Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just Keep Swimming

These days I find myself referring to the little blue fish in that adorable movie "Finding Nemo", the one that kept on saying "just keep swimming". And no matter what, no matter how bad things got in the movie, that was her philosophy, and she stuck to it - "just keep swimming". I can't help but draw comparisons between circumstances and the wisdom and stoicism of that little fish - or the writer for that matter. No matter what happens next, no matter how much people surprise - or shock, or disappoint me.

Since when did we Pink folks in South Africa start looking down on and judging other people by their inborn characteristics? When did we decide we were too good to socialize with or compete with others? Where did this smarmy superior attitude and this mentality of "if we can't win, then it must be rigged" come from? When did we decide that gay people are equal to straight people, but some gay people are more equal than others?

It's not just a Pink thing or a gay thing, it seems - but a South African thing. We see it every time the Boks, Proteas or Bafana lose on the playing field, even if it was a fantastic match like last Saturday's rugby battle - with just one point difference in the score. "Ah, they're rubbish!" The "die-hard" SA fans say in disgust, as they take off their team paraphernalia and pretend they were out drinking with their mates instead of watching the game. I can see the same tendency with politics and the folks leaving the country because "their team lost" or "doesn't stand a chance".

I think I've discovered the answer to the problem.... us. The problem is us activists. We're too far ahead of society in SA - many foreigners tell me SA is 20 years behind in terms of societal mindset. It's all our fault for trying to accelerate a process of unity between two groups that never used to socialize before - let alone want to share a stage or a dance floor. I think as activists, we're more-or-less on a mental and social par with US activists, while most of our own community is still stuck on issues of race, having just recently struggled over the language divide between English and Afrikaans... And the human rights activists...we're the thinkers and the do-ers, and we're being ham-strung by having to carry - no, drag - much of our community along behind us at our pace instead of at the slow, plodding pace of their retro-grade thinking.

That's why many black and colored folks don't want to attend our community events, and they are predominantly attended by white folks. They don't feel welcome, or catered for. And when activists and groups try to make them feel welcome by playing a wider selection of more diverse music or content for example, then some of the other supporters tend to pack up their picnic mandjies en gaan soek vir groener wyvelde... It's the same when you try to arrange an event for gay males and females... there are cultural differences, differing musical tastes - the mind simply boggles. And it really is impossible to please everybody.

In the USA for example, according to some "gaystream" media in the USA "homophobia is over" - congratulations - now you can look forward to a future of disinterest and apathy in which the Religious Right will build up their assault on your rights with nobody to stop them - like we have found out in South Africa. Apathy is a bitch, ain't she?

(Learn the lesson South Africa is teaching you. When you think you have equality, your community evaporates and becomes apathetic. Persecution makes you strong. The only way to counter this and prevent disaster is to find a balance. This is a tactic the Levitcans use to keep their power and momentum, by inventing "threats" and "enemies" when there are none. But this is an aside, taking me off topic. )

The reason I bring this up is the reported dramatic increase in right-wing (meaning Religious Right) attacks on Muslims in the USA. Homophobia seems to be down, according to some sources - but "Islamophobia" is up. Witness the uproar when an Islamic community announced plans to open a Mosque on privately owned land a short distance from the 9/11 Ground Zero zone a few weeks ago. And now the announcement by some sycophant right wing Levitican preacher (who probably hates Muslims and Pink folks in one breath) that he intends to burn a pile of Qur'ans on Saturday on the anniversary of 9/11. What a chop. Odds are, he would start a merry song and dance if some Muslim cleric were to retaliate by burning a load of bibles - and try to make it all their fault.

The response to these xenophobic affronts to the concepts of equality, non-discrimination and democracy has been very encouraging. Pink advocacy groups and leading figures have been among those speaking out against these rising incidents of hate and intolerance against Muslims, as I would hope they would do for any unfairly persecuted minority group. Which to me shows that people there - at least the Pink Community there, are a good deal more open-minded than the majority of us here.

I could argue that the government doesn't do enough here in South Africa to lessen tensions between various groups - notably on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. You don't see any government led initiatives to educate rural people on these matters, or doing anything at all to counter the high number of "corrective rapes" of lesbians and murders of trans people. Yet much has been said by government initiatives about the rape of virgins not actually working as a cure for HIV.

But here in South Africa, we have a gay man of color who entered the regional finals of a gay pageant and won - and suddenly the racist f***nuts and National Party left-overs come crawling out of the woodwork, making ridiculous claims of "rigging" and "race quotas" and even worse things. And the most amazing - or should I say shocking thing - is that these people making the comments are not straight, white and narrow - and they're not members of a formerly oppressed majority group with a grudge suddenly landed with political power and influence - they're part of a currently marginalized group that still faces a great deal of prejudice and unfair discrimination! Yet these same people will be up in arms at the first mention of homophobia being directed against them! Talk about hypocrisy.

Some of the comments posted under online community news articles covering the event were quite disheartening and even shocking. They ranged from the sour grapes of friends of those who didn't win, to depraved comments indicating that they thought the man didn't deserve to win because he wasn't "as white" as the others who lost! As a person who has tasted xenophobia based on who and what I am, I find that hurtful and disgusting. I can't believe that gay people can turn on their own like that. I can't believe there are still such terribly deep divisions in our community. And yet it is a reality. And you might be a fellow South African reading this and thinking "duh", but the thing with divides is, they're not good at all. Let me say why:

Divisions make any group weaker. In fact, I think the only reason we're not living in a "Christian" country yet, goose-stepping down the streets in crisp white uniforms, wearing little blue crosses - is because the Christian religion is so sharply divided. Contrary to popular belief, there isn't one Christian religion, there are quite a few. There is "Christianity" as the Leviticans see it - all rules and regulations that need to be forced on everyone else at all costs, and Christianity - the teachings of love, humanity and compassion - as sane, ordinary folks see it. If not for these clear divisions between left and right, and between Levitican and Christ-follower, those of us who don't fit into the little pigeon-holes of religious perfection and ideology would be in some serious dwang.

Divisions in our Pink Community, between color and race, between languages and cultures, between the little letters that make up that ridiculous and annoying LGBTIQ etc, etc acronym - weaken us. And such weaknesses can be - and often are - exploited by those who seek to weaken us further, break us down, destroy us.

I honestly don't know what to do about this anymore, except to just bite down harder and keep on going. I hope you will too, just like the little blue fish.

Just keep swimming.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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