I Was Surprised….She Was Not.

“Freeing South Africa: The Modernization of Male-Male Sexuality in Soweto” was an insightful read for each of us, although learning about the gay community in South Africa was fascinating for different reasons. For Dolma, it was interesting in finding out how differently gay communities are perceived in South Africa, in comparison to North America and Nepal.  I (Tishara) never knew there was a gay community that existed in South Africa, much less in the African continent. I assumed that due to the religious nature of countries within the African continent, there would not be a gay community present, or if there was it would not be made public. Fatima was not particularly surprised reading, while reading this article, to find that there are gay communities in South Africa as male-male and female-female sexual relationships exist even in the most conservative societies.
Instead she was more interested in how the inclusiveness of the anti-apartheid movement led to the creation of a new sexual identity. Linda’s account of being a skesana was fascinating first because his parents approach to his effeminate nature, second, the relationships at the all-male hostels, and lastly new attitudes after the united struggle. It seemed that we could follow the journey of Linda’s sexual identity through her surroundings. During the first phase, it seemed that he was accepted as effeminate and as a hermaphrodite. Later as a skesana, he came to see himself as woman and take on ‘women roles’ but with the new ‘free’ South Africa, he becomes gay and a ‘man’ (which was perhaps freeing because it removed some of the limitations of being skesana).
Comparatively, Dolma found that in Nepal there is much more emphasis on gender roles. According to her observation, back at home, people do not come in contact with gay people or discourse on gay issues very often. She thinks that in her hometown (which is very rural) if she tried to explain the term homosexuality (or gay), they would think she was mad. The concept of being gay, to her, does not exist among members in her community. Fatima and I however, question whether or not that may be true since many acts of homosexuality remain behind closed door.
According to the article sexual identity in the West was produced by a long internal process of disciplining and dividing. Therefore, certain actions among men and women are either taught or conditioned in order to control certain behaviors. For instance, little girls are often told not to play with boys, and boys are told not to play with little girls. This divide in my opinion causes the curiosity of same sex attraction, and perhaps, that was the case for theskesanas in South Africa. As Dolma and Fatima point out, in America there is an ongoing discussion in politics and the media about gays and lesbians. Whereas, in other parts of the world we do not believe the topic has reach the same level of publicity, though things are changing.
We all had questions at the end of our discussion. Dolma asked what would it means for a society that may have never encountered a gay person or may not have gay people in their community? Does it mean the concept of “gay” does not exist?  The word would still exist, but maybe people in that community would refuse to use it. In the West, behaviors or people who appear to be “different” must be categorized in order for society to understand who you are. One example of this category is the term bi-sexual. Why does it matter? If an individual likes both sexes why is it necessary to categorize him/her?  Who does it satisfy? What if the individual does not agree with how their being categorized?
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