Growing up as a lesbian in modern-day south africa

2011-07-27 00:00

DESPITE an equality clause in the South African constitution and the legalisation of same-sex marriage, “women who love other women” are all too often constrained to live invisible lives.

It seems perverse and is indeed cruel that loving partnerships between women are commonly, at best, barely tolerated, and are frequently denigrated.

Lesbians are discriminated against in so many ways and even assaulted, raped and murdered for the sole reason that in loving other women they challenge societal norms.

This book is a collection of accounts of growing up lesbian in South Africa. In her introduction, editor Alleyn Diesel says that these stories provide “some insight into the lives of women who love other women, in the hope that some understanding of their fears, achievements and happiness will create a more empathetic appreciation of ways of life and relationships which are alternative to the majority”.

Some of the contributors, as one writer puts it, are bothered that “the very act of singling out one aspect of me — my lesbianism — would do so at the expense of other parts of me that could claim equal rights in shaping who I am”.

Many women are activists in the ongoing fight against prejudice, and for the active protection of their human rights. All affirm their right truly to be themselves.

These stories, shared so generously, affirm that lesbians are just as ordinary and just as extraordinary as anyone else.

All humans need the nurturing power of acknowledgment and understanding. Rather than being threatening, the enabling of differently lived identities unshackles a diversity of human experience that opens up opportunities for us all.

Thinking through lesbian rape , an article by Zanele Muholi that closes the book, focuses on the violent rape of black lesbians, and the fact that lesbianism needs to be reclaimed in the face of the brutal forces of hatred and hardcore patriarchy.

A man (who had participated in the gang-rape of a lesbian friend) confesses to Muholi that he repents of this hate crime. “It was just ignorance that led to that brutality,” he says.

It is to be hoped that the voices in this brave book are heard enough to roll back even some of that ignorance.

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