Monday, June 27, 2011

A Place In The Sun

No matter what I am or what I have done, I am also just as human and just as flawed and vulnerable as anyone who thinks they are perfect, or stronger, or better than me. 
Nevertheless, it seems there are always people who think that because I am not straight like them, and not living the gender I was born in, that I am "anti-social", have a persecution complex, a huge chip on my shoulder, and am either less intelligent than they are, or that I am just plain stupid.

All told, I had a pretty interesting week.

Friday night I attended a small informal event at a cozy straight-friendly pub in Central Port Elizabeth at which the new SA gay flag was being passed around, promoted and even sported as a clothing accessory. It was nice to see people embracing a symbol of our diversity, even as I noticed the stark absence of the lesbian component of our community at events in this city. As usual I was drowning in testosterone, albeit pink.

Where were the lesbians? Where were the trannies? "Who cares?" Someone said - reminding me of the saying "out of sight, out of mind". And isn't that the truth? Our different groups socialize apart from the rest, forming little cliques. And then we sometimes have the audacity to wonder what happened to the "community"? Some people later wonder why they have been excluded from any of the planning of x, y, and z. What a cheek.

And then I looked at the item being billed as the "gay flag" for South Africa. Gay flag. Says everything, doesn't it? It has stripes of all the colors which represent each group making up the Pink Community, but somehow it winds up getting called the "Gay Flag". How did that happen? And why didn't I get the memo?

A friend told me of his frustrations at getting people in this burg to actually show up for anything without booze, smokes or some other form of entertainment laid on for free, gratis and for nothing. I empathized. Having had a hand in the planning of several under-attended and even cancelled-due-to-lack-of-interest events in the past, I knew exactly where he was coming from.

A few things were said at this event by some, about how fortunate we as the Pink Community are to live in South Africa, and about how "concerned" our government is with our welfare, about how important our well-being, dignity and protection is to the government and so on, and so on to the point where I wondered who they were working for. I cringed. "Are these guys for real?" I asked myself.

Jon Qwelane, although he has been found guilty of hate-speech, is still sitting pretty as the South African High Commissioner to Uganda, in a pretty little office paid for in part by the tax-payers he reviled and demeaned in his article in 2008, occupying a post he was placed in by our president - a post we have been told, by the same government, he will remain in, "no matter what".

For the past four years I have been watching the South African government shooting down democratic process, dealing openly with human rights abusers, propping up despotic regimes in Africa, selling our civil rights up the river at the UN, and undermining the very constitution that grants us partial equality - and yes, I said partial - because that's all it is. I certainly don't feel the love, guys.

Sunday night I saw a TV insert about the national blood "service", bragging about providing safe blood to the public. The hypocrisy sickened me.

Earlier in the week, I had a lengthy argument on Facebook about the unfair discrimination by the SANBS. The argument came in when somebody who claimed to be open-minded and to have "plenty of gay friends" (don't they always?) asserted that the SANBS discriminating on a point of pure demographics against gay males as blood donors makes perfect sense. I couldn't understand the logic in his argument. He claimed that the well-being of the end-user of the blood products outweighs Joe X's human rights as an HIV- gay man willing to donate blood, or to not be discriminated against. In his view, being gay is a lifestyle, and therefore risky behavior. He couldn't explain how there are more straight people, and straight women infected with the disease than gay people in the world today, of course, but I don't think he liked my claim that it might be on account of their "straight lifestyle". HIV is no respecter of persons, and neither is bigotry - or apparently, ignorance.

Do the SANBS test your blood at the donation point for HIV before they accept your blood? No? - But they use a piece of paper to "guarantee" that you are not gay, do not have anal sex, and are not lying to them. That's a pretty smart piece of paper.

While they may actually test the blood they RECEIVE later in a lab, they completely exclude a portion of perfectly good blood donors BEFORE they can even donate blood, and without testing them first. Make sense?

They turn away perfectly good blood from perfectly healthy and willing donors without even ascertaining their HIV status, enforcing a policy decision based merely upon the ASSUMPTION that because they are gay, they are promiscuous and automatically also HIV+.

Clearly he didn't understand that who a person loves or is attracted to is not a "lifestyle". The simple fact is ANYONE can catch HIV. Are we to keep score as to which group that has it is bigger and then say it is a "straight disease" or a "gay disease"? HIV is a disease folks, and ANYONE can get it. Period. Regardless of all this - my POINT is that they should be relying on TESTING to provide safe blood, NOT little bits of paper, and NOT discrimination.

Despite our Constitution - which looks fantastic on paper - it is still being flagrantly ignored and violated by the SANBS and its policies and the prejudice within them. Yes, South Africa's a lovely place to live if you're not straight. There's is no discrimination and no hate-crime, just as there is no crime problem.

On another evening, I was called by a friend who needed someone to talk to about a few problems he had on his mind. My friend is a passionate Christian minister who as it happens is a very open-minded sort of fellow - a fact you will appreciate if you consider him chatting openly over coffee with someone who is a transsexual woman, a human rights activist and, for all intents and purposes, a practicing witch. Oh, the irony.

Still, we enjoy our regular chats, my minister friend and I, the Wiccan - broad debates about all manner of things relating to philosophy and religion, history and politics. My friend the reverend was concerned about his future in the Church - an institution he feels does a rotten job of representing Christ on Earth, and instead delights in oppressing minorities, sidelining those in need, expanding its worldly assets - and destroying lives.

Homophobia is not indigenous to Africa. It was imported by Christian missionaries, taught and enforced by them upon the native cultures in the Dark Continent. The result? In the 21st century we have a predominantly homophobic and even violently homophobic Christian portion of society in South Africa - and now we blame them for it. Is it any wonder we are having a hard time getting the Churches to recognize our existence, our right to co-exist with them, to bless our unions and to stop persecuting us? Ironic? You don't say.

My minister friend is disheartened by the rigidity and exclusive policies within the framework of the organization calling itself the body of Christ, but acting instead like the right arm of the Devil.

He wanted to quit. He wanted to leave his chosen field - after all that time in study, after all that hard work and passion - and he wanted to know from me what he should do. I answered his question with a question. I asked him to think of his church with him in it, as a reflector of the light of the Christ he holds dear, an agent of tolerance, acceptance and love for all people. I asked him to think of all the marginalized, outcast people he has ministered to in his time in the Church. He said he was doing that, a sober look on his face.

Then I leaned in close and asked him to think of the same church without him.

There may be other ministers out there who feel the same frustrations as my friend - other reverends out there who act as shining lights of goodness and grace in the name of their faith to all people - but what if they all just walked off the job? Where would that leave the excluded, the outcasts, the rejected and persecuted? Where would that leave those who are not part of the cookie-cutter society, stubbornly resisting being pigeon-holed and neatly filed away out of sight? If he were replaced by someone who felt different, a zealot, a fanatic bent on oppressing diversity, uniqueness, individuality... would that not be worse?

My friend thinks so too.


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