Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Discovering a ‘heterosexual’ childhood friend is, in fact, gay

“Ijoh! bathong motho yoo o montle jwang…and guess what ‘he’ knows me and nna keraa, ga ke mo itse.” (…this person is so cute …and guess what, he knows me and I don’t know him.)

This is the Facebook post that set in motion a rollercoaster of confessions and revelations, almost twenty years since we first became close friends. *Lemogang and I first met during our first year at junior school in 1997 and the three of us, including *Tiro (a very good friend of mine from primary school); hit it off from the onset.

We were The Three Musketeers, “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.” Of course, unlike Tiro and I, there was something queer about Lemogang’s demeanour.

Not only did he play netball, the way he spoke and walked was a little too effeminate. We had all known of ‘sissies’ before and it did not necessarily make them gay. He must have spent too much time with girls when he was younger, we assumed. Like every teenage boy going through the hormonal changes, we all had a roving eye for the opposite sex and had our fair share of flings, albeit mostly platonic.

As fate would have it, following junior school the winds of destiny blew us in separate ways and we gradually lost contact. But the three of us would still have our occasional meetings following senior school. We would share a few drinks and chat about this and that, including our indiscretions involving the opposite sex; nothing homosexual. A few more years passed and we lost all contact.

But that was until Lemogang and I met again through the social network, Facebook. We exchanged a few pleasantries every now and then. Not much seemed to have changed.

At least that was until last week when I came across the status update. It is not every day that you get to suspect your ‘heterosexual’ friend is in fact gay, so you can imagine my shock; I was completely floored.

I immediately whipped out my phone and made the call and, “A o gay?” (Are you gay?), was the first thing that popped out my mouth. After a little hesitation, perhaps following a little private inquisition as to the reason for this sudden outburst, the answer is a straight “Yes.” And that was my ‘aha’ moment.

I had to know more and what followed was a tour into the local homosexual ‘underworld’. “It started way back when I was very young,” he reveals. Well, isn’t that what they all say, I thought to myself. “I always felt different from you guys .Like was I was being punished for something.”
Having known him for so long without even the slightest sign of attraction to the same sex, Lemogang’s story seemed incredibly ludicrous. Was I really that blind?

“I would buy magazines just to ogle at pictures of men,” Lemogang says. “Remember how I used to love watching The Jerry Springer Show,” he asks and I answer in the affirmative. “My favourite shows were when they featured gay men.”

Lemogang says because of the stigma attached to gay people here in Botswana he always made sure to suppress his real feelings, even to people closest to him.

He says the first time he gave into his desires was when he worked at a local hotel in Gaborone just over a decade ago. “There was this guy who stayed at our hotel for a couple of nights. He would always talk about how much he liked me and I kept trying to rebuff his advances.” He says it was owing to the gentleman’s persistence that he finally decided to give it a shot and “I never looked back.”

Lemogang explains that just like in a heterosexual relationship, there are those who play the role of ‘girlfriend’ and those who play ‘boyfriend’ in the bedroom. But he is quick to point out that in some cases the roles are interchangeable.

Inevitably I ask him about the use of condoms in homosexual sex and whether or not they experience constant breakages due to the nature of the organs involved. “Just like with heterosexuals, some homosexuals do not use condoms simply because they do not have them at the time,” he says. “It’s not like we go around caring condoms. Sometimes you are up for a quickie and there is no time to look around for a condom.” On the issue of condoms breaking during intercourse, he says they use special ‘lubricants’ they buy in pharmacies which he says do not come cheap. “Some people cannot afford the lubricants so they resort to using normal body lotions/creams which are not as effective.” Sometimes they get lubricants in South Africa where they are dispensed free of charge by the government, he says.

South Africa was the first country in the world to safeguard sexual orientation as a human right in its constitution. Both the Interim Constitution, which came into force in April 1994, and the final Constitution, which replaced it in February 1997, forbid discrimination on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation.

“We get both free condoms and lubricants.” Without a lubricant, Lemogang speculates, there are 99 percent chances that the condom may break.

The Coordinator at Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), Caine Youngman says the organisation assists homosexuals with information on safe and safer sex. “Under safer sex we talk about the use of lubes (lubricants) and condoms,” he says. “There are water-based lubes which are compatible with latex and silicon condoms.” He echoed Lemogang’s statement that the lubricants do come at a price.”Sometimes we use massage oils and gels used in hospitals,” he added. Youngman says because the government’s education on sexually transmitted diseases is solely focused on heterosexuals, it puts the homosexual community at a disadvantage as it deprives them of the necessary information that could safe their lives.

Lemogang says as much as the Botswana government remains hostile towards the gay community, the reality is that there are more homosexual Batswana men than statistics suggest. “I will invite you to a gay party one day so you can see for yourself,” he says, almost with certainty. “I know a lot o married men with families who live a double life.” Lemogang himself has two children from a previous relationship with a woman with whom he got involved before he “discovered” himself. His family still do not know about his relatively new found sexual orientation and he is not ready to come out yet. “I will tell them when the time is right,” he assures me.

He says life as a homosexual in Botswana is very challenging. “I have to deal with the constant stares and verbal abuse from the public.”

If the latest government stance on homosexuals is anything to go by, there is still a long way to go before homosexuals like Lemogang can enjoy their freedom.

“It has never been part of our culture for people of the same gender to be involved sexually and only time will tell whether Batswana will accept homosexuality, ” said the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Ramadeluka Seretse while addressing the media in 2013.

Section 164 of the Penal Code dictates: any person who has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature …. Or permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven year”. But the biggest problem for the gay community, it seems, is not the law itself but rather, the general stigma attached to the practice.

*Not real names


Read this week's paper