Here Be Androktasiai
by Kneo Mokgopa
I had read too much by then, and my eyes, my beautiful precious eyes, were growing stronger each day. And I saw that what divided me from the world was not anything intrinsic to us, but the actual injury done by people intent on naming us. Intent on believing that what they have named us matters more than anything we could ever actually do.
a-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Nobody likes a bisexual, let alone a Black one. Bisexuality must be a thumb in the eye of all that is good we have left. Nobody believes an Open Relationship. And why should they? You crossed your fingers and swore to God? And so when asked, I avoid the question. Not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed, but because I don’t want to appear strange. God forbid they ask about my gender.
To be androgynous internally, and pass for a straight man, means that there are gendered and sexual conventions you will need to navigate and negotiate through, and find a way of protecting yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically from - from the violence of names and labels, from the colonization of being gazed upon with contempt, the tyranny of other people’s collective imagination. And collective imagination is not the least of it all. For it is imagination that runs currencies, and values stock markets; it distributes and allocates power, it determines who may speak, and if they will be believed when they do. It sometimes means that you have to play respectability politics, protect yourself with progressive dogma, align your interests with well established movements, call it “ethical non-monogamy” to plead against the presumption, and preface your honesty to cooperate with the dominant collective imagination. It means you need to compromise the fact of history, and cooperate with stories believed to be the past, a past that makes no record of the forests of people who responded to being alive the way you do. Somewhere between the story of the past, and the fact of history, you will find yourself - uncollected, and it will hurt and sting like a full body graze.
You are not the first to have an identity that threatens to disrupt the fibres that keep society warm in its dream of itself. Further, there are identities that you, dislocated and obscured, dislocate and obscure. For the most part, your identity will rarely be an obstacle to your interests, until it is.
The South African idea of sexuality is just as rooted in masculinity as is the United States of America’s. It is rooted in ideas of conquest and protection, spears and national identity, liTabane, butches, freaks, faggots, skeefs, mannetjies, vroukies, us and them, black and white - rooted in the story of the past, a story of heterosexual male men, and the entirety of reality being contorted to men’s desires ad absurdum. The logic and politics of names swamps my living room and even here I find myself missing. To be bisexual means to be sexually attracted to both ‘men’ and ‘women’, you need to believe in those categories before the title can be legitimate to you.. And although I myself cannot subscribe to a clean cut binary, I live in the society that I do live in, not the the society promised in the constitution.
I remember wearing nail polish in Law School, and getting ostracized and whatever, however there were people who really warmed up to me, feminists who believed I was transgender. She approached me and said “Kneo honey, what are you wearing for the dance?”, cosying up to my shoulders. But my struggle is not kin to the feminist struggle even though we are responding to the same oppressive system, partly because my body allows me vast and profound benefits but more so because our experiences of oppression are so different.
Every sexual and romantic relationship will feel like a scam. Even within the LGBTQI community. The amalgamation of those intersections of society creates the impression that you will find community, support, acceptance and love but that isn’t true. Legally LGBTQs have the similar interests and hopes in a rights discourse and it may have been the most strategic coalition but in practice the word community feels like a misnomer. The politics of Pride are key, how the intersections of class and race decimate the broader community into smaller ones. Moreover in Cape Town, I have felt interrogated for not being able to culturally assimilate into the Black LGBTQI community and the legitimacy of my obscured identity will always come into question.
Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated -- in the main, abominably -- because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires. Most of us, however, do not appear to be freaks -- though we are rarely what we appear to be. We are, for the most part, visibly male or female, our social roles defined by our sexual equipment. But we are all androgynous, not only because we are all born of a woman impregnated by the seed of a man but because each of us, helplessly and forever, contains the other -- male in female, female in male, white in black and black in white. We are a part of each other. Many of my countrymen appear to find this fact exceedingly inconvenient.
James Baldwin, Here be Dragons