Under Attack?

I’ve been grappling with the generally negative tone of my posts. I tend to be inspired to write when I see or feel that our community is under attack, usually from the outside. This is one of those moments, although it seems like this time, the damage is being inflicted from within. What do I mean by that? Well, let me explain.

Every so often, various lists are created and circulated via certain messaging platforms and become viral. The lists usually have some malicious content, and only function to spread rumours and lies about the individuals named. Some have called them harmless fun, but I disagree wholeheartedly. The latest list comes in the form of a snarky newsletter, which the author has promised to keep publishing weekly. The tone is malicious, hateful and hurtful. It’s really disappointing that at a time when we are reeling from the massacre in Garissa, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the mysterious disappearance of Itai Dzamara and countless other issues, the contribution of our community is the diatribe that is this list. Whoever the writer is, and there are many theories circulating about his identity, he has done nothing to help our community. He has played into the often cited stereotype that we are a bunch of bitchy queens intent on bringing each other down. I hope he realises that these are fellow human beings that he is so gleefully attacking. We are under such assault from the country at large that we don’t need to arm the gun and pull the trigger ourselves.

Then there’s the video, a 13 min sex tape that is doing the rounds. I won’t describe any of what I saw. I feel sorry for the two guys in the video. Their lives aren’t ever going to be the same again. They are going to have to live with the aftermath of this video going viral for a long time. And in a country where possession and distribution of pornographic material is illegal, both of them and anyone who has shared or received this video could face some sort of legal action if the video gets to the relevant authorities. What surprises me the most is that a lot of people have been sharing this video. I know that it’s a salacious and titillating thing and people want to share the latest gossip, but what about the individuals involved? I’m sure they didn’t create it so that their faces could become the most famous among gay Zimbabweans. I hope people stop sharing it. I hope people delete it from their devices. I hope people stop judging them, this can happen to anyone. We need to rally behind this pair and make sure their mistake doesn’t cost them their security, safety or livelihoods.

A not so happy new year…

2014 has started and I can’t help but feel like the air has been violently removed from my bubble. During the past few weeks, Africa has become a less tolerant place for its LGTBIQQA citizens.

First, the Ugandan parliament passed a bill that proposes lengthy sentences for both same-sex loving people and their supporters just before Christmas. It was audaciously called an early Christmas present to the people from the parliament. The good news is that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, has since refused to sign the bill into law. His reasons, according to this article, don’t exactly inspire hope for the future of LGTBIQQA citizens of Uganda.
The second and similar problematic thing is the unannounced but expected signing of the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan early in January. The act was adopted and passed by the legislative branches of government in 2011 and 2013. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex was already criminalised in Nigeria, with punishments as severe as death in some northern states where sharia law. What this new law does is to even criminalize groups that advocate for gay rights in Nigeria.
While all this has been happening, a transsexual friend of mine who lives as a woman was arrested for using a female toilet in Bulawayo. The case was thrown out by the judge. Also in Bulawayo, a GALZ sponsored Christmas party was raided by the police and several prominent figures within ZANU PF’s Youth League were outed to the party structures. No charges have been filed but they still live in fear.
Meanwhile, South Africa, seen by many as a beacon of hope when it comes to gay rights in Africa, has remained silent. International condemnation has been loud and quick. Petitions from all over the world are littering the internet. And still South Africa remains silent. There are serious discussions about reform of the United Nations Security Council to include a permant seat for an African country. The top two contenders are South Africa and Nigeria and that saddens me. We cannot allow African countries that don’t respect or protect African LGBTI rights the privilege of representing the continent on the Security Council. The time has come for us to speak out and stand up for our rights!

Hands off my (future) son’s foreskin!

The Government of this glorious nation of mine has been on a voluntary male medical circumcision drive for the past couple of years in a misguided (in my humble opinion) attempt to put a dent in the numbers of new HIV infections in the country. According to reports I’ve encountered, the numbers have been less than satisfactory and far less than the donors expected. Why? Simply put, I know very few guys who would willingly get their symbol of manhood disfigured, especially when the procedure does not completely prevent infection with virus. Consistent and correct us of condoms is still a must after the procedure. It seems like this part of the message isn’t getting across to people. Reports of men contracting HIV after circumcision and of prostitutes having clients who don’t want to use protection because they’ve been circumcised have surfaced. That’s worrying. And they now want to experiment on babies! No thank you! Let’s focus on behaviour change, universal access to condoms, lubes and proper sex education.

I’m older than him; so what?

I’ve had four serious relationships in my life. In all but the last I was younger than my partner (significantly so in one instance). In my last one I was the older party. I was never in it for the money and my most recent ex boyfriend didn’t need or get any money from me. Just because there’s an age difference between two people doesn’t mean that monetary transactions are the basis and binding force of the relationship. I’ve always been able to provide for myself in every relationship I’ve been in; and to some extent, I expect my partner to be able to do the same. Don’t get me wrong, I love being spoilt with romantic gestures. These gestures just can’t be forced.

The reason I’m saying all of this is that I’ve been accused,through the grapevine, of paying my ex-boyfriend for sex. I know the stories didn’t originate from him. Whoever has spread this ludicrous story obviously doesn’t know either of us very well. If they did, they would know that for both of us love, sex and money don’t mix. I know our relationship was unexpected and unconventional and full of internal drama, but the love was real. It may be hard for anyone who was on the outside looking in to understand how and why we got together and stayed together as long as we did. But for them to automatically turn to the idea of me paying for services rendered says a great deal about our community; specifically how younger guys are treated by older guys and the expectations younger guys have of older guys dating them. It disgusts me that money is the first thing that people think of. What about the mutual love and mutual respect that two people may share. I know not every relationship between partners of different ages is the same as mine have been. However, painting them all with the same brush is unfair. I was left enriched emotionally and matured. I had experiences with my older partners that opened me to the possibilities of what a relationship between two men could be. I was left a better man. I hope I had the same effect on my ex.
That’s my rant for the day done!

Nobody obvious, please

During the frivolities of last week’s Zim Pride, one of our own died after complaining of a severe headache. She was a fixture at GALZ events, well loved and respected by everyone who met her. I was shocked and incredulous when I found out about her death. However, I can be secure in the knowledge that she lived her life the way she wanted, filled with love both from her long-time partner and the community. Her funeral and wake were supposed to be a time where all the people who loved her could gather to celebrate her life and mourn her passing. That was the plan until a friend of mine received a message asking that “nobody obvious” should attend. What does that even mean? And in the Zimbabwean cultural context, it is taboo to turn anybody away from a funeral and wake. It’s as if you are diminishing the relationship between the deceased and those you’ve turned away. Nothing is as insulting as being turned away from mourning your friend because you’re too obvious.

I actually wasn’t going to post anything about this incident out of respect for the deceased, but I felt like it raised an important issue. We seem to be obsessed with how people express their sexuality; whether someone is butch or fem seems to be so important. The external expression of our inner and most personal sexuality determines whether you’ll be accepted by the mainstream queers. If a guy is too fem or a girl is to butch, they are labelled and shunned. How can we, a community struggling to be recognised and accepted as part of the diverse social landscape of our country, how can we exclude and stigmatise anybody. We should be the first to be united in our own diversity. We should be the first to celebrate that diversity. Events like this past weekend’s Mr and Miss Pride (a drag beauty and fashion pageant) help to put those that are usually in the dark under the spotlight. However, these events are few and far between. We queers just need to take it on board that we are as diverse as the general population and if we want to be recoginised and accepted we cannot continue to discriminate our own!

Standing tall with Pride

It’s been three days of Zim Pride and I’m going to try being less journalistic and more opinionated in this post. It’s been fun seeing Harare’s (and Chitungwiza, Ruwa and Norton as well) gays gather together to discuss, network and I’m sure hook-up! One of the things that’s worried me though, is the tiny presence of our lesbian sisters at these events. Now I know I’ve said some not so nice things about my sapphic sisters, but that doesn’t mean that at events like Zim Pride they should be under-represented. But I guess that’s also the case with the GALZ staff make-up; I know only two female officers.

My other big worry comes from the lack of diversity in the attendants. I didn’t see any non-black Zimbabwean queers at any of the events. Now could that possibly mean that there aren’t any? Easy answer: NO! I personally know and interact socially and professionally with some of these elusive non-black queers. The problem is that they don’t see GALZ and it’s activities as relevant to them. To be fair, I didn’t either until quite recently. But my friends who work there and are members of the organisation have taught me otherwise. Maybe that’s what needs to happen; an outreach event for our white, Asian and coloured brothers and sisters. I mean we are all fighting in the same battle. Let’s actually start behaving like we are.
Now for my own personal confession… I’ve been so embarrassed at the last two events. You see, I’m a very sexual person. I sometimes think with my small head. Since these events are drawing in a wide variety of the gays, I’m bound to bump into a few I’ve had carnal knowledge of. Well on Tuesdsay night, I counted 9! That’s right 9! Now I’m not wearing that as a badge of honour, but I’m also not slut-shaming myself. I guess I just realised that when I saw them all in one room that I need to slow down. I’m seen by a lot of people as respectable and I just think my self-respect went down a few notches!

"We are here, still standing with pride"

Zimbabwe Pride Week 2013 is upon us and was launched last night in simultaneous events held in Harare and Bulawayo at local hotels. I was at the Harare launch cocktail in the company of the orginising GALZ staff, several European ambassadors and representatives of local and regional NGOs. Friends, sponsors and supporters of GALZ and our community’s struggle for equality. Although it wasn’t spectacularly attended, I was still moved to tears by the special words of hope and encouragement offered by the speakers. The motherly wisdom and love emanating from Lois Chingandu, the SAfAIDS regional director, was just perfect. It was a great evening and great time to network with other activists. I can’t wait for the rest if the week and a chance to engage and celebrate with other LGTBQI individuals at the various events planned throughout the week.

Homophobia rears its ugly head again…

It’s the election season here in Zimbabwe, and for us men and women of the same-gender-loving persuasion that means undue and unjust harassment and political scapegoating. Usually, it’s just a few articles in the government mouthpiece the Herald and its sister publications. However this time round the homophobic and violent rhetoric has been stepped up. First the GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) 44 were arrested, detained without charge for nearly 48 hours and tortured in August last year. And then there was the bizarre incident in June where the GALZ offices were invaded by thugs wielding hammers and other weapons. This time the Zimbabwe Republic Police, renowned for unexpected and random raids on GALZ, came to the rescue and promptly arrested the thugs. No word yet on what has happened to the thugs. And then this article comes out in the Herald’s Features section last week, where the author uses the article to coin the new word “gayism” and paint Harare’s eccentric artistic scene as a gay recruitment centre.

All these attacks and many more have happened in the full view of the private media and other civic society groups, and yet very few of them step up to defend GALZ and its membership. But if we look at what else has happened in Zimbabwe since August 2012, we see a steady stream of other NGOs and civic society groups being raided, their members being arrested and their activities being disrupted. The list includes groups like WOZA, ZPP, ZimRights, ZCTU, NANGO and people like Beatrice Mtetwa. At a time like this, I always remember the wise words of the late German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:

In Germany, they came first for the Communists,And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist…When they locked up the social democrats,I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
…then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew…When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out.

Zimbabweans, we need to do more to speak out against injustice whenever and wherever we see it. We cannot continue to be a society that sits idly by while others are being dragged over the coals for holding and expressing an opinion. We cannot continue to be a society that turns a blind eye towards unnecessary hatred and a deaf ear to violent rhetoric. We need to become a society where everybody’s rights are upheld, especially the rights of those you most disagree with. That is the equal and just society we all say we want to be a part of. Then why are we so scared to stand up and fight for it. The time is now!

Of parties and exes

The past two weekends have been filled with almost non-stop revelry for me and my posse. It’s been a fun blur of drink, dance and… the dreaded ex! Because Harare’s gay community is really small, you are inevitably going to bump into that ex you may not be completely over. Cue the awkward conversations. The surreptitious glances. The jealous evil-eye at his next conquest. And of course the excessive drinking so that you appear cool and unaffected by his presence. Never mind the fact that he’s probably going through the same emotions. But in that moment all you can think about is yourself. You feel stupid for still having feelings for him but unable to stop caring for him and seeking him out. You secretly hope that you’ll ‘bump’ into each other in a quiet corner, the romantic orchestra will burst into a triumphant love song and you’ll run into each other’s arms and fall into long passionate embrace (all transgressions forgiven and forgotten). But, alas. Life isn’t a Hollywood melodrama. Life is opening yourself to love in the full knowledge that the love can quickly turn into pain and heartache. You can’t truly love someone until you accept that. This love, this relationship is for right now and any promises of forever are liable to be broken.

Happy Gay Day! IDAHOBIT 2013

It’s May 17, and that means IDAHOBIT. For those of you that need a translation today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. May 17 was chosen because in 1990, homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease. IDAHOBIT, more than Pride, is a global event whose main aim is to raise awareness about the endemic heterosexism and homophobia of society. Living in Zimbabwe as a black, gay, man, I am aware everyday of how entrenched homophobia and heterosexism can cause immense heartache and pain in many people’s lives. The hatred is media and government sponsored. There is very little space given for gay-friendly voices. And anytime anyone expresses a comment that is remotely anti-hate, they are accused of being gay. That is the society I live in. But as Daniel Radcliffe put it “you don’t have to be gay to be a supporter, you just have to be human”. I can’t believe I’m quoting Harry Potter!
This hatred sometimes becomes internalised leading to self-loathing and in the extreme cases suicide. I have a friend who killed himself a few months ago. His suicide took us all by surprise. I’m not saying that there weren’t any other underlying issues that lead to him taking his life, but the prevailing cloud of hate that we live under surely didn’t do much to help the situation.
I have nothing really to celebrate today. All I can do is stand up proud and be counted as member of amazing global family. All I can do is shout out loud that this is who I am; I am not sick, I don’t need to be saved and my existence does not and should not threaten you or your families. People let’s stop the hate. Love and let love…
Happy Gay Day! Today remember to make a homosexual smile or let a homosexual make you smile!