Attempting to date while black, queer and living with mental illness

Attempting to date while black, queer and living with a mental illness is hard, but it is not impossible.

By:Tshego Mphahlele

I’ve slept with several men, been on atleast three dates and have had countless other men “speaking” to me in the last eight months. At first, I had chosen to be single to reconnect with Tshego. But now, eight months since the end of that other love affair I’m beginning to wonder if my race, sexuality (or to be more specific, femininity) and mental illness are the reasons I’m not prospering romantically.

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Tshego Mphahlele

Dating as a black queer man is notoriously hard. There are so many hurdles to overcome. There’s the stigma attached to feminine men. While this is not entirely unique to black queer men, I think that it is worse in our community because of African views and notions of homosexuality, masculinity and gender roles in relationships.

A few months ago, I went to a friend’s family braai. There I met his cousin, let’s call him X who is apparently MSM (men who have sex with men). X told me how crazy I made him and said that we should date. I laughed it off and jokingly engaged him on this. He had it all planned out: He was going to love, fuck and protect me. He then asked where I lived and what I did for a living. I told him that I live in Soshanguve and that I’m a writer. That’s when X suggested that we go out soon, on my dime. Now, I have no problem taking people out but it’s what he said next that shocked me. “Ene kenna tlebe ke tshwere karata yabanka, ankere kenna monna?”, basically he had assumed that because I was more feminine presenting than he was, I’d just give him control over my money because “black tops are so rare.”

Studies across the globe continue to state that LGBTQIA+ peoples’ rates of depression and anxiety exceed those of straight people.

But here’s the thing, black tops aren’t rare, they’re just in hiding because of society’s perceived notions of masculinity. It is a toxic masculinity that doesn’t see beyond the binaries. It’s the type of masculinity that costs me a dick appointment and perhaps even a long term relationship after I call or send a voice note. I’ve never been ashamed of my femininity but I have started thinking that I need to “tone it down” in order to meet guys.

Then there’s the issue of my depression. Studies across the globe continue to state that LGBTQIA+ peoples’ rates of depression and anxiety exceed those of straight people. This, some guess, is a reaction to how society treats us. I got diagnosed with depression in November last year. It worsened after I quit my job.

I started realising that in the grand scheme of things, I ain’t shit. I sought help at the persistent urging of my friends. But the first five months of anti-depressants were the worst. Especially for my sex and love life.

I was put on Amitriptyline first. It left me constipated so even with all the preparation, sex was messy then. I think that is why my regular casual sex buddy never came back, even though he said he was a nurse and he understood. Then I was on Fluoxetine which left me emotionless and without a libido. It did however cause me to forget stuff when I’d drink after taking it. Yes, I know it’s wrong to take anti-depressants with alcohol but I have a love-hate relationship with booze. But I am told that at one point I danced topless (mkhaba and all)on a table at a local drinking establishment.

I live in the hope that I too can fall in love again one day with a man who’ll accept me with all my imperfections.

The worst and most terrifying however was when I walked in a daze for a good four hours, in the Tshwane CBD. I had been on a date. It went well until the time to leave came. My date went to the bathroom. I closed my eyes for what seemed like a minute and when I opened them, I had no idea where I was. I left the restaurant and wandered the streets of Tshwane until I realised that I was near the Bosman Gautrain station, with absolutely no idea as to how I got there. Because good people still exist, I managed to find shelter and reconnected with my date the following morning. The poor guy had almost gotten robbed looking for me. Not only had I placed my own life at risk, but another’s as well. A few weeks later with the permission but not blessings of my psychologist and psychiatrist, I went off the medication opting for talk therapy instead, again because of my undying love affair with booze.

What’s my point? Attempting to date while black, queer and living with a mental illness is hard. But it is not impossible. I live in the hope that I too can fall in love again one day with a man who’ll accept me with all my imperfections. I see queer love stories all over my social media and when I am out socialising, they inspire me. I just have to keep swiping right on Tinder until I find the one who will accept and love me, mkhaba and all.

Follow Tshego’s blogs on Tsheggy
Twitter: Tsheggy

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