In the name of love, let’s celebrate diversity
Madiba’s wisdom is moving back to the heart of our national discourse
My elder son was 14 when he first came home wearing a blouse.
Surprised, and a little shocked, I spoke sharply. “Why are you wearing women’s clothing?” I demanded.
At which point I got a well-deserved mouthful about judgment, narrow-mindedness, tolerance ... and love.
Memories of the conversation flooded back when I read in the Sunday Times at the weekend about a Grade 11 boy at Reddam House in Bedfordview who had been stopped from wearing a dress in a school fashion show.
David Joffe-Hunter, 17, said he wanted to “challenge gender norms” and provoke discussion, but the Grade 11 head told him he would be laughed at, and the principal responded to a pupil petition by telling them “he had never been so disappointed in a Grade 11 group before”.My question to those two adult men who were so threatened by the idea of a boy in a dress is born of my salutary personal experience: “What are you so afraid of?”
Since arriving at home in that green blouse, my son has worn all manner of improbable garments. It’s one of the ways he expresses his individuality. He loves dancing in flowing skirts. He puts glitter on his face for parties. His hair is longer than most women’s.
My son happens to be gay — something we realised long before he starred as a very camp Malvolio, yellow stockings and all, in a school production of Twelfth Night, then came home and came out. But that is beside the point.The point is that diversity is to be celebrated, not discouraged — a sentiment eloquently expressed by thinkers as varied as Dr Seuss (“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”), Walt Whitman (“Be curious, not judgmental”) and Mother Theresa (“I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things.”)
With the rise to power of Cyril Ramaphosa, for so long Nelson Mandela’s right-hand man in the 1990s, there’s a sense that Madiba’s wisdom is moving back to the heart of our national discourse, and he expressed the importance of embracing diversity in a particularly powerful way.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” he said.
I don’t remember if my son said this in so many words, but it was the thrust of his blouse riposte: “Why can’t you just love me for who I am?”
Well, quite. And if we could all do that for our kids, the world would be a much happier place.