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Act Straight

sethu feature image
The pride flag of South Africa
July 5, 2021
Sethu's photo: Picture of South African person wearing a grey blazer in front of a sidewalk.

Ethan Sesethu Xabanisa (they/their/theirs) is from a small town called Queenstown in Eastern Cape South Africa. The young man grew up with the love of reading, inspired by his mother who was a professional teacher. Ethan was diagnosed with Conjenital Biliteral Rectina Degeneration in 2013, which has limited their eyesight. Sethu, known by their friends, is also an LGBTQIA community member and experienced violent physical abuse, emotional abuse, and homelessness as a result of their disability and sexual orientation. After an era of continuous abuse, Sethu enrolled at the University of South Africa, studying law and commerce. They are now a member of Disabled Women Living With Dignity as the host of the dignity Lounge, and have been recognized through awards and mentorships for their excellent communication skills. In 2020, they joined Ikusasa Lethu, a key partner of the Social Connectedness Programme in South Africa, as the Head of Corporate Affairs. Sethu is also a founding director of Smartbutton Technologies, a telecommunications company that creates and develops systems for persons with disabilities.

Trigger warning: mentions of rape and violence 

Being a homosexual in a homophobic society is like walking on thorns. An unrelenting marathon.

I grew up in a rural province called the Eastern Cape in South Africa, where I spent most of my high school years, growing up without a mother and living with extended family members. I did not or could not make sense of my sexuality as a child, but I would aspire to become a mother in a household. This caused confusion amongst us as siblings and other family members as I was a male with so many feminine attributes such that community members who were seeing me for the first time   assumed I was a girl. I saw no male nor boy in me, and I preferred to be  addressed as a female.

Heteronormative stereotypes originate from patriarchal motives; there is an assigning of roles to certain genders, further reinforcing the notion that there can only be one incontrovertible way of being, often citing religion or ancient culture to fortify the hate against homosexuality and those who belong to that community. I experienced abuse firsthand when I moved to East London to proceed with my high school studies. A group of hooligans used to kick me and beat me up; one of phrases they uttered were, “We won’t tolerate this revolting behaviour, we raise boys to become real men… Stabane ndini.” They further told me that I’ll be forced to participate in activities that boys in the area do.

LGBTQIA+ communities are at the receiving end of hate crimes and brutality, including against activists such as Lindokuhle Cele, Lerato Moloyi and Noxolo Xakeka who have been the common denominators of corrective rape and murder by perpetrators in South Africa. It’s a global phenomenon; members of the LGBTQIA+ community are stripped of their human dignity, robbed of their right to life and perpetually humiliated, even by the very structures that are holding a crucial responsibility and mandate to protect their rights.

Society is constructed around genderism and toxic masculinity – a man is not supposed to be emotional, they simply cannot be feminine otherwise they’ll be labeled as isitabane – a derogatory term in South Africa to describe gay people. Doctrines of ‘procreation’ are some of the issues causing tensions between the LGBTQIA+ community members and heterosexual members of society, which mostly apply in conservative African countries such as Nigeria; Zambia; Namibia; Uganda and many others. In some African countries homosexuals are subject to 30 years of imprisonment, or worse, sentenced to death. This demonstrates a clear picture of how deeply entrenched the hate directed towards homosexuals is on the African continent. While South Africa is one of the many countries that has legalized same sex relationships and marriages, hate crimes against LGBTQIA+ community members continue unabated.

It’s a constant struggle, when we are supposed to ‘act straight’ – whatever that means –  just to protect ourselves from hate and brutal attacks from those who identify as ‘straight’.

Education is key to achieving equitable social justice; principles such as diversity and critical thinking around human values are indispensable to this cause. We simply cannot ignore the fundamental principles of restorative justice; civil society organizations and community members must come together to create and deliver awareness campaigns on diversity, and introduce empowerment programmes such as entrepreneurship courses, life skills, character development and critical thinking for individuals who are kicked out of schools and their communities. Institutions of faith and religion should recognize same sex marriages, engage support groups inside the congregation, and provide psychosocial support to the LGBTQIA+ in a holistic manner (i.e. nutritional support, shelter, job placement, bursary schemes and so much more).

Homosexuality is neither a behaviour nor a lifestyle. No one wakes up one day and decides to be homosexual. Diversity exists in sexuality and we must acknowledge that not everyone subscribes to heteronormative behaviours or practices.

As human beings, we are designed on foundations of kindness and philanthropy. It is our collective responsibility to extend our helping hands to our brothers and sisters in times of need, there should be no room left for unfair discrimination, genderism, racism and homophobia. What I ask of all societies is just to let us breathe. Give us the space to be and not cast stones on us. We deserve the same rights as everyone else. We deserve to belong.