them happy together at Pride. Before I forget: I lived with a roaring queen as a child and loved to listen with interest as she described just how useless women were at taking of themselves, while putting on make up and grooming herself (oiling her very long legs) in the mornings in the room I shared with my two sisters. According to her; women put their good looks to waste by not taking care of themselves, and she was so much better at it – More than a Woman. Even I at 11 years old did not meet her very high standards of what constitutes a well-groomed woman, I did not meet my mothers’ standards either. I still don’t.
I was happy I was there in my professional capacity because the mic always put a distance between me and whoever I am interviewing. So I was shielded from their laser eyes, of what’s wrong with your skin honey? hair, make-up, not to mention…” Darling what are you wearing?!. I was, however, taken aback by the events’ aura of exclusivity and falseness, not in the costumes they wore but just in their “collective” attitudes : how they responded to me as I asked my questions. That day reminded me of an unrelated experience I had when I was in High School in Newcastle – in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal Province. There I attended an overnight prayer session organized by a Christian group from High School, an Afrikaans-English medium school which was still highly conservative in circa 1997. They said sure you should come, “Dit sal lekker wees” It’ll be nice said Kobie the blonde one ( she was a straight A student by the way ) with a smile and a pat on my shoulder. I was Christian and very new at the school and town.
I went and was coldly ignored by my two friends who smiled at me all the time. I wondered the hills on my own the whole night until it was morning and I could go home without having uttered a word to a soul on a mountain full of people. Or another unrelated event when I was much younger – circa 1995 when I got lost during a christian march in Pretoria with an Afrikaans family my parents had befriended. I was assigned to one of the older girls for the walk, but soon wondered and got lost in the crowd. I heard someone screaming, ” Waar is die swart meisie! swart meisie! swart meisie! (where is the black girl). When I heard her repeat my nom du plume over and over again, I ignored her for a bit hoping that, that call was not meant for me. But it was and as she grabbed me by the hand I said to her stubbornly in her language – “swart meisie is nie my naam nie” black girl is not my name, her response in English to me was what else was I supposed to say?
So after my pride colour piece was done and dusted I forgot about it immediately. There was nothing about that Pride that made me ever want to go back. But I did.
In 2009 I went to Soweto Pride and Marched. I woke up really early in the morning, a feat unusual for me and it was a bright and beautiful day. I had a bubbly happiness lingering in the base of my stomach. I didn’t know where it came from, maybe it was my nerves. Maybe it was because I was going to a Pride March in my home township, in Meadowlands, at a park where my sisters and I used to play as kids, all kinds of games. Or maybe it was because the community (we/re ) was still reeling from the cruel murders of two women – Sizakele Sigasa and Saloome Masooa in 2007 – killed because they were lesbian, lovers, living together. I was assigned to that story too, to “cover” the memorial service on the 12th of July 2007. I wanted to bathe myself afterwards to rid myself of the palpable grief that clung on to my skin like a rash, and I was just an observer – a witness. I met an old friend of mine that day she was at the memorial service. Tracy – we studied journalism together – and I often enjoyed her latest heartache stories of the new, new-girl-in town she was in love with. I had never seen that look in her eyes. I had never seen her crying. She was always the tough one.
At Soweto Pride I wore my girlfriend (lover’s ) very short white tennis shorts, a wild cat black and white t-shirt I bought for her as a present and a grey short waist coat and a straw hat. I was slightly late for the convoy and my black and white friends were not amused by my tardiness, but nothing could take away my inner joy. I was going to March in My Home Town and stand up for mine and everyone’s right to Life. Though I was among friends I walked that short strip of road on my own, thinking about my mother and grandmother and cousins and sisters and wondered what they would say If they saw me then. I also met someone that day. She changed my life. The march was mostly black and mostly female and mostly poor. There were no floats.
This time I didn’t want to go to no Pride Parade. I wanted to go to the OR Tambo Liberation Walk, which was taking place on the same day. OR Tambo was South African’s anti-apartheid politician/activist/scholar/teacher/lawyer/musician and central figure in the African National Congress – ANC .
But after I heard the organizer say on the radio they were not sure which school, in the Eastern Cape where OR Tambo is from, the proceeds from the walk would go to I changed my mind. Another friend wanted to go to Pride. I had a beautiful dress I wanted to wear and had no occasion for it so I thought Pride here I come.
Before this march and in my dealings, professional or otherwise I have found the gay rights movement in South Africa to be more segregated, polarized and cliquey than any other group I have ever been a “part” of. I felt even more alien within its smothering arms. I was a generally insecure person before, and all my insecurities were highlighted within in the Gay/Lesbian “community”. I didn’t look gay enough; from the way I dressed, to my physical body image, behaviour, the way I sound, my hair cut, mannerisms, my friends, the things I like etc none of it was “gay enough”. The gay rights movement is segregated, there is a separation between educated lesbians with Phds and Masters, Activists /Comrades with former struggle credentials/Separation between lesbians who wear lipstick, skirts, dresses, high heels and tight tops to those who wear gang-star pants, florsheim shoes. Separation between old, young, Gold star lesbians ( who never had sexual relations with males), No-star lesbians former straight – now – gay lesbians, lesbians with children and lesbians without, lesbian with adopted children, trans-lesbians, lesbian wives and lesbian husbands, boifriends and gayfriends ,black rich educated lesbians, black poor, uneducated lesbians… white progressive lesbians, white right-wing lesbians, closeted lesbians , sometimes out sometimes in-house lesbians etc etc, including the ever subtle but ever-present separation between black and white, poor and rich.
Within the organizations fighting for the rights of these already marginalized groups there was (is) more separation. POWA ( people against women abuse – mostly stand up for raped women) One in 9 ( rights for raped women) the chosen FEW ( women playing soccer/ raped women) and GEnderLinks, ( also includes rights of raped women) Feminist Agenda and many more representing the niche interests ranging from women living with HIV and AIDs, women playing Soccer, to organization representing the interests of women in transitions from one sexuality to another.
Not to mention the ongoing-discussions, debates or disagreements around even the term LGBTQi and what each letter means, who is (mis)- represented or is not. I understand the need for all these letters and how they can and do affirm a persons individual Identity. However I remember speaking to my mother who thinks it’s wrong to be gay, about women being raped because they are gay. Her response was this: Yes it’s sad that, that is happening, cruel for people kill , but what makes the rape of a lesbian/gay person different from another woman/man (straight, heterosexual, only has sexual intercourse with men/women) she asks? And the truth is – nothing.
Yes LGBTQI people are an easy target for hate crimes be they racist, religious, cultural or otherwise and we must Never Be Silent About That. But in South Africa MOST black women- PEOPLE- are a target of violence.
Much has been written about this subject from the United Nations Human Rights Commission to articles in newspapers, South Africa is yet to ratify the laws. ratifying yet another conventions on hate crimes, is not going to make the HATE go away. Women in South Africa regardless of who they go to sleep with at night are victims of the most horrible, violent crimes. Lesbian women have gone through some indescribable inhumane atrocities, but all of them are based on Hate.
In crime and law, hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certainsocial group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability,class, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, or gender identity.
Whether the person being hurt, murdered, or assaulted wears pants designed for men or is a helpless pensioner or a six month old child – all are raped to correct, to cure AIDs, to punish, whatever the motivation, all of it is equally evil. All of it must stop. Separating these crimes into compartments I think is counterproductive, in a country where the justice system is barely functioning. We already have existing compartments we are struggling to deal with even. As Human Rights Activists, if We ARE – human rights activists I believe we should all find a way of working together to make this kind of cruel reality for thousands of women and men in South Africa , maybe your daughter or myself tomorrow; whether they are a part of the LGBTQi community or not to STOP. My mother would support that initiative.
What happened at the weekend is disgusting, (you can google it). But more than anything it is a sign (loud alarm) of discord within the he gay rights movement, which is, I believe completely out of tune with the very people whose interest it seeks to serve.
I wore my Rainbow Dress Proudly on that very Shameful Pride weekend. I walked with my head held high, with none of my usual shyness or apologetic behavior. Alone – I stood tall and Proud and let all the letters L, G, B , T, Q, fall to the ground with each tear until I was left with I, because I am and that’s more than enough.