Landisa: Growing up queer in Kimberley, and why I’m scared of being gay

2020-01-24 09:24
Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane. (Supplied)

Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane. (Supplied)

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Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane is the co-host of popular South African literary podcast ‘The Cheeky Natives’, a social justice activist, and aspirant advocate. 

After studying at Stellenbosch University, Mokgoroane worked as a lawyer in Johannesburg, became a social justice activist, studied overseas, and facilitated critical conversations about race and sexuality. 

Recently, he's spent the past few months as the right-hand person of prominent sexual health advocate Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, or Dr T as she is affectionately known, after she published her highly successful book A Guide to Sexual Health & Pleasure.

Landisa spoke to Mokgoroane, 27, about growing up queer in Kimberley in the Northern Cape; why he is sometimes scared about being gay and why there's reason to believe there's progress in South Africa.

How was it being queer in a small community in the Northern Cape?

So living in a place like Kimberley, where you don't necessarily have resources. You've seen people who are queer. But you've also seen the homophobia of people who are different and who grow up differently.

I suppose I was privileged in one way that my mother was a very ... she was a black woman, and a black woman who is like: if you are what you want to be, then continue to be what you want to be.

So I suppose my mother sort of encouraged me to be the person that I am from a very young age, and didn't shame me for being that person. But that doesn't mean that society wasn't shameful and that it wasn't difficult. 

And potentially dangerous, right.

So it was challenging because you still lived in this place.

Yes, you could have a nice nest in your home, but you had other family members who are homophobic [and] society was homophobic, and then you go to a place like Stellenbosch [to study], which is highly conservative and you are also trying to find yourself and you've been shamed to be a particular way.

So you entered the church system, and the church also creates an environment.

But also the society in which you live in creates an environment. But there are pockets of relief, you know, there was the queer society on campus and you would be able to go there.

But I think when you start working and when you are reliant on yourself, in some instances, that's when you can truly be who you are, because you aren't reliant on people financially, and in terms of support.

So I think for me, my early part of my career was when I became me in my fullness, because I didn't have to worry about people either taking support away from me, kicking me out of the house and those type of things.

So when people say, "oh, come out, you'll be fine," it's a little dangerous, because like, you don't know what people's support structures look like, and whether the support structures will be enough.

How did you make peace with your religion and your sexuality?

It is hard because you know, you live in the world.

Like that's the point: you live in the world. And so a large part of my life was also a shame part of my life.

It's just like: I'm praying this away, why are you not going away, why are you not doing this? And so there was a moment where I'm like, but what if God wanted me to be this person? And so I'm blocking God's blessing by trying to be something that I'm not. And I think that realisation sort of creates a different way of looking at things.

It was hard. But I think for me, I thought about, you know, Jesus.

Matthew writes in Matthew, he says: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness."

And the rest will be added on to you.

And for me, it's thinking about what is this kingdom of God, right? And thinking about like: okay, if I'm seeking Jesus, and I'm loving Jesus, and Jesus is blessing me because of who I am, why is this shameful?

So for me, it was a lot of push and pull, push and pull, push and pull... But ultimately, it was like: but I love Jesus and I love God and I want to have a relationship, a personal relationship with them. It could be outside of the church because the church is different from a relationship with a higher power, right?

So for me, it was taking myself and extricating myself from a church setting that was shameful.

Are there any moments in your life where you felt like you had enough?

I mean, there are many moments like that, right?

When you like high school and you like: "Oh, I like boys. Why do I like boys. Ah that's disgusting."

And the Church says it's wrong.

And I'm like: "What if I just died?" Right? So I think a lot of marginalised communities have also like this minority stress and also, sometimes suicide ideation, because you just want to... I don't think it's about ending your life, particularly, but you want to end the situation that's enabling you not to live.

So these structures are the ones that are oppressing you and you want to end them. And in order to end these structures, your solution is thinking about what about ending my life. Which is different from having mental health illnesses, right?

Because I think sometimes we conflate the two. For me, I think the ending of life is more about ending structures of oppression and not necessarily my life.

But yes, there are moments. I mean, there are moments now when you're just like: "Why do I have to do this? Like, why am I fighting so hard? Why do I need to be here?" 

And, are you ever scared about being gay?

I mean, in the last three weeks, three black queer women have been killed. They've been murdered because of their gender identity and their sexual orientation. And it means I'm in danger. Like, I didn't know if I walk out here... like I've painted my nails. Like what does that mean? What sort of violence am I inviting, so to say. 

So there are moments where you just read about all these hate crimes. There is another non-South African queer person who was attacked in Cape Town just a week ago. And you think about: Am I next? Like, will it happen to me? 

You recently took a strong social media stance against shaming queer people for using dating applications such as Grinder and Tinder. Why? 

I think it's important for people in our social position to be like: "yeah, we use Grindr, and we use Tinder."

Because where are we going to meet people?

Like, I'm queer. I can't just go out in the world and be like: "Hey, you look like you like boys like let's try something".

I think that conversation around shaming people from using dating apps is really problematic, right?

Because on the one hand, it's making the assumption that people are able to meet people freely. On the other hand, it's like you have time to meet these people freely.

So for me, it's like Grindr and Tinder are like Twitter and Instagram and Facebook where if you'd like someone you liked a picture, sometimes you slide in the DM.

Grindr is particularly for that purpose. And Tinder is like, if you're here, you're either looking for a nice time or you're looking for a relationship, but we already know why you're there, right? So it's easier to narrow it down because I'm like, I'm here for this. You're here for this. Let's make it happen.

Every year we have gender-based violence marches, but the brutal rape and killing of women continue. Do you think we are making any progress?

I think the fact that we are a young democracy means that these things that are happening every single year is change. I think that we are an instant generation.

So we want there to be one march and then next year everything's going to be fine.

Think about 1976: how many people had died in order for us to have democracy today.

From 1976 until we reached 1994. That didn't happen overnight or over 10 years, it really took the effort of a lot of people over a long period of time in order for us to get to where we are.

I think it's thriving the fact that we are having #menaretrash every year.

There are definitely iterations of men are trash every year. Now we're talking about how men are treating people in relationships.

Now, we talked about how men are murdering women. Now we're talking about how men are raping women, or how men are complicit in the raping, and killing. So I think there's different iterations of the same thing. 

Do you have a story to share? Send it to landisa@news24.com and include your contact details and a photo. Visit Landisa for more stories.

Read more on:    kimberley  |  gender based violence  |  landisa  |  queer
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