I rarely link my book reviews to this commentary, but in this case will do so because of the topic.
The issues of homosexuality are not new. They have been around forever. They were there with James Baldwin and Richard Wright. They were there with Ella Fitzgerald and Eleanor Roosevelt. They were there with Barnyard Rustin. There are throughout the movement for black lives with some of the most vocal and prominent voices rising up among LGBTQI individuals. The open discussion of gender and identity, even among middle schoolers, is not something that was a part of my growing up.
I admit I had and probably still have a hard time understanding the transgender identified individuals than I do in understand someone who is gay or lesbian. My older sister is as she says, "a proud, same gender loving woman" and was like that long before it became the thing du jour to "come out." She is the first lesbian and partner I met as far back as 1987 when I was barely married and understanding my role as a new wife and mother.
On my facebook page, I engage with a gentleman who underwent surgery to identify with the gender he relates to. He recently changed his name and in all outward appearance, is presented as a man. I get it, I have never seen him as any other way. On my same page, I engage with a woman near my age who is in a same-gender relationship, both cisgendered females who were once married to men. I also have young lesbians that I met after August 2014 and a few gay men. There are numerous restaurants and establishments that I boycott because of their policies that discriminate.
There is an emotional aspect attached to gender and sexuality that can become murky when someone intentionally hides their orientation and potentially destroys the emotional well-beings of their romantic partner. There remain closeted men and women, in marriages that are struggling, because their status in the community, their religious beliefs, or their fear of losing it all, keeps them trapped. Some act on their want and have clandestine relationships that are often revealed to much embarrasment, others just languish and hide behind addictive behaviors, trying to stuff down their feelings, remaining distant from their spouses. Their spouses are often trapped behind this veil of unintended secrecy and shame, they must not tell anyone they haven't had sexual relations with their spouse since they had a child or must not tell that they can not leave because the spouse has a tight control on all the assets as a way to maintain cover for their secret identity. In all of it, a lot of hurt exists.
When the movement brought a lot of LGBTQI issues to the forefront, it shifted the narrative from a black boy lynched in broad daylight and his body left baking in the sun, to the orientation of individuals who are less than 10% of the total population. Accusations of being homophobic were thrown about when some protested the infusion of the the dominate white gay and lesbian community into a very black issue of inclusion and life. Others accepted that as a way to "all get free" with their being ministers at pride parades, even being ordained in certain denominations, and language being formed to educate people about what it means to be in a body outside one's birth designation. This was all against the backdrop of former Olympic medalist who decided in the sixth decade of life to undergo a partial gender reassignment. There was also the professional basketball player with the very public marriage and divorce, her former spouse now in a relationship with a man. There were numerous stories from the fraternity/sorority identifying with very masculine black male fraternities, right down to calls, steps, and images. There were questions of how young one can be to know when middle schools were hosting days of silence and someone as young as 14 refusing to attend graduation because the male name was not used. The stories flooded my timeline.
The connecting feeling I had was what about the ones left behind? The ones forced to keep silent about those in the closet? Or the ones grappling with reality that their life was a lie and they had no way to get out? Just like the support given to the addicts that get clean, there is very little support or discussion of the ones left in the destruction of their addictions, whether that is food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, or porn, there is always damage and debris left on the family.
This brings me to the unexpected connection of the book I recently reviewed.
I had no idea the tale would turn to include commentary about homosexuality, masculinity, femininty, identity, and politics.
It was set in modern Zimbabwe. Like a lot of African nations, homosexuality is frowned upon and those in that lifestyle are in grave danger. That danger played itself out in the lengths that one goes through to keep hidden a sexual orientation that is deemed taboo. Again, left behind is often the woman (or man) on the other side of somoene's secret life. They are often held hostage, emotionally and sexually. If they are married, they can not have a lover to meet their unmet sexual needs even as their spouse if out in clandestine relationships to fulfill their same-gender cravings. They are often cloaked in and forced into a silence. If it is a very male dominated society like parts of Africa and Africa-America and the spouse is a woman ,she is silenced even more for the sake of respectability and pride, the forced need to protect the black man, and the threat of economic ruin. Many of those in secret lives are controlling of the money or access, a must to keep their activites hidden from plain view.
The Hairdresser of Harare touches on this issue in three different vantages points, very subtly. One encounters the young woman in love and touched by the man's desire to "wait until marriage" only to discover he wasn't waiting at all but having lots of sex with other men. There is the older and long married woman whose husband has been stepping out with other men and her final act to take care of the problem and protect her position of influence. Finally, there are the young men, one run out of the country, another beaten to within an inch of his life and ultimately rescued by the woman he betrayed. It is a tangled web that can strangle life out of everyone involved.
One of the things that comes up is the support that must be given to those who are "brave" in coming out or in identifying. That is true for those who are young or perhaps are not married. It is harder to accept that as a requirement for those that intentionally marry someone to cover for their deceipt. That is part of what was underneath the story. One young woman was spared the living death of a sexless marriage, another was not, she was older and trapped, but found a way to live with it.
The final hope in the book and perhaps in the modern facebook discussions is that no one has the right to destroy anyone else's life because of their secret. There is always someone left in the destructive wake of these acts. While the nation moves closer to acceptance, it is incumbant upon those who do other identify, to be completely honest. Then we won't have the tragic murders of trans young black women because their romantic partners were lied to. It is all a very tender topic and one that should be handled with care for everyone, not just the one who is LGBTQI. And for the record, no, I am not homophobic, but I am prohonesty.