And this is Bennie.
Bennie who is gay, who is 26, who is cisgender, who is a man, no specific order, no inquiry, here and more than ready.
Bennie was born in a small town in the Free State. Very christian. Very Afrikaans. Very conservative.
Yes very Christian. His routine quite logically involved praying every night and going to a Dutch Reformed church every Sunday. So when Bennie realised around the age of 10 that he liked boys and not girls, being a Christian became a source of conflicts. Internal conflicts. He remembers the priest describing homosexuality as a spiritual deviance. He eventually started believing his feelings came from a demonic place. And the more his feelings would surface, the harder he would hold onto religion.
And yes, very Afrikaans. For masculinity holds a very special place in the Afrikaner culture. A strictly defined masculinity. That man: the family’s bread-winner, the rugby player, the community leader, the sex and food provider, the decisionmaker, the figure, who is ultimately, to children and women, superior. Bennie was not that man. That man is not Bennie.
Further down these two lines. Afrikaner and Christian. You might find conservative. Very conservative. So it took him patience and distance to deal with the culture he had been brought up in. For the longest time, and even after he moved to Bloemfontein, a more accepting and urban environment to pursue his studies, Bennie identified as a closeted gay man. Things only took a new turn in his last year of college when he met his lover and life partner, who is now his husband. He came out to his friends, started living freely.
Indeed, Bennie got progressively rid of all forms of hypocrisy in his life. He had two options. He could either embrace or suppress his sexuality. So he also came out to his family. Although they did not “condone his lifestyle”, they guaranteed Bennie all love and support. They gave him acceptance. And their acceptance is not a second best. Bennie knows it. He knows that parents who promise they will always love you no matter what. He knows how heteronormative this promise is.
And how could you judge people who grew up in the apartheid era, when anyone who was not a white Christian heterosexual was seen as a second class citizen?
And for what remains of such mindsets lingering in too many small towns, how could parents like Bennie’s open up new grounds ?
Behind closed doors, his parents have opened their minds. They know his husband. They’re at peace with his love. But they cannot start a war in their community. So outside the house, they do keep it low-key.
Recently, Bennie visited his parents and attended a service in their church. In the Dutch Reformed Church, one part of the mass is a pledge of faith. The attendees, all in unison, have to stand up and reaffirm what they believe in. And it was sickening to see these people, who are shameless racists and homophobes outside of the church’s walls, standing there inside united, pledging love and forgiveness.
This is why Bennie does not subscribe to this church anymore, nor does he prescribe to any dogma. As many other LGBTI people, Bennie has come up with his own spirituality, free from the hypocrisy and violence of so many organised cults. The religion he grew up in made him feel a contradiction to himself. And to a certain extent, today still, he’s afraid of a hell he could be sent to, for who he is and who he loves.
But Bennie knows and Bennie says that the Bible was written by actual people. People with their own biased views and struggles. For example: each gospel of the Bible is one man’s perception. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each documented their own unique view of the same story with significant differences.
Bennie believes that inside and outside of any religion, LGBTI people have a grander purpose. They have to bring advancement to people and their communities. They should foster reconciliation, litigate and update holy interpretations, bridge gaps and bring people closer together. So that one day, nobody, no member of the queer community, will have to live in fear or to contemplate suicide.
Bennie is confident that, like his family, mankind can evolve in a positive way. Step by step. Scale by scale. Family, Community, Country, Humanity.
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