And this is Mogamat.

Mogamat who is 47, who is cisgender, who is queer, who is a man, no specific order, here for your questions, here for some answers.

Born and raised in Port Elizabeth, in an orthodox muslim community, Mogamat knew from an early age that his sexuality, his homosexuality, was taboo. Yes he knew.

The community held and still holds a lot of respect for his family. Perhaps because they were in the ‘mosque business’. They would hold a madrassa (quranic school). In his house, Sheikhs would teach and preach, sometimes against homosexuality. It was hard to listen. It was hard because what one learns in the madrassa is crucial to their faith and knowledge of islam. And it was hard because Mogamat knew the Sheikhs obviously knew there were queer kids in the room. Yes they knew.

So Mogamat kept it quiet. Because the way people see you is the way they are going to relate to your family. And you don’t want to harm your family’s reputation.
He grew up. Kept it quiet. He would go out for a boogie in the gay clubs of P.E.. But at home, shhhhh. Quiet.
He got engaged with a woman. On his way to proposing her, he asked Allah to send him a sign. He got into a car accident. And for a sign, that was a loud one. 
But not loud enough. Because he still did propose. Eventually, her family opposed the union.
But fair enough. Looking back at it, it would have been unfair to her, to have married. It would have been a lie.

Since then, Mogamat has stopped lying. Instead of keeping quiet, Mogamat has become loud.

He came out to his family. He started working for Out Prejudice, an LGBTI non-profit.  
Doubly proud, muslim and queer, Mogamat became an MC for his mosque’s youth organisation.
Today, Mogamat is an MC for drag queen pageants. Two worlds collide.
Mogamat thinks queer entertainment should always come with a drop of advocacy.
Today, still out, Mogamat keeps fighting prejudice. In Wynberg, Cape Town, for the Inner Circle. A muslim LGBTI mission.
Since he knows, now you know too. You know what loud is and how loud one can be.

Nobody said being vocal was easy.
Some people call him heretical, call him a bad muslim.
And for his fellow muslims, or for any believer, he asks questions to answer.
Why would his identity be competing with his faith?
How well do you know your Qu’ran, your scriptures? On what ground can you belittle him?
Among the almost 2 millions hajj pilgrims every year, how can you tell the straight from the gay?
If Allah does not like the gays, the queers, how come does he give them sun for pride every year?

Now Mogamat is tired of people’s bullshit. He’s done with vanity. The greatest of all sins.
Those believers who tell others how to believe, who hopelessly end up stealing God’s word. Misleading the masses. Misleading themselves.
Take ISIS, that throws gay men or suspected gay men from a roof. Are they acting on behalf of Allah or are they acting as Allah?
Same goes for all these Sheikhs and imams who in the mosque comfortably preach against the gay, but who, outside of such walls, would never do so. Too afraid of the law.

Religious leaders have taken the faith away from the faithful. They have disrupted the link between Allah and the people.
Now it’s up to the latter to rebuild it. Connect back with Allah. Stop relying on misleaded leaders. Grab the Book. Educate yourself. Be true to yourself. Allah will never put on your way things you cannot handle. Whatever you are, whomever you love, do it proudly, do it faithfully.

Do it “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”

And this is Kieran.
Kieran who is cisgender, who is 30, who is gay, who is a man, no specific order, no small talk, just a strong commitment.
Kieran was raised in and by church. The Anglican church. His father happens to be a priest. His father has ministered in several parishes throughout his life, leading Kieran and his family to live in different parts of Cape Town. Always reaffirming the importance of a pastor for a community. And what would a good pastor be without a loving wife and a big family?

So, growing up, Kieran was well surrounded. Church was like home. Home was like church. Worshippers were extended family members. Worshipping was a way of a life. Everywhere was safe. Everywhere until.
Until 4 years old Kieran asked his mother if he could take ballet classes. Why would a little boy dance like a little girl? Nothing wrong with religion, technically. But a harmful thing for the family’s reputation. For his mother, a woman endowed with the role of the priest’s wife, anything that would not fit the socially accepted would be frowned upon.
But because Kieran wanted to, and because his father, perhaps surprisingly, supported the idea, she said yes. And she warned little Kieran: “Don’t come crying to me if people call you a moffie.”
Since then, everywhere but anywhere you could find gossip was safe. Narrow minded, shortsighted individuals became Kieran’s worst enemy.

When 20 years old Kieran, comfier with himself and with the way he loved, was rushed by a few peers into coming out as gay, he knew that he owed nothing to nobody, especially regarding his sexuality.
For some reason, on a personal level, Kieran coped well with being gay. But what worried him was what could happen to his father’s ministry. Should he leave home? Should he stop being active in church?
The answer is no. And Kieran did not have to ask God to know.

Kieran is gay. And of course, if he had had a choice, he would not be gay. But he is. And if in the first place he had to deal with it, everybody also has to.

His very presence at church became a crusade. His very existence, as the pastor’s gay son, became a vocation. He has never stopped being an active member of his church.
Kieran says that he knows too many LGBTI people who keep going to church and keep apologising for who they are. If you are not comfortable with who you are, maybe you should not go to a place of worship. But if you are, you should not stop going to church. Don’t prove right those who say there are no lesbians or gays in church. Do not apologise.

Queer people belonging in churches is a hot topic. Because churches are meant to be safe spaces for everybody. Yet they are not. When people advise Kieran to tone down his ‘gayness’, worried for his safety, Kieran likes to recall that anger has no purpose. He could be the least flamboyant gay man and still be a target.
So when less good-intentioned church members remind Kieran that he’s gay, he forgives even less. In the Anglican church, the peace greeting ritual has all members shaking hands together. Many people, on too many occasions, refuse to greet Kieran. So he’s stopped extending his hand to them.
If you cannot acknowledge his faith and achievements just because who he loves. If your bigotry makes you forget Kieran was born and still is a christian, has assisted for years in ministry, don’t expect him to apologise. He knows where his place is while you should question yours.

On a broader level, Kieran believes that churches and church leaders are having the wrong conversation. When they do not officially reject the LGBTI component of their followers, they treat them as a niche market. When they choose to focus on same-sex marriage, they’re oblivious to real issues. 
Churches are empty, and keep losing members. If they want to win back people’s faith, they should talk about commitment and marriage in general. How can two men, just like a man and a woman, worship God together? Kieran believes that the answer matters.
Churches’ attitude regarding sexual minorities is a timebomb. Queer people have long started deserting. Straight people are on a similar path.

When there’s nobody left, who’s gonna get kicked out ?

And this is Kedibone.
Kedibone who is cisgender, who is a woman, who is a lesbian, who is 20, no specific order, just a mischievous gaze and a place to claim.

Kedibone that you could easily call African for she is proud and Black, and proud to be Black in a country called South Africa, where being African means way more than just being born on the African continent.

As an African woman, Kedibone shall always bear in mind honor. That of her ancestors. And if she was to ever forget it, the latter consistently recall her what is her duty, their honor. This, by calling her.
Kedibone has received a calling. The calling. She is to become a sangoma, a traditional healer. She has been chosen by her ancestors to be a messenger. She gets premonitory dreams and visions on the regular. And when she turns off her television, some news are broadcast on her own channels, foreseeing future.
Most people know that you should not ignore your calling. And if you do, bad things are going to happen to you. Kedibone knows that her father did ignored his, and it might be the reason why he passed it on to her.
Those who are not in the know of Kedibone’s bloodline sometimes do know about her. That one time, in a taxi, when a mysterious man gave her a coin, she knew it meant something.
And that other time, when out of nowhere, a man yelled at her that she would never get a man, she knew all things come for a reason.

Kedibone that you could easily call un-African for she is proud and a lesbian, and proud to be a lesbian in a country called South Africa, where being a lesbian exposes you to several threats. In the first place, being called unnatural, un-African, unworthy of her roots.

But Kedibone does not buy into this. She is not afraid of who she is and was never unsure of who she loved. As a matter of fact, LGBTI identities do not contradict traditional beliefs. The same way her ancestors chose her to be a sangoma, they unquestionably made her a lesbian.
And it’s funny because there are so many gay or lesbian sangomas around. It’s always existed. Everybody knows it.
Would there even be a link between both identities?
Kedibone doesn’t know.
But what she knows is that African tradition defines two great spirits that all humans may refer to. There is Gogo, who is female, and Khulu, who is male.
Being predominantly influenced by one makes you seek people predominantly influenced by the other.

Kedibone that you could easily call out for being unapologetically proud of her ancestry, her sexuality, her skin tone, her body. She has left most incentives to guilt and self-hatred aside, or behind. She indeed used to go to church with her mother. She remembers the priest’s sermons about Sodom and Gomorrah. She remembers they say homosexuality is a sin. She remembers the day when she left church, after another homophobic rant at the altar. She remembers it as a point of no-return.

Christianity does not give a chance to LGBTI people. Churches are like police stations or hospitals. For LGBTI people, they are places you should run to in order to be safe. Yet, like police stations and hospitals, for LGBTI people, churches are places or particular threat and discomfort.

It seems like everybody claims Kedibone. Telling her what to do, who to believe, how she’s guilty. But unlike everybody, Kedibone is who she claims to be.

And this is Micaelan.
Micaelan who is 39, who is non-binary, who is transgender, no specific order, just a tedious journey.
Now cut the poetry.

Micaelan is from Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. They grew up on Rhodes University campus, for their father was a warden there. Their family subscribed to roman catholicism and was very observant. Such religious morals were layered by the general conservatism of one of the oldest varsities of South Africa.

« I’m glad none of my children turned out gay, I’d have disowned them. »
Casual comments at dinner time. According to Micaelan’s family morals, homosexuality is a sin.
So for female assigned, masculine identifying, tomboy looking Micaelan, growing up was a steady crisis of faith, a constant feeling of danger. Were they a lesbian? Were they going to hell?

About the age of 25, Micaelan discovered they had fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that creates fatigue as well as constant pain in muscles, bones and joints. Micaelan’s horizons, that were already warped by a strict upbringing, immediately shrank.
Micaelan felt punished for being queer. Punished by life. Punished by God.

Then Micaelan engaged on a path to become less sinful. They, moved back to Grahamstown, moved in with their boyfriend, got a job on campus as a computer science lecturer, had three children. In a nutshell, and as Micaelan likes to put it, they became a good christian cisgender mother.

And this more conforming life came with a lot of traumatic experiences.

Being with their boyfriend, who later on became a husband, was the ultimate story of discontentment. Although they were partners and allies, they never really were emotionally connected. Micaelan, who grew up being fed with gendered stereotypes, still fed the constant hope of breaking into their husband´s shell, giving access to an eternal and mutual love.

Being pregnant, making Micaelan an official woman and mother in the eye of society, was by far the most dysphoric experience they ever had to go through. Micaelan felt alienated to their own body, scared by a life growing inside of their belly, harassed by people’s reminders that they were a woman. A woman Micaelan kept trying to be.

Since being a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher couldn’t bring Micaelan fulfillment, but rather the opposite, an utter sense of discomfort, they had to find a getaway, a way to explore their gender and sexuality. A getaway that happened to be an online gateway. On social media, Micaelan linked with gender-fluid and transgender groups. It was a prime tool to finally put words and labels on who they were, on how they had always felt.
Back then, they got to realise how detrimental their entire life story had been to their identity. Micaelan’s mind was prejudiced. Transgender people were characters of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Chicks with dicks.
How could Micaelan be both transphobic and transgender?

So it took some time, some time to come to terms with their being. Micaelan has always leaned toward a more masculine expression of their gender. Yet, because of how toxic masculinity is, they did not identify as male. And Micaelan came out as non-binary.
Micaelan looked back at their entire love life and figured that they had mostly dated queer male-identifying individuals. Then Micaelan came out as pansexual.
But because people always have it hard to understand such labels, today, Micaelan makes it simple and introduces themself as a transgender gay man.

However, as simple as you might put these things, being transgender, being non-binary, never makes things easy.

Last year, when the Feesmustfall movement had students protesting all over the country, Micaelan paid a high price for their identity. In the old white cisgender straight male-dominated Rhodes University, especially in the computer science department where Micaelan was working, trouble was not hard to find.
An incident who involved a panicked lecturer who pepper-sprayed students got Micaelan into trouble. Micaelan merely asked on social media who was the lecturer and Rhodes university charged Micaelan for incitement to violence.
On top of a clear attempt to censor these events, Rhodes took the opportunity to get rid of its vocal staff. Micaelan, who is openly transgender, who was an active member of the student LGBTI group and the Gender Action Commitee, had become a target.

So Michaelan resigned, left Rhodes, left Grahamstown, moved to Cape Town, with their family.
And this new life, freshly started, carries with itself a whole lot of challenges. Michaelan still lives with their husband, but they are separate. They don’t do it for the kids. Although they kind of do. If Micaelan applied for divorce, they would engage in a battle for child custody. And as transgender and non-binary, Michaelan has no doubt they would lose their family.

And this is Micaelan.
Because life goes on, nothing can be a tragedy. At least, nothing should be.
But at least now you know. You know when to cut the poetry.

And this is Belle.
Belle who is queer, who is cisgender, who is 27, who is a woman, no specific order, just seasons of the soul.

Belle grew up in a tiny village of the Eastern Cape. Like many other places in South Africa, the town was segregated, according to class, according to plan. The social glue of it all was christianity.
Belle’s mother was an anglican, Belle’s father was a methodist. The latter’s office would even serve as a church, where Belle would attend Sunday school.
Weekdays school was that of the local Dutch Reformed Church. God and the Bible were guidelines to follow. What is good? What is not? As a kid, you swallow.

And the glue that is christianity had gooey extensions. So when 10 years old Belle was sent to a boarding school, there was still religion.
Later on and growing up, when kids become teenagers and like to follow fashion, Belle became a newborn christian.
Slowly, little by little, newborn Belle felt stifled, drowning in quicksands. She remembers that day when church people came to her school to promote chastity rings. That was the climax.
Belle didn’t take the ring, nor could she take religion any longer. Along with her illusions, Belle lost her religion.

A religion she sees now as patriarchal, heteronormative, cisgender-biased, a source of violence.
An upbringing she sees now as a blinding machine. She can barely remember queer people existing around her, being mentioned as real. In Belle’s world, queer wasn’t an option.
Subsequently, and for the longest time, Belle identified as heterosexual.

She moved to Cape Town to study. And Cape Town sure is a gayer town.
She moved to Scotland to work. And Scotland sure is a gayer land.
But as she was blind, blinded by her past, it never did cross her radar. Belle was a straight girl thus far.

And in Scotland, she met that Italian guy, and they fell in love. A 5 years long heterosexual, long distance and exclusive relationship is not an open field. Yet, for Belle, that was a beginning.
One year into their relationship, she confessed that she was queer. As a growing trend in her erotic life, she felt bedazzled by female beauty. It was a matter of time before these aesthetics became a desire, a burning desire.
But love can tame your soul.

So when 24 years old Belle broke up with her boyfriend, she had never kissed a woman. Free from religion, free from school, free from a man, Belle took herself into a coming-of-age tale. She dived into lesbian spaces.

Belle started exploring Cape Town’s lesbian nightlife. She started dating women, and how thrilling that was.
Her coming out story reflects how empowered she felt at that time. That one night, instead of using labels she knew her family was unfamiliar with, she just texted her mom, telling her she was going on a date with a girl.
And surprisingly, it did not make a fuss, for Belle said the truth, a newly found truth.

As she had studied gender and feminism at varsity, as she considered herself a feminist, Belle easily connected with queer activist circles. She surrounded herself with bold independent free-spirited women who happened to be lesbians.
A coincidence? Nobody said it was.

Today and now, Belle finds herself in the most exhilarating place. She connects, bonds, creates in a safe kind of space. She feels comfortable with her body, her sexuality, the way she challenges society.
She is here to strengthen existing queer spaces, here to design new ones: a community, a committee, a party.

And you know what’s funny?
Belle actually feels lucky.
Lucky for having had a religious background.
Lucky for distancing herself from it.
Lucky for having been with men.
Lucky for not completely closing herself off from them.
Lucky for the struggle her mind had to go through.

Lucky for the battle she can now fight for you.

And this is Thamsanqa.
Thamsanqa who is 32, who is cisgender, who is gay, who is a man, no specific order, just a light to follow.

Growing up in an underprivileged community of the Free State, little Thammy was the moffie. The little boy who played with girls, with dolls.
The little boy who played the mother when playing house.
The little boy who liked to put on female clothing.
The little boy who chased other little boys for kisses. And a little later, for a little more.
The little boy who was scolded for doing so, who was beaten for being such little boy. Because the little boy little Thammy was was not the little boy his family expected him, or any little boy, to be. They thought it was a disease, or a jinx. When they relocated to Cape Town, his mother advised him to stop being gay and flamboyant, for he would get killed for that.

But Thamsanqa never toned it down, and kept rolling with the punches. In spite of his brother beating him each time harder, of his mother burning his female clothes, Thamsanqa kept going on and kept walking further. Further away from a poverty and a lack of education he knew were the real danger.

As a matter of fact, Thamsanqa does not really blame people for the violence and intolerance he’s faced so far. He sort of does, but he sees bigger frames.
Thamsanqa knows that the scarcities his family was exposed to, exposed him to a greater oppression. The oppression that finds roots in multiple soils. Fertile ones.

Thamsanqa is a xhosa man. And it’s recently been an important topic. When he had to go to the bush, to get initiated into manhood, to undertake circumcision, no one would place their bets on him. Because of his feminine looks, of his homosexuality, Thamsanqa was predicted a harsh ulwaluko, and even death.
But Thamsanqa is still here and in the eye of his tradition, he is a man. You have to address him as such. However, and he insists, never forget the rest. He is proud of it all. A gay Black, feminine xhosa man.

Thamsanqa is a christian man. He’s been part of the Hillsong church for the past 8 years. As opposed to the Dutch reformed church he grew up in, he says Hillsong does a lot for the people. And it does not matter if the latter still has a hard time accepting him as he is. There is no one stopping him from going there. He’s found a place to pray and to meditate. Gay or straight, all christians are entitled to this right in a church.

Thamsanqa is an educated and determined man. He owes it to himself. He owes it to his identity. Out here, most gay people are educated, they have to. They need to make a living, to set the right example. Because gay people face prejudice, they have to work twice as hard, earn the community’s respect and give back. Boost themselves up.

Despite the oppression, despite intolerance, Thamsanqa never had a doubt. He says that if you want people to accept you, you have to overconfident them, force them into acceptance.
As a gay man, as part of the LGBTI community, it’s his duty to own his identity.
His nature is that of a man.
His features are that of a woman.
His scriptures are that of God.
And his spirit is noble, reaching toward highness.
He does not mind the challenges. God loves him as he is. He is not gay by mistake.
With his words full of wit, Thamsanqa has no doubt, being gay is a gift.

And this is Ntombesizwe.
Ntombesizwe who is 23, who is cisgender, who is a woman, who is a lesbian, no specific order, just a name she made for herself.

A name one finds hard to carry in a predominantly white school of the Eastern Cape. So when she asked her father if she could choose an English name, young Ntombesizwe got a measure of the pride her family took in her name.
She got beaten. Her hair was cut.
Ntombesizwe, isiXhosa for “daughter of the Nation”, got an early measure of who she was, of what she meant.

While growing up, who she was meant something to others. She was this bald and breastless girl who played rugby with the boys. She played hockey too, a sport her father unabashedly categorised as a lesbian activity.
And when Ntombesizwe’s father did find the admission of lesbian activity in her diary, he lectured her about traditional values, told her women need men in their life.
Around the same time, Ntombesizwe’s mother became a member of the Universal Church of God.

This is it. You already get the full picture. That of a little Black girl, in a conflictive South Africa, torn between tradition and religion. And this is exactly why little Black girls, like Ntombesizwe, need to make a name for themselves.

During that summer camp, years ago, not so little Ntombesizwe got a new measure of what her sexuality could mean for others. Her and other kids had to watch and comment Gus Van Sant’s movie “Milk” that exposes the lifelong fight of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected in the United States. The topic rose animosity among the group, for some kids started to shame others in the name of God, tradition, uptight morals.
To her own surprise, Ntombesizwe raised her voice and took the defense of the queer kids in the room.

And since then, such topic has kept rising to new extents in Ntombesizwe’s existence.

As she slowly stopped trying to date men, as she wholeheartedly started embracing her love for women, Ntombesizwe got the full measure of what the names people put on “different sexualities” entails.

Violence and bigotry. From your own mother.
Just like when Ntombesizwe’s mother found out about her daughter’s girlfriend, and, in a swift and desperate move, splashed holy water to her face.

Violence and rejection. From your closest relatives.
Just like all these consecutive times when her mother would get angry at her for no obvious reason and beat her. Just like when 18 years old Ntombesizwe all at once decided for her own safety to leave her home, to enroll in university, to take up a part-time job.

Violence and trash. Because trash is men. Some men. Yet too many of them. Those who think they got it right when really, it’s all wrong.
Just like that night in Khayelitsha, when Ntombesizwe was having a party with her friends, among which were other lesbians. That night when this group of men circled the house holding axes and machetes, promising the girls rape, a corrective rape, a collective rape. That one night, one occasion among many, proving again that men are trash and that such word is used kindly. For trash is a soft term to describe the reality of Black lesbians residing in the townships of South Africa.

Violence and the right to fight back. 
The right to fight bigotry when religion made the ones you love the most hate you.
The right to debunk hegemonic masculinity when the latter suppresses every woman’s right to be.
The right to become an activist. To actively promote equality. Like Ntombesizwe, who has been working with different NGOs in Cape Town for the past few years.

Violence and the right to fight back.
Because this is an open war, on lesbian hearts, against queer bodies, people like Ntombesizwe, daughter of a new Nation, express this right as a duty.

And this is Josh.
Josh who is 24, who is a man, who is cisgender, who is gay, no specific order, just more time to think.

And if you think about it, Josh seems to have it easy, or at least easier than most members of the LGBTI community. He’s a man, he is white, he’s had a comfortable upbringing in Cape Town, received an education, got all love and support from his family.
But Josh is gay, and being gay too seldom can be something easy.

As long as he can remember, Josh has always known. And people around him too. His mother used to try to deter him from showing affection to other boys while growing up. Children, adults, used to make comments about his sexuality. It’s almost like people knew before Josh got himself the final proof that he too knew. And because these people, who seem to know better than you, those who like to point back at you, always make it sound that gay is not good; Josh, as smart as many, put up defense mechanisms ‘til he could be free.

He toned down any mannerism that could lead to knotty interpretations. He resorted to identifying as heterosexual when he was not attracted to girls. He let himself feed the taboo society had set around homosexuality.

Society, but not only. His community too. The Jewish community which Josh and his family are part of. The reformed side of the community, that happens to be more progressive than the orthodox one. Yet and still, reformed judaism chooses to place a big focus on family and it creates a problematic space for homosexuals. Or should we rather say, it deprives the latter of any space, inside and outside religion.
Again, in judaism too, there is a taboo and denial of anything that does not promote the traditional family scheme. In this case, the Jewish family, from which each member is encouraged to meet, according to their age and gender, the criteria that will make of them a good Jew. Again and again, it was nowhere written that homosexuals can be good Jews too. Again and again and again, if it’s not written, it is discarded.

So this is how and why Josh, throughout his childhood and in his neighborhood, built walls to protect his soul. His school, his education, as good as it might have been, his rabbis, his mates, as nice as they might have been, they offered no adequate option, no real role model.

And when, out of school, older and resolutely independent Josh decided to take down his own walls, it was emboldening, and there was no stepping back.
He came out to his mom. And she said she loved him. But as a mom, perhaps as a Jewish too, she expressed her regrets as for the family he sure would never get.

And if you think about it, we’re at the core of it. The core of the problem when it comes to LGBTI people. Even when they step in, when they come out, when they make peace; even when everybody around them seems to be fine with who they are and what they see, there is always, always a rusty stereotype soaked in tradition, religion, fear of one another, that tarnishes such strong endeavor.

Queer people can raise a family. Nobody said it was easy. We know it, being gay is not easy, but neither is raising a family.
Queer people can defend themselves. Don’t worry about their safety when they open up to you about their sexuality. Learning how to shape a shell and an ego against all odds seems to be a queer skill. Violence is dreadful, but ignorance does kill.
And it is ignorant to believe that gays, lesbians, queers of all sorts can’t access happiness. When they decide to come out to you, it is already one big mark of success.

Now, if you’re worried about Josh, don’t worry about him. He’s a big boy, knows how to navigate. He knows when to say ‘gay’, he knows when to fear hate.

Rather worry about the people around you that perpetuate a culture of denial around queer identities. Rather worry about yourself for not correcting them when they say something wrong. Rather worry about this backward layer of our society you like to mock, when your silence and inaction don’t make of you a better bloke.

And this is Zintle.
Zintle who is 25, who is cisgender, who is a woman, who is a lesbian, no specific order, no bad time to shine.

Zintle grew up to be a leader.
When her father died, she took care of her younger siblings and helped her mother with the daily chores of the household.
When she was in school, she was involved in plenty of groups and associations: sports team as a captain, school life as a prefect, bible study as an assistant.
As shown by the latter, Zintle did receive a religious education, within a Seventh-day adventist institution. Church and school were one. And in such complete and homogenous environment, the smallest deviation called for correction, not to say oppression.
So when she was forced to wear a skirt, since girls should wear skirts; when she was compelled to hide her girlfriend, since girls should not date publicly, even less other girls, Zintle felt oppressed.
And from such childhood and education, Zintle grew out to be her own leader.

She has not been to church for 7 years. She has not worn a skirt for 7 years.

And if you ask her why, she will merely answer that she feels more like herself that way.

Zintle identifies as a butch lesbian, masculine-looking woman.
Places like churches that force women to wear a skirt prove how restrictive and imprisoning their vision of femininity is. Zintle is not less of a woman. She just doesn’t like skirts.

Zintle identifies as a member of the LGBTI community. Places like churches provide a special place for judgment toward its queer members. Dehumanizing them. Zintle is not less of a human. She just likes women.

Zintle identifies as neat. She says cleanliness is next to godliness. That’s her utmost value. She still does her prayers, she still believes in God. Zintle is not less of a christian. She just doesn’t like church.

7 years ago, and it’s a holy number, Zintle knew she had to make a choice. She had to choose between two communities. Between the church community where so many of her friends belonged, the community she grew up in; and the LGBTI community, in which she could feel comfortable and accepted.
The first community feeds a constant judgment toward specific kinds of sinners, while we are all sinners. Its members are afraid of what they are not familiar with, ending up opting for rejection. Its male members feel authorised to judge and rectify any female member they find inadequate, out of place. Needless to say that this is patriarchy.
The second community is a giant congregation of outcasts. Of people who bend under the weight of taboos, phobias, dogmas and traditions. Of people who struggle to raise up, to raise up united. Of people who long to be members, of one community, who call for the strength of leaders to give them clarity.

Zintle is one of them. She is an activist. And since she came out, she came up on that stage. She is vocal and loud. Committed and proud. To one community, the one that grooms her. The one that makes her feel like she has a purpose, a mission to fulfill.
Zintle is involved in politics. This is where she believes actions benefiting to the recognition and betterment of LGBTI rights should be taken.

To a certain extent, Zintle is forgiving. In South Africa, religious communities also need to address specific issues into politics. They may have a hard time doing so. And it does not necessarily come in contradiction with other claims and demands. Those of other actors.

So why wouldn’t queers and churches work together ?
They sure would and they will. This is what Zintle says. That’s why she’s a leader.

And this is David.
David who is 30, who is a man, who is gay, who is cisgender, no specific order, just a queen, your queen.

David grew up in Wellington, a small city outside of Cape Town. There, he had a very religious upbringing, for several of his forefathers served as pastors of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
David grew up feeling different from the other boys. He’d rather play with girls. He’d act more feminine, perhaps effeminate. He was an active church member: sunday school, Christmas plays, kids choir. Something along the lines of creativity and active involvement. Something that other boys would consider girly.

As many queer kids concerned with what people can think or may say, David grew a second brain. He would not let people, family, see how creative he was, although he really was. He would not let them see how attracted he was to other boys, although he really was.
And as many queer kids who grow a second brain, David grew a double life.
One foot in the open, convenient picture of a quiet law student.
One foot in the closet, resilient mixture of a caged love and a cloaked flamboyance.

During his third year of university, a friend of his introduced him to the world of drag pageantry. David gave it a try. He took the stage, once, twice, pageant after pageant, created this whole drag persona: Camille Von Zuush. People loved him, idolised her. Camille as David, David as Camille, felt free for the first time.

So by the time David finished his studies, became a qualified lawyer, his closet was full. Filled with nails, wigs, dresses and high heels. Filled with a whole drag twin. Filled with 20 years of secrecy. Filled with a procrastinated fallacy.
And at that time, the ballroom and drag culture was getting a bigger exposure in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Perhaps due to the influence of America and its RuPaul’s Drag Race, there was a growing interest around a culture that used to live in the dark.
This is why David decided one day to disclose Camille Von Zush to the public eye. And he did it big time. He appeared in a documentary about drag queens’ double life. And that was it. To his family, to everybody, David’s closet was wide open. Finally.

Now that he’s free to show whoever he wants to be, David’s double life is twice as merry.
He refers to Camille Von Zuush as a different person of his. Camille is poised and more refined. She’s a lady. David is the man you will find at work or in church. Joyful and quirky.
However, David and Camille are one person. Camille is there, out there. David is here, right here. The nails, the hair, they make the link you see.

Today, both David and Camille serve a purpose.
David is committed to his job. He still goes to church. As a matter of fact, he’s never stopped going. Through difficult times, despite how problematic people might think his religion can be, God has always been here for him. And because church is a prime place for David to find Him, because church people have a hard time telling he from a she; in church, Camille does not belong and doesn’t need to be.
On her side, Camille has become a role model. Miss Body Beautiful 2014. Miss Gay Western Cape 2015. Miss Gay South Africa finalist 2017. Here and there inspiring people in her communities: Coloured, queer, drag wannabes. Camille Von Zuush is real and queen of the party.

Here, dear reader, you surely figured how and why the word ‘queen’ matters more than ever, and has mattered lately. Little boys and young men, once shamed and shunned for their femininity, today find a figure that they can look up to.

Had he not found Camille, David wouldn’t be half of the bold and confident being he is now.

Had the LGBTI community not found its queens - strong female figures, transgender mothers, cross-dressing performers, cisgender pop idols - there would be no sass, no snap, no tea to spill on that hardly questioned, well of the the oppression, masculinity.

And this is Gila.
Gila who is transgender, who is 19, who is non-binary, no specific order, no time to give explanations.
Because Gila spends their life explaining themself, to people who don’t get it or who don’t really want to get it.

Gila grew up in the conservative town of Fish Hoek. A jewish family in a christian town, a transgender body in a cisgender crowd. Isolation.
Lucky for them, lucky for Gila, there would be spaces in which to be safe.
Although Gila’s family identifies as Reform Jews, their everyday life is pretty secular. Their children never went to synagogue, nor would they pray or follow rituals in an orthodox fashion.
So for 5 years, on Gila’s own initiative, Gila took part in a progressive jewish youth group. Of course, they learned a lot about religion, but, as it happened to be a space of expression, Gila got to explore more. The leaders educated them about LGBTQI+, and when the group took an exercise about gender expression, Gila took more time than the other kids. This made Gila wonder, and they realised the longing in their heart.
And as Gila started putting labels and pronouns on who they really were, a troublesome journey on a cisgender sea started to take toll. Gila became the queer banner of the group. They were constantly invited to promote the inclusivity of the organisation, and exploited them.
Gila felt used. So Gila left.

But the outside world is no better. It may even be worse.

As long as they can remember, Gila never felt comfortable being a “girl”. They would rather lean toward the masculine side of the gender spectrum.
So when Gila came out as transgender and non-binary, things should have been easier. People had been misidentifying, misgendering them for the longest time. Now people had their answer. But you know, these days, people always come up with a better one.

Gila is transgender. They do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth: female.
Gila is non-binary. They do not identify with the traditional gender binary: male or female. It is not an in between. It is just not the binary. The binary cisgender people, an overwhelming majority of humanity, tend to aggressively reapply whatsoever. And you would be surprised how well-intentioned some of these people are to Gila.

People want to call Gila gender-fluid. Because Gila’s very demeanor and use of fashion is so broad it’s confusing. Gila just shops in both sections, doesn´t make their gender fluid. Skirts, pants, leggings or hoodies, they wear it all. Very naturally. Gila’s style is as constant and consistent as their identity.

People want to call Gila a lesbian. A butch lesbian. Because their hair is short. Cisgender heteronormative maths: short hair plus female equals female masculinity equals lesbian. Well, their answer is simple: “I’m more of a gay boy than a lesbian,” Gila says jokingly.

People want to call Gila agender, asexual, a-everything. Because Gila does not provide a convenient look, nor an appropriate image. So people get agressive, and often intrusive. Because they have a trans body, Gila is not allowed to have a sexuality. People assume they do not have any. They would be surprised to know Gila has a boyfriend and is attracted to masculinity. Androsexuality.

Gila feels suppressed. They feel pressured from the world at large. Just like they did now, Gila relentlessly gives explanations so people can feel better, making at ease lazy minds, hard to please.

Gila feels punished. And it’s a double plight. Deep inside, Gila wonders if they were meant to be a cisgender boy, but just weren’t allowed to be. Now, because they do not identify as a cisgender woman, they have become a disobedient woman. For they are trans and non-binary.

Gila feels the burn. And it hurts like hell. Because people assume their identity is a quirk, a whim, transitory. Because people only focus on what they look like, can never look past it.

Well, we should all burn for Gila. For we know a zillion words, a million names and a shit ton of colour shades, but when it comes to gender, we are stuck in a binary.

And this is Aaliyah.
Aaliyah who is 22, who is queer, who is gender-fluid, no specific order, just a fresh start.

Indeed, Aaliyah freshly relocated in Cape Town. She did so for a few reasons plus one. And regarding this one, and on this planet, Aaliyah has come a long way.

Aaliyah’s family is from Harare, Zimbabwe, where she was raised in the catholic faith.
Her family moved to Canada for a few years, then to Kinshasa, DRC for a few more, where they became part of an evangelical church. Needless to say that, from catholic to evangelical, there is one step, one more observant step.
After her father passed away, Aaliyah and her mother moved back to Zimbabwe, a place she should have been able to call home.

There, she was sent to a boarding school. A christian one. Because of course. Because of Zimbabwe’s heritage of British puritanism in its school system.
There, she was bullied. By her classmates. Because of course. Because she was this tomboyish girl who was not dating boys, nor was she dating girls, but that was enough for the other kids to call her, or rather call her out for being, a lesbian.

Then, 18 years old Aaliyah, out of school, was healing the wounds of the bashing and isolation people had made her go through, presuming her identity. Queer.
She resorted to heterosexuality for it is everything queer people cannot be. Straight.
And what a rewarding experience it was. What an uplifting lover he was. Mentally Abusive. Compulsorily unfaithful. How straight is that?

And because of course. Because it takes more than one lesson to learn. She’s kept on dating guys up until very recently. Up until she really got tired of men, of masculinity, of all it entails for a queer woman.

At this point, Aaliyah knows that she’s done. She first came out as asexual because being done with men and not opening up to women made her think she was asexual but really she’s not.
And how confusing?

At this point, Aaliyah knows that she’s queer. She recently came out as a lesbian to a friend, a gay friend. He won’t judge her but other people will. As soon as she’ll give them the word they want to hear, they’ll pull a “I knew it”.
And how displeasing?

At this point, Aaliyah knows that she can’t tell everybody. She can’t tell her mother because she would send her right off to conversion therapy. She can hardly come out to herself because her recent attraction to women face off with the homophobia she has internalised during all these years.
And how conflicting?

And how and in the name of which God do you expect a young soul like Aaliyah to find shelter?
From Zimbabwe, from men, from christianity, from her mother, she’s run away. To lift the pressure.

And because of course. Because she’s a young soul. Because she is queer. Aaliyah reaches out for the tools that will make her life better.
Online, she’s found the confidence and a few role models to embrace her sexuality. Facebook groups. Famous youtubers.
Offline and in Cape Town, she’s connected with different LGBTI organisations. Safe spaces. Sane answers.

About Aaliyah, about all the others, if you don’t have the time or the energy, please, do not worry.
From time immemorial, and as set in this story, to their plight, queer people always have known some kind of remedy.

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.