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For a nation that declares itself loving, peaceful and accepting, Batswana can be small-minded bigots at the best of times, our guest contributor Tanlume Enyatseng writes.
In the summer of 2003, David was a 14-year-old Motswana boy, going about his teen years in dusty Gaborone. Smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Kagiso.
Bonding over cult horror films and liquorice allsorts. Every day after classes, David and Kagiso would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queer boys in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed they drifted their way through youth, their journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.
David came out to his parents two years after he and Kagiso became serious. He was 16. He had not planned on Kagiso being there for support, he never told me. However he was. Kagiso sat hiding at the stoep in his mother’s kitchen, listening. David’s mother laughed, a laugh so infectious it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him, “Ke a itse ngwanaka” (I’ve always known) and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely. David took an intake of breath that precedes a meaningful hug.
Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment Kagiso realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.
David was made in that moment. Kind of like that scene in the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. He was whole. One could say he had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. What most people don’t realize is that all people really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are
Weeks passed and Kagiso still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once their after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Kagiso and David’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in friends in emotional, tearful phone confessions. They started to loathe their meetings because they both could see how terrified Kagiso was of revealing himself to his parents, and how David was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.
What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Kagiso’s terror of being caught out, was that Kagiso’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a traditional housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Pentecostal priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. The boys grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Kagiso did come out to his parents. They sat there, on the same patch of grass, worn down from their shoes, and Kagiso wept as the words left his mouth. David grieved, knowing he could never take the words back for him himself.
His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “destroyed”. They both told him he was sick and a disappointment. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed? After that, Kagiso hated David a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more. David’s younger aunt took him and the two boys found solace in David having at least one family member there for him
Years passed. Their lives had taken them in great directions and their relationship was better than ever. They had been living in Cape Town, where gay marriage has been legalized. David successfully ran his start up digital marketing agency and gleefully came home every night to his and Kagiso’s Bree Street studio apartment. Kagiso now on his second degree, worked on his queer zine from home.
It was one sunny December afternoon, when those two boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of each other’s teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. As everyone was gathering outside their garden wedding venue, Kagiso spotted his mother. She seemed nervous, but she was there. One would assume she had eventually come round to her son’s sexuality, but reality was she had just shown up without telling him. He had sent his parents money and an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment one could see how powerful marriage can be.
This man was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as “illegal” – a title more insulting than anything else? It’s not as if oh so saintly heterosexuals take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.
I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful a gay union can be, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a nation and culture that declares loving, peaceful and accepting, our government, and its citizens and, of course our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictators, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
And even if David and Kagiso’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, till death do they part.