On Sunday the now (in)famous Our Perfect Wedding (OPW) aired what is again deemed a controversial wedding. This time around the controversy came in the form of a same-sex (in line with the show’s descriptions, but in fact the couple are heterosexual couple, the bride being trans*) wedding from Limpopo. The happy and proud couple (Nthabiseng and Given) gave us their own depiction of a perfect wedding; and notwithstanding the usual set backs, the wedding was beautiful. It was comparable to the standard of many Black (usually township) weddings throughout recent history. However, as expected in a homophobic, patriarchal and non-transformed country, South Africans were up in arms declaring their disgust and extreme levels of discomfort towards the episode of OPW. Bible faithfuls wasted no time in reminding us about the origins (and intentions) of humans (Adam and Eve re-surfaced), traditionalists pointed to the death of African customs and traditions (never mind the overwhelming scientific evidence on same sex relations in pre-colonial Africa), and culturalists proclaimed the (unlikely) turning of King Shaka in his grave. All of these were not surprising for me; if anything it was expected as it is very common for same-sex desires to be regarded with disdain. My concern was the haul of offensive comments from self-righteous so-called LGBTI comrades. The levels of internalized homophobia troubled me and placed a dark cloud on years of work by LGBTI Activists. But was it all about homophobia? What of race and class in South Africa? What the episode did was open another well dressed wound in our society; this time the wound is caused by LGBTIs on other LGBTIs.
But we are the better gays
‘Gayness’ (and I refer here to gay men) in South Africa, although still frowned upon, has been characterized by positive traits – beauty, middle-class aspirations, style and trend setting, wealth, achievements in academia and the market, as well as pro-social behaviour. Gay men are often thought of as very successful, with middle to upper class incomes, over-achievers, well dressed and beautiful (translated into one with a flawless (often light) skin) as well as well informed. Nthabiseng and Given were far removed from a number of these socially constructed traits; neither stylish nor outwardly beautiful (strike 1!) – Nthabiseng, on the other hand described herself as looking like a doll on her wedding; this speaks to her own aesthetic aspirations for her wedding and her identifying as a woman. On Twitter comments from the very oppressed LGBTIs pointed to how flawed Nthabiseng was. She was not light skinned, did not wear the latest MAC make-up and her natural demeanor was not that of Meryl Streep in “The devil wears Prada” (A GAY WITHOUT SHAVEN ARMPITS? WTF?). She probably listens to her hometown music as opposed to Beyonce (what REAL gay man does not listen to Queen B? That is sacrilege).
“…this wedding is not a representation of OUR community”, said a Tweet from an openly gay individual. The issue at hand last night was not so much about LGBTI’s self-hatred or internalized homophobia as Academics like to call it (in a country where LGBTI grow up being demonized and ostracized, a mind’s natural reaction will be self-hate), but on how Nthabi and Given were not representing REAL gays, BETTER gays. This is where discomfort was rooted and emerged. You see a number of gay men, in their struggle for acceptance and love, go through extremes to appear appealing. Beauty and style are the order of every day. Nthabiseng’s (perceived) bland wedding and lack of style and beauty was seen as an attack on the very ideals that govern gayness. There seem to be an unwritten law stating that for you to be gay you must look and behave a certain way; that if you are neither stylish nor drop dead gorgeous you must at least be educated, have a (respectable) job, demonstrate intellect (all spells middle-class?). So how dare Nthabi and Given betray the gay pact? Why would OPW give us a gay wedding that is not in Sandton, Camps Bay or Umhlanga? Don’t they know that in the gay community everyone is competing to be a celebrity? This is an assassination to REAL GAYS fabulous endeavors.
The main issue was that of representation. Last night’s wedding was that of a “normal” couple made up of a trans woman and cisgender man who just wanted to officiate their love (there is overwhelming evidence which shows that people tend to do better when they are married). For the couple, it was never really about being “gayly fabulous”, but to get married and somewhat normalize same-sex unions in their community; which they further chose to share with South Africans, like most couples. This, you would think will be celebrated as a very positive step towards transformation of sexuality in SA. So why were the worse attacks coming from gay men? I have stated above all the qualities that qualify a gay man into the class of REAL GAYS. But the wedding was not only short of being fabulous, the couple was not as attractive as REAL gays; they were also TRANS (strike 2!).
Also, Transgenders are not one of us
Another case-in-point the episode raised is the silent rivalry between gay men (perceived as REAL GAYS) and transgendered women. Transgendered people (people born with the physical characteristics of one sex, who emotionally and psychologically feels that they belong to the opposite sex) in South Africa have become the nemesis of gay men (you would think that there could be solidarity between these 2 oppressed groups). Gay men (or REAL GAYS) silently and sometimes overtly find comfort in distinguishing and distancing themselves from Trans. This is an indirect result of being oppressed (think about how Indians and Coloureds distanced themselves from Blacks during the peak of apartheid, and even today). In their struggle to be normalized and accepted by the dominantly heterosexual populace, gays have taken it upon themselves to model behaviour and traits that are closely related to what heteros would accept. The desire for the oppressed to be accepted by the oppressor pushes the oppressed to emulate the oppressor’s behaviour (think man and woman… now think top and bottom). It is more troubling when the oppressed ostracizes their group member to achieve approval from the oppressor (Caitlyn Jenner was attacked but the “straight acting” Wentworth Miller was celebrated). Or maybe Trans people are not a REAL member of the LG+B+TI (notice the deliberate separation of sexualities) community? It is confusing how some gay men fail to recognize transgendered women as “women”, instead opting to calling them “men” but find it comforting to distance themselves from these so-called “men”. Confused yet?
Let’s get back to Nthabiseng and Given’s wedding. In South Africa, Limpopo is among those provinces that are often ridiculed (such utterances as “there is witchcraft in Limpopo”, “they are not educated”, “people from Limpopo are ugly” are common). So a lot of what is negative in a person is closely associated with coming from Limpopo. But what reigns supreme from these insults is the idea that Limpopians are ugly because they are too Black. TOO BLACK?
And we are Black, but not that Black
This brings us to another South African issue (Race). It has become a common practice for Blacks to bleach their skin; a lighter skin means “attractive” and “beautiful”. The popular term “Yellow-bone” suggests that a compatible love partner is one with lighter skin. This would surely make you popular among your peers. To have light skin is to be almost White; to be God himself. So what does this have to do with this same-sex wedding?
I noted above what makes one a REAL GAY. Nthabiseng and Given therefore do not qualify in that category; but they also hail from Limpopo (the evil and ugly province- strike 3!). From the perspective of the gay community, it was an injustice for OPW to associate anyone from Limpopo with gayness. According to the Tweets, the wedding failed at so many things, but to suggest that people as Black as Nthabiseng and Given could be classified as “gay” is a nail to the proverbial coffin. Being “too” Black means you are rural, under-educated, poor and ugly. These are not what REAL GAY is; it is a misrepresentation of life-long endeavors to become fabulous. What last night’s episode did was open a new chapter in the book of sex (that which connects Black poverty to sexuality). You see up to last night, being gay was removed from poverty and (slightly) from being Black and rural (why do you think research consistently finds that White gays have it better than Black gays?). More so, being too Black is associated with masculinity, which is associated with aggressiveness and violence. Thus there is no way that Nthabi would be called LGBTI when she is an aggressive, too Black, poor, transgendered woman. I read from one post on Facebook that OPW “could have selected another wedding if they wanted a true representation of a gay marriage, maybe from central Joburg or Durban where people would see real love”. And there we have it, because the couple was not from an urban area (where REAL GAYS roam), their marriage, their identity as LGBTI is not legitimate. They are perceived as fake and too Black. They are thought of as ugly and not a mirror image of what REAL gayness ought to be. They are poor, but also very real in and about who they are. To be a REAL GAY, means being FAKE. It means owning an iPhone, check in at the most expensive hotel, post about how awful your prawn salad was and take selfies next to the V and A. Basically, being middle class and living above your means makes you a REAL GAY. And while there is nothing wrong with being middle-class, it is upsetting that those who are not middle-class (the poor, the too Black, the Transgender, the not so stylish) are continuously scorned and rejected.