Born free, but still a slave to society.

2014-07-08 08:36

Having grown up as a gay man in apartheid South Africa and having been arrested twice back in the late 1970’s early 1980’s for my sexual orientation, I look at what has changed 30 years down the line…not much!

Back in my late teens and early twenties sexual acts committed by gay men were punishable by law in South Africa; being homosexual, however, was not illegal - work your head around that one. During those years there was no Internet so there was no online dating or pick-up sites like Gaydar or Manhunt, just to mention two of the perhaps thousands of sites out there. While I was growing up gay ‘cruising’ and ‘cottaging’ were perhaps the two most popular ways gay guys could meet or get together for a sexual experience. There were not too many gay clubs around back then and the few I knew of were more for having a drink and chatting and mainly operated over weekends. During the week you had to satisfy any urges by going ‘cruising’ or ‘cottaging’.

‘Cruising’ is the gay term for walking around a known ‘gay area’ and then finding someone attractive to follow until it is obvious that both parties want to hook-up. In Durban the popular area was in front of Addington Hospital, then known as 101 Beach. In Johannesburg a part of Zoo Lake was the popular spot. ‘Cottaging’ involved the use of public toilets and ‘glory holes’. In Durban a popular spot was the toilets close to Mini Town. When and who made the glory holes is still a mystery to me as I certainly never witnessed or partook in making them. A ‘glory hole’ is a hole made between two toilet cubicles or in a toilet door allowing you to look through at someone. Guys would then observe each other through the ‘glory hole’ and if they were interested in each other they would take things further.

Back then, the SAP would pose as an interested party and pounce on and arrest you the minute you made your move. There really was no other way of meeting up as society back then viewed homosexuality as something foreign that did not belong in the light of day. I explain this in more detail in my book ‘Secrets Make You Sick’.

So what has changed? Our constitution has changed; we can all vote now regardless of skin colour. In our constitution it has been written under section 9.3 that the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

Further to this on the 30 November 2006 it became legal for same-sex marriage.

This is all great, but in reality is this working on a grass roots level? Can the young black girl that is in love with another girl tell her parents and family that she is a lesbian without the possibility of the community and everyone around her turning against her? In many cases she cannot. We have this huge disparity between our amazing Constitution and cultural beliefs and general homophobic behavior in society. This causes many people to lead double lives - a life at home, which to everyone is “normal”, and a life in the city, which to them is normal but to their family would be “abnormal”.

It reminds me a lot about my years of growing up gay in apartheid South Africa. I remember as a young white man back in 1985 when the Mixed Marriages Act was repealed and seeing a black man holding a white girl’s hand was jaw dropping for me, as I had not grown up with that. Yet today it goes unnoticed to me. I ask myself the same question but applied differently - would jaws drop at the sight of two guys walking through Gateway Shopping center holding hands? I am sure it would bring Gateway to a standstill.

Why is it that gay people cannot be themselves in public, why can’t we hold hands without being gawked at or have someone pass some rude comment about it? At the end of the day it is two people in love with each other, the same love that everyone else out there feels, the only difference is it is the same sex. So what is the big deal?

It took me a long time to think of a title for this blog, ‘Born Free but Still a Slave to Society’ – it is so true. The young gay people that were born in a South Africa protected by a Constitution that is respected worldwide, still in many cases have to conform to what society demands and I find it very sad. The next time you learn someone close to you is gay, or see a gay couple in public, think about the fact that they have likely led a very tough life up to this point just grappling with their sexuality in their own minds. They don’t need further rejection by their family, friends, community and even their churches that sometimes demand they leave their communities.

We are born this way, we did not choose to be this way.

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