No home for bi­sex­ual black men

When you love both sexes, re­jec­tion comes from both the straight and the LGBTI+ com­mu­ni­ties

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Mpho Nd­aba

Our sol­i­dar­ity is of­ten built on trauma. And as we at­tempt to ex­tend broth­er­hood and love in the quest to cre­ate new and safer homes, it is nec­es­sary to be re­minded of how we ar­rived here: in my case, in the city of Jo­han­nes­burg.

From the out­side, Jo­han­nes­burg of­fers sal­va­tion to many of us. For those want­ing to be seen, the city po­si­tions it­self as a place where the un­mask­ing is pos­si­ble, a place where our hu­man­ity may be­gin to take form.

I re­peated the lega­cies of the gen­er­a­tions of black men who left for Jo­han­nes­burg in search of their promised dig­nity, among them my un­cles and my fa­ther. For me, pass­ing my ma­tric ex­ams was the ticket to my free­dom.

This was a rite of pas­sage, pre­vi­ously only pos­si­ble for the un­tainted in a cul­tural sense, for a Zulu man brought in line with Ba­sotho tra­di­tions in the Free State, in a house­hold where Chris­tian val­ues reigned supreme. We are my mother’s sons, though our fa­ther is a Mosotho man. As the old­est of four, my duty was to go to Jo­han­nes­burg to study and work.

This mo­ment meant some­thing else to me: the idea of free­dom whose time had come. If things worked out as planned, it would mean that my suf­fer­ing and sup­press­ing of my true self would come to an end. I would be able to ex­press my­self with­out any­one judg­ing me.

To recog­nise trauma as some­thing that glues our ex­ten­sion of love and sol­i­dar­ity in Jo­han­nes­burg is to hope that we can be kinder and gen­tler to one an­other.

I com­pared my ex­pe­ri­ence of the city with that of Youri Songuza, a bi­sex­ual Con­golese model now based here, and there are com­mon­al­i­ties in our ex­pe­ri­ences of com­ing to Jo­han­nes­burg.

Twit­ter user @it­sMbasa cre­ated a thread in which she called for bi­sex­ual peo­ple to share their self­ies, in cel­e­bra­tion of the beauty of bi­sex­u­al­ity and the an­nual #bivis­i­bil­ity month cel­e­brated in Septem­ber.

We have to write our­selves into pub­lic me­mory and archive the lives of queer peo­ple, in­clud­ing those who are bi­sex­ual. This is what Mbasa did with her tweet. There were few re­sponses from black men.

It was also a first step to­wards coun­ter­act­ing some of the vi­o­lent forms of era­sure faced by black youth like our­selves, which of­ten be­come masked by the idea of a “com­mu­nity”, which is ac­tu­ally very frag­ile and frag­mented.

In my own ex­pe­ri­ence as an openly bi­sex­ual man, I have con­cluded that many black men who are bi­sex­ual do not come out, as they fear re­jec­tion. Bi­sex­u­al­ity is seen as in­valid, and this in­val­i­da­tion also comes from within the South African Les­bian, Gay, Bi­sex­ual, Trans­gen­der and In­ter­sex (LGBTI+) com­mu­nity.

Many in the LGBTI+ com­mu­nity be­lieve we are in­valid, tran­si­tional, un­nec­es­sary, greedy and un­faith­ful. It be­comes harder to think of this com­mu­nity as a home of some sort, one that be­comes open for those who cis het­ero-patriarchy has for decades been vi­o­lently at­tempt­ing to erase. One would then ex­pect this com­mu­nity to rely on its shared trauma to build stronger ties.

Yet, in the same way as we have black men who want to re­place white men as the op­pres­sors of the larger black so­ci­ety, there ex­ist var­i­ous forms of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the queer com­mu­nity and cis het­ero­sex­ual black men and womxn. Some gay men refuse to date bi­sex­ual men; we are ren­dered “strangers” in the LGBTI+ com­mu­nity be­cause of a lack of shared trust and al­le­giance.

It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that one can be a vic­tim and an op­pres­sor at the same time.

Pro­fes­sor Pumla Di­neo Gqola wrote that, “in the bi­nary op­po­si­tional way we have been pro­grammed to think, and of­ten we be­come com­plicit with, this means one is good and the other is bad”.

There’s also a col­lab­o­ra­tion in which the quest for con­trol sees the com­ing to­gether of cis het­ero­sex­ual men and womxn, who pri­mar­ily rely on tra­di­tional ideas of mas­culin­ity. For cis het­ero­sex­ual womxn, their man can­not have been with other men. For straight men, the re­jec­tion of bi­sex­ual men as “gay and tran­si­tion­ing” also re­lies on this idea of pure mas­culin­i­ties.

Thus, the search for be­long­ing and a home is a dream yet to be at­tained.

The en­trenched pa­tri­ar­chal ideals upon which the un­der­stand­ing of mas­culin­ity is built ren­der peo­ple such as Songuza “strangers” in Jo­han­nes­burg. These con­tin­ued lega­cies of in­ter­nalised ideas of what a man can and can­not do re­main the ral­ly­ing point for our ques­tion­ing.

Be­ing an openly bi­sex­ual man means that you may be­come en­tan­gled in a web of vi­o­lence. Your iden­tity is con­stantly un­der at­tack; many of us have of­ten done the same things that anti-queer so­ci­ety has done to us.

Look­ing at the ex­pe­ri­ences of bi­sex­ual black men, my in­ter­est here is to in­ter­ro­gate the ways in which we ex­ist in our queer­ness, and how we view our place in so­ci­ety.

When does the search for home stop? Per­haps to find a home, we have to find each other.

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