Tales From A Black South African Lesbian

The harsh realities of life for black lesbians in South Africa.


* Trigger Warning Sexual Assault

She was gang raped twice, managed to escape once, with terrible scars all over her face. The second time she was raped, she fell pregnant and her parents rejoiced under the belief that she'll finally know she's a woman, not a man. After being ridiculed by police after the first incident, the shame kept her from reporting the incident that followed. Identity and pride snatched by family, community and those charged with protecting her. 

If you live in one of South Africa’s townships, you're black. In that setting, if you are a lesbian out of the closet and the neighbourhood is aware; consider yourself lucky if you haven't been a victim of "corrective" rape (when one is raped because of their sexual orientation), which is just slightly less severe than brutal killings of lesbians. Both of these seem to me to be considered unjust only by the LGBTI community. How ironic, given the fact that human rights prevail in our democratic country? Rights that protect South African citizens from discrimination and violence despite one's sexual orientation. It certainly looks good on paper; however, the implementation is severely flawed. 
Evidence of these flaws manifests in how little attention is paid to these criminal acts, one could swear it's legal to rape and kill a black lesbian. Many of these cases have been reported and only a few have been taken seriously by the state. At least five killings every year are reported, more than ten a week raped, not forgetting to mention those that go unreported. Writing on a piece of paper alone doesn't suffice. Protection means more than that. It would be a bit farfetched to circle all black lesbians into these exposures. As I mentioned earlier, this is more like a township culture. Those privileged enough to reside in suburban areas are less likely to be victims of such brutal crimes. 
This brings into focus one's economic status. Safety requires economic stability. Given the history of apartheid in South Africa, the majority of the black population is still recovering and therefore still economically unstable. Only a few individuals have made it through and are lucky enough to escape the realities of poverty and criminal acts directed to lesbians. This shows the correlation between lesbian safety and economic stability.
There's one thing most black people cannot dissociate themselves from: their culture. There's a popular belief in many African cultures, that gayness is unAfrican. Now it's a struggle between culture and one's sexual identity. Some will say culture represents one's identity. The question will be, what one does when culture crushes one's own identity?
In many black cultures being a lesbian is associated with witchcraft. This is popular in the rural areas, which induces killing. You're murdered because you're a witch, not because you're a lesbian - to them, what is referred to as lesbian doesn't exist in African cultures. This can be linked with illiteracy. Not only has that led to narrow mindedness. We still have well educated people who share the same notion. This can also be traced back to the colonial era that intensely prohibited homosexuality. Many still have a tight grip on that. However, we can't deny that it is a universal thing to hate in the name of religion. Imagine combining cultural beliefs that are anti-gay and religious beliefs that share the same notion. Doesn't that shed light on the history of criminal acts towards black lesbians? 
In Africa, coming out as a black lesbian is to risk being called a witch, demon possessed, raped, disowned and killed. Some of these issues are common to other races and cultures. However, the intensity differs greatly with black lesbians. The constitution provides some protection, but for the the most part we are left open to the wild and its dangers. This was the case for my friend whose story started this article, a story you hoped would not be true. There is still so much work to do. 


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