There’s more than one kind of gay
You can’t bring about acceptance for the gay community while still catering to the ignorant too
Gay men should be suspicious about the press around personalities including Somizi Mhlongo, Thulasizwe “Lasizwe” Dambuza, Moshe Ndiki, Khaya Dladla and Cameron Modisane. It’s so easy to argue that it points to some sort of increased visibility of gay lives and culture, but I am a little more wary.
In fact I was glad to see a friend of mine call out TimesLIVE for its coverage of Somizi’s engagement announcement. On Monday: “Will Bonang be a bridesmaid? Mzansi reacts to Somizi's engagement” and on Tuesday: “Can the homophobic grinches stay away … We celebrating #Somhale here!”You can’t help bring about acceptance while still catering to the ignorant too. It doesn’t work that way. That goes for any sort of bigotry for that matter.
But what that pointed to, and has been the subject of a few discussions between some friends and I, is the insistence on media outlets exploiting Somizi, for instance, for his reach in the entertainment realm while being blind to the stereotypes such opportunities peddle.
I want to disabuse anyone who believes I am in any way dismissing these media personalities, their talents and experiences. But I am questioning the insistence on pushing the perception of gay media personalities as only being sassy and audacious characters who are here for entertainment purposes.There is absolutely nothing wrong with having any of the above mentioned names on your platforms, but there is absolutely everything wrong with giving them a platform so that they can confirm or entrench the same silly stereotypes you claim to want to help undo.
It appears to me that the more outlandish, the more desirable. Click-bait, as it is referred to nowadays. It’s disheartening to find myself pre-empting the contents of any interview or feature on a particular personality, but more often than not my presumptions are spot-on. Superficial and underwhelming.Some time last year, there was an interview with Dambuza, in which he lamented the absence of his father. He was quoted as saying: “Because my father (TV personality Khanyi Mbau’s father) didn't raise me, I am who I am today. My environment socialised me to connect with my feminine side over my masculinity. I grew up peeing like the females in my house … I believe if my father was hands-on in my life I wouldn’t be gay, not that I blame him or regret who I am, it’s just an observation.”
He subsequently sought to explain his comments, accusing Sowetan newspaper of “rewriting” the story to “suit them”. Whoever was in the wrong in that instance doesn’t change the fact that there needs to be a mental shift in all of us about the perception of gay folk.One of the dangers of having a sole and frivolous view of gay men as just being “energetic and ever so funny” (as Metro FM described Lasizwe), is that these personalities are then installed as some sort of gay spokesmen, that they are the quintessential and the rest of the community are mere duplicates.
What bothers me is that it’s not like people don’t recognise that for every Simon Nkoli, there is Tim Cook. That one was an anti-apartheid and gay rights and Aids activist, while another is a formerly reclusive tech industry mogul. That for every Zanele Muholi, there is a Justice Edwin Cameron. Or Martina Navratilova for Nakhane. No one life or experience is a chronicle of all other lives or experiences thereof.
These are all brilliant but vastly different characters with divergent experiences and, sometimes, varying opinions on the world. No human being ever wants to be compared to another – especially if they’re being seen as another carbon copy. It is most maddening and careless.I’m reminded of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s momentous TED Talk from almost nine years ago, The Danger of a Single Story: “So that is how to create a single story; show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become … The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
It is time the media, of which we expect so much, take the responsibility they espouse a lot more seriously. It is time that we realise that, as Adichie said, “stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise”, and using queer folk as caricatures is not as empowering as we think.