- Words Notion Staff
To celebrate LGBT History Month, we've asked a group of queer musicians to pen essays and share stories that reflect this years theme: Peace, Activism and Reconciliation.
“Last year is dead, they seem to say
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh”
– The Trees by Philip Larkin
Violence performed physically -either on a body or property – is well documented and understood. It is known that it causes trauma and this trauma can be seen, and then hopefully fixed. But there is another kind of violence which is either misunderstood or simply ignored. It’s not visible to naked eye, so it remains subterranean, and because of its concealment, the trauma it causes can be tricky to find and fix, or even believe that it exists.
No matter where queer people are born and raised- in the safest most accepting families and communities, or in places of outright opposition – there is a moment in their lives where they live with a secret. Secrets, however well-hidden they are, are gnawing. They require effort, and that effort can be exhausting and ultimately traumatic. Time is spent implementing actions to ward off this suspicion. It’s one thing to see a bruise or to feel for a lump and go “Aah. There it is. I have the proof of where the violence occurred. Now this is what we will do to make sure you are better”. It’s an altogether different thing to be a swan – gracefully floating in the water, while pedalling for dear life underneath.
"New Brighton" by Nakhane ft. ANOHNI
That’s the power of suspicion, and this is what queer people have to deal with. Heterosexual society does not need proof to oppress and indict. If anything, if a queer person has the will and privilege, the proof and ‘indictment’ can be freeing. But it’s the suspicion which is the dog’s bone. It often leads to belief (ushered by faith) and is sometimes just as good as a confession.
How many queer people have been killed for merely seeming like something that was not abiding to heteronormative standards?
This then leads one to think about the idea of peaceful activism, and whether such a thing even exists. There is a form of violence in a scissure, whether it be marching down the streets ‘peacefully’ or participating in a riot. The division is unpleasant because it draws a line. It disturbs. And the disturbance of very well cultivated heteronormative life is not peaceful. In the gulf between the two sides (if we are to simplify it to binaries), there is a standoff. Heterosexual society is pre-occupied with the maintenance of its standards, and the others (anyone outside that world) are pre-occupied with two things:
- Defending themselves against the heterosexual society, which launches all kinds of cannons across the gulf (physical, psychological, emotional, moral).
- Creating something else. A new life, new standards, new language, new understanding – of ourselves, of love, of relationships, and of our newfound freedom (if you are lucky enough to be in a country that gives it to you).
Discussing decolonisation, Frantz Fanon warned previously colonised people against aping Europe. What those countries created was not for you. It was for their benefit and to your detriment.
The question then for the LGBTQIA+ community is: why would you – after the schism has been finalised -pick up from where heterosexual society left?
"Interloper" by Nakhane
In isiXhosa we have a saying – “isiXhosa astolikwa” – which directly translates to: “You cannot translate isiXhosa”. One can read many things into this aphorism, but for the purpose of this essay, I’m going to whittle it down:
If you want to understand me, then you need to have walked a mile in my shoes (or at least tried to understand it).
I will not help you understand what you can understand by just trying. Do you want to try?
As a South African who was born just before apartheid was abolished, when I was growing up the word ‘reconciliation’ was a part of the country’s vocabulary before I even knew what it meant. We were meant to be the rainbow nation: a country that held hands and moved on from the slow-motion holocaust that happened since European settlement.
As much as the people of colour in South Africa have nothing to reconcile to the white people, so too does the queer community have nothing to reconcile to heterosexual society – not themselves or their ideas. They have done nothing wrong. They were done to. Their only sin was existing. Let there be no misunderstanding that what I’m writing is an encouragement of segregation. Not in the least. But queer people have at times been made to feel as if they should be appreciative of being able to live their lives freely and openly. Human rights are not a favour or a privilege. Human rights are the foundation of society and should be afforded to everyone.
Who or what the queer community needs to reconcile themselves to is themselves. Unlearning is not an easy task. It’s painful and it’s not linear. It requires an enormous amount of strength and kindness to oneself. In experimenting and finding new ways to conduct one’s life, there’s bound to be -at the very least -scoffing and discouragement, both internally and externally. Thoughts and ways that have existed for centuries seem to think that they are beyond change, evolution, or censure. They are not. For as long as human beings chose to stand on two feet, they’ve been a challenge to the limits of nature and what they are capable of.
It’s encouraging to know that it is February and that that month celebrates LGBTQI+ people. It’s progress. Is it time for us to congratulate each other? Not in the least. The work is just beginning.