Men kissing on TV - so what?

2016-01-18 22:52

In 2007, the SABC suspended Umthunzi Wentaba, because the storyline on the show was too graphic and in the words of traditional leaders, “provoked the wrath of the ancestors”. The show was about young men who were set to perform  a ritual marking the transition from childhood to manhood in the construction of masculinity as is customary for many South Africans.

The ancestors would unleash their supernatural powers on the custodians of custom if such a show was allowed to continue since it included a storyline of circumcision performed by an inexperienced, fly-by-night or illegitimate ‘traditional surgeon’. And importantly may lead many to question the relevance of such practices if and when the storyline led to one of the young men possibly dying in the process.

The show was suspended because according to then SABC chief executive Adv Dali Mpofu and the traditional leaders, it had overstepped the boundaries. You wouldn’t want to piss the ancestors off would you? But why not piss them off and have a ceremony to appease them afterwards? You would have to kill a goat or cow, get some Mqombothi, a few bottles of Commando brandy and Gin or Vodka, burn impepho (incense), have a few words with the dead and voila - the ancestors have been appeased. Have a feast to celebrate after the rituals.

In the end, the show would have raised a debate about the practice and how to make it safer since many young people still die to this day in that process. If traditionalists had not blocked the debate as they usually do on most things affecting custom, perhaps ways of maintaining the practice without lives lost or ruined may have been agreed upon by now.

Then in 2009, another show dared to do what traditionalists do not like much because it is supposedly un-African. Beloved prime-time soap opera Generations introduced a gay couple with a kiss. Oh no! Two loving men kissing on television? We cannot have that during family viewing time on our favourite show. Heaven forbid if Senzo and Jason kiss again, all our children would become homosexuals. What of our Christian values? Mfundi Vundla has lost it so said traditionalists and Christians, outraged and some threatened to boycott the show.

It never occurred to them that actually, homosexuals have been watching Brooke and Ridge kissing, moaning and groaning on Bold and the Beautiful for years, but I have yet to meet a homosexual that was turned into a heterosexual after watching countless onscreen kisses and sexual scenes between heterosexual couples. Even in our own homes we are raised by heterosexuals, bombarded with heteronormativity everywhere you turn. From home, school, church, workplace and other social circles but it has never turned any homosexual into a heterosexual. But homosexuals kissing on screen would turn everyone into a homosexual. Stop the queer revolution and besides, being gay is un-African, a Western import. Nonsense of course but these are non-arguments that are out there.

So I got bored  and stopped watching television because in the end, it did not speak to me. The storylines were never what I could identify with. And so I started watching videos on YouTube. I came across a number of shows with LGBT+ actors and actresses with storylines that speak to the everyday struggles of the LGBT+ community.

From teenagers who kill themselves because they live in a society that does not provide a safe space for them to live the life that feels most natural to them. To stories of homosexuals dealing with homophobic family members, colleagues and ‘friends’. Transsexuals being murdered, lesbians raped and murdered because they are queer. I felt like I had just discovered gold.

What was most surprising about the shows was that the production staff used their own homes, wardrobes, and spent their own money telling stories, both entertaining and highlighting major queer struggles without mainstream media. This was because members of the LGBT+ community were fed up with watching heteronormative television that did not tell queer struggles. So a movement was born. At first it became about race since the first few shows to burst into the scene told white queer struggles which may in many ways differ from the experiences of black members of the LGBT+ community. But then the black LGBT+ community also began telling their stories.

Even more shocking was that one of the gay characters on Triangle the web series is named Jesus. Imagine a gay character named Jesus kissing his boyfriend on screen. I don’t know what would outrage Christians in South Africa the most between him being named Jesus or kissing another man. The ACDP would probably demand a ban on the naming of gay characters after Jesus. But then you can have John, Paul, Peter or Moses but Jesus would be pushing it. Worthy of a jail sentence would be the sex scene between them, with his boyfriend moaning ‘ ooh ahh, oh yes Jesus’.

Not that homophobia does not exist in the US but the arts do enjoy a higher degree of freedom of expression there.  They don't have to worry about ancestors unleashing their wrath on them. Perhaps something South Africa can learn. It is simply stupid to pretend that homosexuals do not exist and silence their voices. Just as it is stupid to pretend that young men do not die or get abused by village drunkards in Mpondoland when in the initiation schools. Young men undergoing initiation die, not all but even if it was just one each year, it would require action. Homosexuals actually love and kiss each other.

This is not fiction but something that happens, yet our television shows must portray a society that is completely divorced from the everyday experiences of particular groups of South Africans because it makes some people uncomfortable?

I can only hope that it will not be your child, sister, or brother that kills themselves after you’ve taught them that there is no place for homosexuals in this world. Or son that returns home from the initiation school in a coffin or without a penis and may never be able to give you grandchildren.

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