Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gay Pride: Is There Really A Point Anymore?

In his Daily Maverick Opinionista column, Simon Williamson asks the question that every June (LGBT Pride Month) is asked in the LGBT community & media, ‘has the time for Pride celebrations perhaps passed?’ The thrust of the argument in general is that we are now in a ‘post gay era,’ an era where one’s sexual orientation is of no importance, where ‘strategic essentialism,’ to deliberately and with purpose, separate oneself from society is no longer necessary. I must admit, this is an argument I could easily see myself agreeing with.

As Simon points out, one could argue that perhaps some prejudices and discriminatory ideas around homosexuals continue as a result of the gay community separating itself from society. That is a not an easy proposition to accept as the aim of strategic essentialism is to forward the primary gay cause, acceptance. However, no matter how difficult, it is one that must be accepted as a distinct possibility. Despite the allure of that argument, I would have to disagree and argue that; the world over, and South Africa in particular; there is still a place for strategic essentialism.

The fight for rights by minorities or any other oppressed group is never truly complete. If the undergraduate analysis can be excused, power relations in society can be said to be static, and if at all fluid, are painstakingly slow to change. A case in point is the struggle for women’s rights. Though things have undeniably advanced a century after the first wave of feminism (the fight for women’s political rights), equally undeniable is that power relations between men and women are still skewed to the former. Essentially, there is still much work being done by women’s groups to both protect and further advance the women’s cause.

Gay rights in relation, particularly gay rights in South Africa, can barely be said to be nascent and thus their protection and advancement is of utmost importance. Across the world, it is generally within particular spaces and even then so, within particular sectors of society that ‘post-gay’ is a reality. The case for South Africa is even more extreme. Most of South Africa’s LBGT individuals (as Simon points out by mentioning the horror of corrective rape) are far removed from the life promised by our progressive constitution. Yet, as with much of South Africa there’s a stark disconnect; to those of us who are gay and live relatively affluent lives in urban areas, where the notion of overt & extreme homophobia is practically foreign, we can enjoy these rights.

Despite this, we cannot be complacent, the reality is homophobic attitudes in South Africa are the prevalent opinion on gay rights. Lest we forget, our very own President stated, gay marriages were “a disgrace to the nation and to God” and that “When I was growing up, an ‘ungqigili,’ (a homosexual) would not have stood in front of me, I would knock him out.” Whilst this statement cannot be taken as irrefutable proof of malicious intent and disregard for constitutional rights afforded to the LGBT community; that statement in conjunction with the less than accepting attitude of the majority of South Africans towards gay rights goes to show the protection of these rights is of paramount importance.

To return to the point I opened with, Simon cannot be faulted with pointing out that strategic essentialism, conceivably is self-defeating. To this though, I would say strategic essentialism is only one element of the gay rights movement, the radical element. However, as the history of minority rights movements shows one needs both the radical and the more mainstream elements for there to be progress in the fight for rights, and protection for those won.

For every Andrea Dworkin who turned off so many to the Feminist cause with her militant positions & aggressive posturing, there must be a Gloria Steinem to temper those positions and postures making them acceptable within society as a whole. For every Martin Luther King Jr. who brought the American civil rights movement into the mainstream of popular political thought & culture, there must be a Malcolm X to test the limits and push the boundaries when moderation of positions turns to appeasement of the powers that be. With the gay rights movement, it is no different. For those of us who already enjoy these rights and for those who are still to benefit from them, no matter what possible alienation it may cause, the radicalism of strategic essentialism is integral to the protection and advancement of these rights.

This post was originally posted on "That's How It Is"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Football, It’s Been Fun, But We Need To Talk…

To say I’ve never been a football fan, wouldn’t be sufficient. In fact, it would require a whole new word as ‘understatement’ just wouldn’t suffice. However, like every other South African, since June 11th I have fallen for football big time, and boy have I had it bad. Flush with the excitement of the World Cup, a part of me began to think, ‘You know what Mvelase, maybe you’ve been wrong about football all these years. This just may be the start of a beautiful sporting relationship,” and like the start of any relationship, it was beautiful.

Football flirted with me in that opening match, with the brilliance of Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal, the brilliance of Itumeleng Khune and finally the heartbreaking Mexican equaliser all presaged by the pride-inducing beauty of the opening ceremony. As an act of seduction, football couldn’t have done better than that… I was a bit liquored up, it showed me the best of what it could be; how could I not fall for it?

I was so enamoured by my new discovery that I allowed friends to attempt to convince why I should support their teams in the European leagues. As my family is split down the middle on this one, I allowed both parents equal opportunity to convince me of why I should support Pirates or Chiefs. I’ll admit it, I even thought perhaps I’d give Wimbledon a miss this year and stick with the football. Those days were the best, I basked in love’s first blush, but, oh how quickly things have soured…

As is oft done in relationships, I chose to ignore those initial signs. Those markers that maybe all is not as wonderful as you want to believe it to be. I chose to ignore the numerous inexplicable decisions which were made by the refs, decisions that even a novice me could see were wrong. I thought, perhaps this was what football was meant to be like, I may not have liked it, but I could live with it. But it was too late, that small seed of doubt had been planted in my mind, and no matter how hard I tried to ignore it, I couldn’t.

Then England v. Germany & Mexico v. Argentina happened… Video replay. Need I say more?

Those matches only reinforced what I already knew. Wimbledon had started a week before and the speed with which I ran back to tennis could rival the speed at which a football player previously writhing in life threatening pain gets up when seeing the referee isn’t buying his ‘injury.’ As I tweeted after Ghana was cheated out of a semi-final spot by Luis Suarez, “The more I watch football, the more I realise this sport’s just not for me… I can’t handle this kinda stress.” Angrily-tweeting and ranting to anyone close enough to hear my threats of blue murder against Suarez, I suddenly realised what my issue with football is.

It’s not an issue of being on the losing side. Loss I can handle, I’m a Roger Federer and a Ferrari fan. In both sports, I have had to take a humbling master-class in how to handle loss after having always been on the winning side. The issue I have with football, is that quite often, too often, one feels a justified sense of rage and anger at a loss, because, to quote myself again, ‘we was robbed.’ Football’s very own Dark Overlord, Imperator Sepp Blatter, finds these egregious errors add a ‘charming human element to the game.’ I know the Imperator is somewhat preoccupied counting the billions the Empire of FIFA’s gotten from their South African adventure and refining his confidence tricks to get even more out of Brazil in 2014, but I and millions others, find these moments less ‘charming’ & more ‘infuriating.’ With an attitude like that from the administrators of football, I suddenly began to get something of a modicum of understanding for football hooligans, for what is a ‘football hooligan,’ if nothing more than an enraged fan, and was I not that?

And that’s where I realised I had to stop.

When one is suddenly seeing the world from the paradigm of boorish thugs, one must stop and evaluate how it is they ended up in that position. I had tried my utmost to ignore the less attractive parts of this beautiful game, and the beautiful game, I will now admit, it is, but there is only so much one can take. This was not to be a lifelong love. This was a month long mistake, Football was that boyfriend you look back on and think, “But what was I thinking?”

However, I am someone who likes to finish what they have started, and I will watch the World Cup to its conclusion. Till the 11th of July I will watch the games and cheer for some or other team to take the cup (let it be Argentina). But even before the euphoria has died down, before Imperator Blatter flies off while we’re still too happy to notice we’ve been fleeced, I will kick football and everything it brought into my life out on the kerb. As beautiful as this game is, my nerves cannot handle the stress of this game.

Even with the most disastrous of flings, one wants a memento. So, though ‘I will kick football and everything it brought into my life out on the kerb’ the vuvuzela, I’ll keep…