CHURCH STILL SAYS NO TO GAYS


Driving to town today newspaper posters on the lampposts announced: The church says no to gay persons. On reading this caption, my soul floods with many different emotions: anger, deepness, frustration and gratefulness.

Anger because of the short-slightness of many churches and believers in terms of how they engage with their faith and the Bible with regards to sexuality. Such believers often employ a very legalistic reading of the Scriptures, that is might I add, of selected verses. Thus those verses which serve their purposes and support their beliefs, whilst other texts are ignored or interpreted with much greater hermeneutic freedom.

Why the deep sadness that moved me to tears? Great sadness about the thousands of gay and gay related people, whose souls have been wounded, trampled on and raped by the imprudent actions of churches all over the world. Sorrow about  churches’ seemingly inability to understand what Christ love means and how to extend that to all persons. Affliction because the church continues to sexualise being gay, just as it does with marriage. This sexualisation of the constitution of marriage is evident when the symbol of marriage is seen as heterosexual sex. How deeply sad that we trivialize a marriage to that of the physical and outward expression of love and passion. In my mind, a marriage union: heterosexual or gay, should imply and entail so much more than just physical love. It is a monogamous partnership in which two people can thrive as equals in the presence of commitment, trust, exclusivity, love, dignity and reciprocated respect. Should this not be the definition of a marriage instead of in what way a couple have sexual intercourse?

Frustration because so many people still do not understand that for the vast majority of gay people, being homo- inter- or transsexual are not a choice but a given. Their gayness is not rooted in the way they have sex, but in  their beings. This is their personhood. A gay person once summarized it so concisely for me: “I am a person who happens to be gay, not a gay who happens to be a person”.

To say to a gay person, you may be gay, but just don’t practice your gayness – live a celibate life – is as good as to say to a person: You are allowed to be a person, but you are not allowed to live. Or maybe the converse is also accurate: You are allowed to live just not to be a person. To love, to be in partnership with another human being, to attach, to share, to touch, to hold, to kiss and yes to enjoy emotional, physical and sexual intimacy is to be human.

You might wonder what it is that I am grateful for in the midst of this injustice. I am grateful that I left the formal church structures some years ago as I was no longer able to be part of an institution which is inherently unjust towards people due to their sexual orientation. I thank God that I no longer have to contravene my conscience because I participate in a structure which forsake and judge people because of their sexuality. Unjust, unreasonable and un-Christ-like.

I continue to lament: How long God, how long will this terrible injustice continue? O Lord be merciful as humanity do not what it does and that in the name of our Gracious God?

OUR SEXUAL HERITAGE


I was invited to participate in this year’s Cape Town Open Book Festival, as organised by The Book Lounge and staged at The Fugard Theatre. What a great privileged it was to participate on specifically Heritage Day in the discussion: Is Afrikaners plesierig? (Are Afrikaners joyous?), which referred to how Afrikaans-speaking South Africans define, express and experience their sexuality.

The discussion centred on my recently published book: Seks nou wat is die eintlike storie? (Sex, what is the actual story?) and the literary work, Bloots, which is a collection of short stories with its focus on sensuality and sexuality. The title Bloots was an excellent choice, as it means to go bare-back on a horse or to experience something undiluted.

We found many connections between the intention of these two publications, even though mine was rooted in academia and the other in literature. The intention of both these publications was to portray sexuality in its diverse complexity as being multi-levelled and multi-storied. This reminded me of the constructions we hold in terms of sexuality and how these are formed. The meanings we put to sexuality, are socially constructed, yet many continue to believe there is only one sexual reality to which we should prescribe and accept.

I reason that the expression of sexuality should include and accept a multitude of realities and multiple story lines. However, it is often portrayed as a single line story with predictable outcomes. If one should accept such a single story line, what would this be for South Africa, in other words what is South Africa’s heritage in terms of sexuality?

Sadly, I must admit that this is not a heritage to be proud of, as for many the most constituting factors are that of fear, shame, suppression, but most of all violence and silence. Sexual violence seems endemic to our society, nevertheless, with the exception of a few annual campaigns, there is mostly a persistent silence – even in literary works –  which enables it to continue to breed and prosper pervasively.

It was interesting to note that Bloots included stories which spanned beyond heteronormativity, race and class, yet did not included stories about sexual violence.  Even in this groundbreaking literary work the silence regarding sexual violence pervaded, despite the fact that South Africa holds the invidious title of the rape capital of the world. Rape being the reality of so many, I postulate that it will reflect in people’s stories about sexuality. Does the absence of stories about sexual  violence speak of how power politics and gender prescriptions continue to restrict, censor and determine what is  spoken with regards to gender and sexuality in South Africa?

Looking to the future we need ask ourselves, what heritage and legacy are we busy creating in terms of sexuality in the South African context? Furthermore what role should we as writers, academics and social commentators play in creating a live-giving sexual heritage for our children and their children?

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Seks-Nou-wat-is-die-eintlike-storie/397437996953753?ref=hl

http://openbookfestival.co.za/

http://www.nb.co.za/Books/12437

LOST IN TRANSLATION OR INTERPRETATION?


The Spear of the Nation: http://www.goodman-gallery.com/artists/brettmurray

I am deeply saddened by the recent events surrounding the Brett Murray solo art exhibition, Hail To The Thief II. This exhibition was hijacked by every possible and impossible pressure group, political party and affiliation to score points in the public eye and to whip up sympathy and loyalty for their own agendas. How sad that this exhibition was commandeered by so many causes, grudges and political motives as we can find in South Africa.

I believe that there are many stories to this exhibition and it could be understood in many ways. I would like to highlight only a few important cultural issues which I see: In most black societies’ a black man’s genitals should never be exposed. It is private but also probably the most graphic symbol of his power and superior position in our patriarchal society in terms of gender relations. It begs the question: was this offensive to Mr. Zuma and his supporters – yes I am sure it is to many. Was it insensitive and risky to use this image? Of cause it was, but can you think of ANY other image which would provoked as much response and attention?

Is this racist? To a certain degree some might see it as such. However, in my mind the only racial aspect is that many white (and black) South Africans) did not realized how sexually repressed we are as a nation and how differently we interpret sexual images. Our almost bewilderment about the different responses by the respective racial/cultural groups of South Africa still speaks about a deep sense of mistrust and lack of understanding of each others’ cultures and ways of making meaning and therefore neither white or black could appreciate the immense reaction to this. I think many of us were surprised but the outrage this painting caused – sadly outraged for very different reasons than one would have hoped for.

Did Mr. Zuma benefit from this circus and media frenzy – I believed he did, as now both his enemies and supporters are rallying behind him to defend his dignity and honor. Is this about Mr. Zuma’s private sex life, multiple wives and mistresses and illegitimate children? Well maybe to a certain degree, but in my mind this was not social commentary on sexual morality as such, but rather on gender morality and political power. When I speak of political power I am not referring to political parties but to power relations. Allow me to explain myself. The media and all other parties involved mostly focused on the Spear of the Nation painting in terms of exposed and vulgar sexuality without really contemplating the context of the exhibition and commentary thereof, as a whole.

To my mind this exhibition was about the abuse of power fuelled by a psyche of entitlement and corruption that has become almost endemic to most power structures in South Africa. It would also seem as many have a sense of retribution – this is now our time to have the good life! Maybe such a state of mind reflects the idiom which states: The oppressed becomes the worst oppressors. For me this state of mind is depicted by the changed position of the raised fist which used to be symbol to proclaiming freedom and strength. In Murray’s painting the fist is now in the position of a fist bounding on a surface – an action which I read as “we demand and  control”. This represents a subtle shift from strength and solidarity to that of power and control. The raised fist no longer represents taking a stand against injustice and freedom for all, but instead that of a demand of loyalty that will be achieved by control and force, whatever it takes. The control and force are supported and established by money!

I believe that this depiction of the coat of arms of the ANC crossed over by with a notice “For Sell /SOLD” comments on money being now the policy maker. I believe that this is a reflection about the ANC having lost the vision and spirit of the Freedom Charter, as it would seem as if it has become an organisation which is willing to re-write history in terms of the highest bidder’s agenda. If so, how incredibly sad and what more opt comment to this than “Biko is dead”!

I see most of the paintings as being about the view of  many South-Africans, who believe numerous comrades of the new regime became obsessed with self-enrichment, power and self-justification in the face of millions of poor people and a youth with so very little promise of any future.

Sadly, as a nation we look at this exhibition and all that we can see is a red penis exposed to the world – shaming and insulting of Mr. Zuma’s dignity and position. Have we become such a sex-obsessed society that we cannot see anything else? How is it possible that the media and most of the South African public zoomed in on the exposed genitals of a man without ever having a conversation with the artist about this “indecent exposure”? What should this conversation have been about you might ask? Well I would love to know what, according to the artist’s understanding, is happening in our society that he felt the need to use this image to make a social comment about abusive power, corruption and lost vision.

However, if we insist to make this painting about sex, let’s do so. Let us look the sexual legacy of our country. Rapes and gender based violence – highest in the world. Need I say: rape is not about sex but about power, which brings me full circle: back to power and the abuse of power. To my mind this exhibition had very little to do with sexual immorality, indecent exposure, sex or lust, but about power and the misappropriation and abuse thereof. Is it only me who can see this message of Brett Murray exhibition or did I got lost in translation or interpretation? Is this about sex or about abusive power? You decide.

Not tonight honey


Two weeks ago a male colleague of mine shared a “joke” with me. It was about the very old and boring joke of the husband giving his wife two paracetamol tablets after having dinner, to which the wife responds: ‘I don’t have a headache’, leaving him with a smirk on his face and the words, ‘Good, then you have no excuse’. I was instantly irritated by this “joke” and my aggravation did not dissipate as the days rolled on. At first I thought it must be because I regularly heard a very different story during couple’s sessions in my practice, as it is often the man and not the woman who is avoiding sex in a marriage or longstanding relationships. However, my uneasiness continued and this “joke” kept forcing its presence into my thoughts.

After two weeks I eventually decided to deconstruct my discomfort and agitation about this joke. It then dawn on me why this “joke” alarmed me to such an extent. It is because this joke is based on the general discourse that, firstly, most men have a higher libido than women, secondly, that sex is something that it done TO women and not WITH women and thirdly, that sex is often only seen in terms of penile penetration with the sole purpose of a male climax. I realized that neither the teller of this joke or the listeners thereof, asked, if ever, why do women often refuse sex or try and find “excuses” not to have sex. It then immediately left me with the undignified question: Why should a woman present an excuse not to have sex? Underlying to the ‘having to give an excuse’ is the mindset that women are supposed to give sex as it is their duty and what they are made for! In other words women are there for men’s sexual pleasure and not that men and women are equal partners who should enjoy sex with each other for both partners benefit.

Moreover, why do especially men not respond to this “joke” with the question: Why is it that women supposedly often do not want to have sex with her husband or partner? Does it not say more about him as a lover and how he engages in sexual play than about her libido? Furthermore, is it not because of the way in which he treats his wife/partner? May it be that due to how we understand and live gender roles in our homes and relationships that women are often totally overworked and just do not have the energy for sex, especially late at night? Anyway, who would like to be intimate or share pleasure with someone who treats you as being less than him or expects you to do the majority of the work around the house?

A smile slowly spread over my face as I realised this joke was actually on men. However, very few men will actually think this far or ask themselves what this joke is about. Maybe it is also not only indicative of many men’s short-sightedness but also of women internalisation of the idea that she is a sexual commodity. This joke is not only a dig towards women, but actually also towards some men and their inability or unwillingness to treat women as equals. By treating their wives and partners as inferior to them, they do not get to enjoy WITH their wives and partners the joys of the intimacy and the pleasures of the flesh!

This joke is not an impeachment against sexual unwilling wives, but about the unimaginative, boring, predictable, monotonous, inexperience, selfish, dismissive and unexciting clumsy sexual approaches and love play of men who don’t get it! They do not get it because they don’t get it on a physical, emotional or gender equality level!

Our fixation with classification: The root of most social injustice?


Have you ever thought about the human race’s obsession with classification? We tend to classify every possible and impossible concept: race, sex, social status, sexual orientation, mental state, physical state, financial state, spiritual state and the list goes on and on and on.

Most of the time we pit these dualities as binaries. Binaries seen as one against the other. One is thus right and the other wrong. Why do we feel the need to hold on to these classifications?

Believer versus non-believer       sane versus insane     male versus female

heterosexuality versus homosexuality                 rich versus poor

I have come to believe that these binaries allow for injustices to breed, as we exclude or include with it by default. Who decides which of these so called “states” should be the norm? Why is it that we still use  heteronormative and often patriarchal measuring sticks? I believe that when we prescribe to a specific group and then tell each other how right we are, we are busy with a mass masturbation session! It is not about honoring other people or the appreciations of others, but about making ourselves feel secure and justified. Our way become the “right” way and those who understand or believe differently, becomes the “other”, the wrong and the enemy!

I believe that the only way how we can address this is, to move beyond classifications. Let us see a PERSON instead of a black or a white, man or a woman, a gay or a straight, a poor or a rich! We are at all times firstly a person when then happens to be male or female, gay or straight, rich or poor, church goer or non-church goer or whatever other classification might spring to mind. The classification should not define personhood but rather the fact that we share one commonality, namely we are human beings – we are all firstly a PERSON!

Cleaning up the bloody mess after violence


Today I listened to an interview on the radio about a book called: Bloedsusters (Blood sisters) by Ilse Salzwedelwhich. It deals with the work of two sisters, who are crime scene clean-up specialists. They are called in after the fact, after the violence: to clean-up the mess.

Sisters, Eileen de Jager and Roelien Schutte from Pretoria, South Africa, see their work as a service to the families of the victims and to society in general. In their book they share that they find emotionally, the most difficult to clean-up violent deaths due to family murders and attacks on farmers. Maybe it is because we are supposed to be safe in our homes and when we are with those we love?

Their work reminded me of my own work as a narrative therapist where I often work with sexual and gender violence. I, as many of my colleagues, are ‘call in’ after the fact. We witness the aftermath of emotional violence. We see the emotional blood and guts that economic, verbal, sexual and physical violence leave. The details of the ‘crime scene’ differ, but there is often a common factor: gender inequality and it leaves a legacy of shattered dreams and lives.

There is one main difference between an actual physical crime scene and that of gender-based emotional violence. A bloody crime scene shock most people and they will properly, if present when the violence is perpetrated, try to intervene. However, each and every day we all see acts of gender-based violence, without intervening. It might be as subtle as a demeaning comment about women, or as violent as a rape – yet we do not intervene or challenge it. Societies continue to turn a blind eye. Men and women continue to laugh at demeaning gender jokes, especially about women. We continue to support structures and products which depict women as less than men. We continue to accept the all too familiar life-denying gender stereotypes about men and women. We should not tolerate any form of gender-based violence whether it is a snide remark, economic abuse or the beating and eventual killing of a wife. By not taking a stand against the most subtle to the most violent gender-based acts, we contribute towards making violence against women and children an acceptable phenomena in societies.

Cleaning up the shocking mess …. this made me think: If all forms of emotional abuse left a physical bloody mess as physical violence do, will we still be so complacent and tolerant of it. If we could see the bloody, smelly horrible mess that gender-based violence cause, would we still need 16 days of no violence against women and children or will every day be a day in which this violence is irradiated from our society?  

Sexual deprivation of wives


Lately, so many women shared with me their stories of sexual deprivation and isolation within their marriages. The withholding of sexual contact reminds me of the dominant discourse that a wife’s body becomes the property of her husband. I argue that this discourse is based on the premise that a husband has the power and right to decide when and how his wife could engage in sexual activity. Linked to this premise is the dismissal of female sexual desire and female sexual fulfillment. Women’s sexuality was and still is at times mostly linked to reproduction, and therefore men and women often hold different expectations for sexual fulfillment. Women (and men) are socialised to be indifferent to female sexual desire and fulfillment. This indifference is reinforced by the dominant discourse which encourages women to be passive in sexual activity and to wait for men to initiate sexual contact as “good girls” don’t. This discourse was present as far back as the time of Plutarch (46-120 CE), when it was believed that a wife who seeks sexual fulfilment for herself was regarded as bad, meretricious and impetuous. This discourse placed the fulfillment of a wife’s sexual desire under the control of her husband. It follows that if a husband disregards his wife’s right to sexual fulfilment – or even worse, if he believes that she has no need for sexual fulfilment – he might never attend to her sexual needs and desires.

Extract adjusted from my doctoral study: Spies, N 2011. Exploring and storying Protestant Christian women/s experiences living in sexually unhappy marriages. DTh thesis, University of South Africa, Pretoria. 

Electronic version available at – http://hdl.handle.net/10500/4823