One Young World
One Young World

Expose the lesbians

By Gcobani Qambela

In the past years we have been reading with horror reports of not only extreme homophobia but also often the violent attacks that are levelled against homosexuals in Africa. From reading about men being named and shamed in public newspapers in Uganda, to the horrific “corrective rapes” of lesbians in our very own South Africa, it is not an understatement to say that Africa does not present an accommodating space to be openly homosexual.

A week or so ago I came across a DRUM magazine cover with headline in bold “REVEALED: CASTER IS ENGAGED!” Since a friend of mine in the United States asked me to update her on what’s happening with Caster Semenya as she was seeing ignorant and homophobic updates about Caster on her social media and didn’t understand the root of these. With reservation, I bought the magazine.

The issue, with Caster on the cover, begins by noting that when approached for comments, she told them that “My private life has nothing to do with you” but the magazine would not leave it there; the writer boldly proclaims that of course “DRUM went searching for answers [elsewhere]”.

They note the rumours circulating that she is pregnant are “unlikely” as the magazine can confirm that the 22-year-old is “madly in love” with 27-year-old Violet Ledile Raseboya, another woman. One of the “no fewer than four” sources tells DRUM that “Caster is not dating a Bafana Bafana player nor is she pregnant – that would be ridiculous. She’s with Violet and they’re lesbians” the source tells DRUM [my emphasis].

I am not interested in whether the rumours about Caster are true or whether she is/not a lesbian (for quite frankly it’s none of my business), my interest here is showing the ways in which the story was covered by DRUM magazine subtly signified not only an attachment to homophobia in line with many African countries that publicly out and shame homosexuals but also an attachment to racist sexist thinking about black women and love.

From the cover and captions like “They wear matching clothes” and “They drive matching cars” one would believe that DRUM magazine is telling a love story between two black women but upon a closer read it is clear that there are larger problematic projects at place: the first being to publicly out Caster for being a lesbian (although she has never herself expressly self-identified as a lesbian), and secondly to delegitimise friendship, love and admiration between two black women as invalid because they are allegedly homosexual.

In her book Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics bell hooks reminds us that “Romantic love as most people understand it in patriarchal culture makes one unaware, renders one powerless and out of control”. She further elaborates that romantic love “within patriarchy heterosexist bonds were formed on the basis that women being the gender in touch with caring emotions would give men love, and in return men, being in touch with power and aggression, would provide and protect”. [My emphasis] At the soul of this relationship therefore is domination, but hooks correctly notes that “Love can never take root in a relationship based on domination and coercion.”

Homosexual relationships, whether they are between males or females interrupt this pattern of relations in patriarchal relationships for they present a new site for contestation where individuals of the same sex can challenge the patriarchal arrangement by daring to love each other. Hooks contends that the degree to which one can measure if lesbian partnerships are good or better than heterosexual bonds is “usually determined not by both parties being of the same sex but by the extent of their commitment to breaking with notions of romance and partnership informed by a culture of domination’s sadomasochist assumption that in every relationship there is a dominant and a submissive party”.

The magazine notes “Caster and Violet share a long friendship. Back in 2009 when DRUM did a makeover cover shoot with the star after the World Championships, Violet was there to “support” her [my emphasis]. Caster at this magazine shoot introduced Violet as a “friend”. Violet further expanded that Caster was “a role model. She inspires all of us because she accepts herself. We all admire her”; and when asked on her personal Facebook page (cited by DRUM) whether she and Caster are dating or not, she responded no but that ‘ra ratana’ (‘we love each other’).

DRUM’s story about Caster and its subsequent revelations about Caster reveal a magazine determined to out Caster to the world as lesbian than to tell a story of love and celebration. According to DRUM common occurrences in most young people’s lives like Violet having lots of pictures of her and Caster on her Facebook page and speaking at her 21st birthday party are clear signs of “a couple that is not afraid to express closeness”.

While the magazine concludes that “at the time of going to print, Caster would not comment on their relationship. She ended any hope of shedding more light on the matter when she said “are you interested in my life or my athletics? We’re not doing interviews at the moment”. Reading the article it becomes clear to me that regardless of whatever comment Caster would have offered to the magazine, the main focus was to expose her out into the open for her sexuality.

This is incredibly disturbing to me, especially for a magazine that reaches into the heart of South Africans. The story merely perpetuates the othering of Caster Semenya based on her gender and continues to scandalise homosexuality. We all know Caster’s history and the stigmatisation and humiliation that she has been subjected to already in her 22 years. Two young black women who clearly love and respect each other are delegitimised simply because they are lesbians. Caster and Violet are doing the work of love, and it is irrelevant whether they are lesbian women or not.

Gcobani Qambela is an AngloGold Ashanti (2011) One Young World Ambassador.

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  • 12 Responses to “Expose the lesbians”

    1. bernpm #

      You say: “Since a friend of mine in the United States asked me to update her on what’s happening with Caster Semenya as she was seeing ignorant and homophobic updates about Caster on her social media and didn’t understand the root of these. With reservation, I bought the magazine.”

      “The issue, with Caster on the cover, begins by noting that when approached for comments, she told them that “My private life has nothing to do with you”

      Why did you not just send the Drum issue to your friend and leave us alone.
      ““Her private life has nothing to do with us”

      April 6, 2013 at 7:15 pm
    2. Momma Cyndi #

      Gcobani Qambela,
      You are far too young to be so bitter. Heterosexual relationships are not all about domination and gay relationships are not all about rainbows and unicorns.

      Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in the world who have no life. Their only joy is living vicariously through the celebrity stalkers. That is why they camp out on Madonna’s lawn or go through the dustbin hoping to prove that Beckham is cheating. It is part and parcel of being in the public eye. If this was about which guy Shashi Naidoo was secretly seeing, it wouldn’t bother you.

      It would be great if Caster comes out as gay because our lesbian community could sure do with someone to look up to and it may even help to tone down the homophobic attitudes. I never could understand why love is so despised or why so many people have such pathetic sexlives of their own that they have to get involved with who others sleep with

      April 7, 2013 at 6:15 am
    3. Honkie Tonk #

      @bernpm

      Your thinking/comment is very worrying. So you believe Drum got it correct?

      Do you think Drum’s article was in the best interests of homosexual people in Africa or merely furthering the violence against them?

      Did you read this sentence in the last paragraph. “This is incredibly disturbing to me, especially for a magazine that reaches into the heart of South Africans. The story merely perpetuates the othering of Caster Semenya based on her gender and continues to scandalise homosexuality.”

      April 7, 2013 at 7:49 am
    4. Isabella Van Der Westhuizen #

      Homosexual relationships, whether they are between males or females interrupt this pattern of relations in patriarchal relationships for they present a new site for contestation where individuals of the same sex can challenge the patriarchal arrangement by daring to love each other.

      I mean where did you get this sentence composed almost completely of social studies cliches.
      Phallocnetric patriarchy and hegemonic forces of the dominant discourse.

      April 7, 2013 at 8:48 am
    5. possum #

      I applaud you for this piece, and agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying about prevailing attitudes on this continent, but to my mind, gay relationships they are no more free of dominance and subservience than heterosexual ones are. Money rules and the party with less is invariably subservient to the one who has more and this applies particularly to older wealthier-younger prettier male gay dynamic.

      April 7, 2013 at 9:12 am
    6. bernpm #

      @Honkie tonkie: I do not and never have read Drum. Can not comment on the quality of the article(s).

      At the end of my comment I simply repeated what Castor told the Drum interviewer.
      ……….she told them that “My private life has nothing to do with you” and I support her attitude for the full 100%.

      My attitude towards homosexuality, male or female, has nothing to do with my comment nor with your perception of my comment.

      Keep wel.

      April 7, 2013 at 11:59 am
    7. Concomitant #

      The issue is not whether Caster is a lesbian.
      The issue is whether Caster is ’2-gendered’ (a hermaphrodite) – and if the male part is dominant (as it would appear to be in athletics and now sexually) how fair is it that ther is competition against all women runners?
      When money or fame is at stake, it runs deeper, is open for abuse and more complicated than just a case of sexual orientation.

      April 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm
    8. Gcobani Qambela

      Thank you ALL for reading!

      Some of you seem to have gotten the gist of the article.

      The main argument is that we already live in a hostile environment where we know it is not easy for gay people to be openly out/self-identify as gay in Africa.

      I do state that my problem lies with the way in which the article scandalized homosexuality and consequently deligitimises love between black females in particular by returning to heteronormative homophobia that shames and “others” homosexuals, more than a concern with Caster’s private life.

      The way in which DRUM covered Casters story was not merely a tabloid looking for gossip, but it scandalised her alleged homosexuality in the same manner that many other African countries put homosexuals on the front page of newspapers so they can further be humiliated/assaulted/or even arrested.

      If you’re on the cover of DRUM Magazine which has a circulation (last time I checked) of well over 100,000 readers with “REVEALED” in BOLD, I doubt that your “private life” is still your “business”, and so we should all see something wrong when a magazine will put a 22 year old on the cover and publicly out her, when she hasn’t expressly self-identified as homosexual or gay.

      Her choice to self-identify has not been respected, and I’m arguing that, that choice is important. I’m not just being “pessimistic”.

      I’m also *not* saying all heterosexual relationships are centered on domination. The bell hooks quote simply…

      April 8, 2013 at 8:30 am
    9. Gcobani Qambela

      Continued… I’m also *not* saying all heterosexual relationships are centered on domination. The bell hooks quote simply affirms that the magazine in it’s coverage focused on the rumoured same sex aspect of lesbian relationships, as opposed to looking at ways in which Caster and Violet break away with notions of “romance” whether in same sex/heterosexual relationships.

      To me it seemed like irrespective of any comment that Caster would have offered, the aim of Drum’s big reveal was to out her. All stories that the magazine tells (like Violet having a lot of pictures of Caster) are used to build a case that they are lesbians, and the possibility that they could be just two black women who like each other is totally dismissed.

      Thank you for reading!

      April 8, 2013 at 8:33 am
    10. Alois #

      On a continent with pestilence and deep to deadly economic divides, may I respectfully inquire as to the importance of such an issue being set forth in this article? As I understand the history of economics and its impact on social behavior, no resolution of any social issue, let alone one so historically, universally, and biblically intractable as homosexuality, can be addressed in such a way that will bring about resolution. I should imagine that anyone caught in a virulent cycle of poverty could care less one way or the other about such an issue. And the sudden interest and concerns being displayed over “human rights” just don’t resonate from a region of Africa that sustained a grotesque economic and political posture for some 300 hundred years over the majority of African inhabitants!

      April 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm
    11. hippiegoth #

      Thank you for this article. I agree that the Drum piece is disturbing and in poor taste – not only in its gender politics, but also in that it raises worrying questions about the state of local media.

      Just two (hopefully constructive) points:
      - At the end of the first paragraph, shouldn’t “understatement” perhaps be “overstatement” instead?
      - Author bell hooks prefers for her name not to contain any capital letters. I noticed that the author of the article respected this in her reaction to comments, so I don’t know whether the capitalisation in the article is due to standard grammatical copy-editing or the author’s choice.

      All the best.

      April 9, 2013 at 10:13 am
    12. Gcobani Qambela

      @hippiegoth #

      Thank you for the constructive feedback. In my article to the M&G bell hooks was not capitalised (I actually went further to add a comment that it was *not* a mistake. I was just as surprised to find it capitalised. I sent a note to them, it should be corrected (I hope).

      As for “understatement” vs “overstatement”, perhaps. The comment above yours is the reason why I used understatement. People often see homosexuality and the (brutal) homophobia as less important in SA for as the commentator says we have important socio-economic issues already to deal with, but clearly forgetting that *poor* gays who don’t have the right socio-economic safety net often suffer the most from brutal forms of homophobia (as in the corrective rapes example I used). But I guess could also talk about “overstatement” of homophobia, where also people feel (again like in the comment above yours) that in our national discourse homophobia already gets what they see as unwarranted exaggerated attention.

      Thank you for reading and the feedback!

      April 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

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