Clinical psychologist Anele Siswana, explores the challenges and beauty of being in a queer relationship, as a black South African man.
By: Anele Siswana
Main image: Rawpixel on unsplash
In this article, I draw from my current work and thinking around queer masculinities and tradition from an African-centred perspective. I want to explore the experience and meaning of love, desire and intimacy for a black queer (gay) man.
I hope that through reflections with my real life, autobiographical story, this article will give life to marginalised and silenced voices of black queer men. Particularly queer men that do not see any hope that they will ever encounter authentic love and experience what it feels like to be intimate without any form of surveillance.
Many times I have heard people talking and assuming that all queer men are about is sex, they even have labels to describe their casual sex as, “smash and grabs, bang-bang, tap that ass etc.”
In the end, my deepest desire is that people can have the capacity to tap into the world of what it feels like to be a queer man. Secondly, to do away with the oversexualised image which takes away the notion that two gay men can fully express their love and commitment in a relationship.
Since childhood, my phases of self-discovery, self-acceptance and coming out the closet, my conviction always affirmed that there was nothing wrong with me. I am nothing else but the very same image of God. – Anele Siswana
When two men are in a relationship they share the same virtues of love, trust, honesty, compassion and all the other qualities that are not just about sex and desire. In fact, there is nothing extraordinary about queer men’s relationships.
If our society, faith-based organisations, families, friends can think out of the box they will begin to accept the beauty of diversity. Queer men are human beings with emotions, that desire to be loved, and accepted for who they are.
Being queer is not just about sexual orientation or sexual preferences – there is more beyond just the curiosity fixated around who they sleep with and how they do that.
Since childhood, my phases of self-discovery, self-acceptance and coming out the closet, my conviction always affirmed that there was nothing wrong with me.
I am nothing else but the very same image of God. My theology is informed by the story of creation in Genesis 1 verse 26, God said, “Now, let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
As a child of God and a disciple of Jesus that happens to be queer, there is absolutely nothing that removes me from being part of God’s creation. My conviction is also drawn from the concept of imago dei which means God’s own self-actualization through humankind; and second, God’s care for humankind.
This also includes queer man and they rightfully resemble the embodiment of being fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and universal love of God.
My experience of growing up eKasi reminded me of hard it was to be a “different boy”. I was not the typical strong boy, I recall that many times I failed when I attempted to meet the standards of what a ‘normal’ boy was expected to do. – Anele Siswana
The greatest lesson I have learned came when one of my mentors Professor S. Kumalo said something that resonated with my crazy ideas of God. He is convinced that if disability is within the nature and part of God’s creation, it means that God is disabled.
I even took it further, applied the same approach in the context of queer existence, and wondered if homosexuality is part of creation does that mean God is gay? Over time, I began to understand my sexual orientation is not by accident or surprise, I am the embodiment of who God is!
I was born and raised in Port Elizabeth, Kwazakhele Township. My experience of growing up ekasi reminded me of hard it was to be a “different boy”.
I was not the typical strong boy, I recall that many times I failed when I attempted to meet the standards of what a ‘normal’ boy was expected to do.
I was bad in any type of sport, I felt inadequate to play soccer, cricket, and rugby was the worst, and my peers intensified that by jokes that made me question myself as a different boy.
Interestingly, they gave me labels before I even I self-identified with who I was. Pity, I was clueless to the extent that I had no word that I could give to describe what I felt for other boys.
There was just an unexplained spark and something strange to describe the odd feeling I felt.
In March 2015, I relocated to Gauteng to pursue my year of community service in Pretoria. When I reflect back on previous experiences as a queer man, I recall moments of being one of those infamous “Fuck boys”.
The desire for love and commitment never existed in my vocabulary. When I least expected, love happened and it felt so strange, but so good. I met this beautiful boy. I pursued him for almost three months but he just ignored me.
I persisted and my consistency worked in my favour and he eventually gave in. It was around the 7th of May 2015 that we both acknowledged the deepest attraction and feelings for each other.
Since then, to this day, it has been a meaningful experience and journey of self-discovery and navigating our identity as a young queer couple. Like in any other relationship, we have had our challenges; however, the problems are not mutually exclusive. Over time, we developed our own ways of resolving our differences and conflicts.
We constantly remind ourselves of the covenant we made with God, that is to love one another. We know our love languages, have our special codes of communicating, and just be in our zone.
We continue to create memories through travelling, going out and allowing one’s freedom and independence. We have a good relationship with our families and our parents are happy and support us in every way.
Queer love does exists and a true reality for most black queer men. If only our families and friends can learn to accept and embrace queer relationships, I believe there would be more healthy queer relationships in our society. – Anele Siswana
Our defining moments and acts of love manifest in situations that expose our vulnerability, hopelessness and weaknesses. For example, there were incidents of him not being well without him requesting my assistance; it becomes automatic for me to express my empathy and compassion by being emotionally and physically available for him.
It is our culture to live up to the principle of reciprocity. I lost count of how many times I have been unwell physically and emotionally, in every step of the way he has been my rock and pillar of strength.
We often joke that on our wedding day we will exclude these vows, “in sickness and in health, for when you are rich or poor etc.” because we have the experience of going through that.
We live by the practice of taking care of each other, when one is sick and having challenges of life, we know what it means to be broke together. At one stage, I was unemployed for almost seven months and I was a freelancer. His support, resilience and understanding kept me sane.
So often, people ask how we maintain our relationship. There is no manual or recipe on how to navigate relationship dynamics. For us, it has always been creating a safe space for a conductive relationship where confrontation can take place. We try to be transparent and honest even in situations where emotions run high.
We affirm and complement our strengths and encourage one another, and we have also different gifts and talents that make us compatible. We are completely different and indeed opposite attracts.
In essence, queer love does exists and a true reality for most black queer men. If only our families and friends can learn to accept and embrace queer relationships, I believe there would be more healthy queer relationships in our society.
As a queer community, we also have the responsibility to unpack assumptions that society has about us. There is a growing number of queer men relationships that are flourishing.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Classical example of queer love: The surveillance and policing of love, male sexual desire and pleasure
Inxeba (The Wound) attempts to provide a classical context of locating black queer masculinities from an African-centred perspective.
In a published paper by Peace Kiguwa and Anele Siswana (2018) titled ‘Layers of woundedness: in Inxeba, Masculinity is disrupted, denied and defamed.’
This paper provides an understanding of what looks and feels like queer love, desire and romance. Inxeba, lays the context of queer masculinity, around the narrative of two black, gay Xhosa men daring to love one another.
In this scene, there are two prominent characters, Xolani (Played by Nakhane Touré) and Vija (Bongile Mantsai), they represent daily narratives that safeguard the policing of love, desire and pleasure within a culture and society that valorises hegemonic and normative meanings of what it means to be a man.
The film’s most daring and critical contribution to not only unravelling the hegemony of heteronormative space but also to expose how desire’s intersection with culture and race makes it both troubling and dangerous.
Thus, the surveillance of male sexual desire that the film explores makes clear the social expectations for black male sexuality. Furthermore, the film frames the lives of men like Xolani, Vija and Kwanda as operating in a society where non-normative sexual desire is not only taboo but governed as part of disciplinary and regulatory practice of sexuality and masculinity.
Kiguwa and Siswana (2018) therefore, argue that the psychological configurations of shame, fear, anxiety, denial and even anger are also intrinsic to these formations and influence the performative practices of masculinity. In essence, all of these configurations makes it hard for black queer self-identifying gay men because love, desire and romance is pathologised.
Genesis 1:26 New International Version, Kiguwa, P., & Siswana, A. (2018). Layers of woundedness in Trengrove’s Inxeba (The Wound): masculinities disrupted, denied and defamed. Image & Text, The Wound/Inxeba: Queer cinema, Engaged cinema, Minor cinema(s), 32(1), 1-13. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2617-3255/2018/n32a7, Introduction to Queer Studies. Ed. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason 5
Who is Anele Siswana:
Clinical Psychologist & Consultant
Indigo Wellness and Consulting Services
He is also a lecturer in the psychology department at the University of Johannesburg.
Areas of specialty: Sexuality studies, men and masculinity and decolonisation of psychology in South Africa.