Gugulethu

Mike and I play for the weekend. At night he takes me to the gay bars where I get high on Red Bull and vodka, and the afternoons are spent over long lunches and bottles of wine. The pace here is totally different from the what I am used to in Toronto. A lunch will be hours-long, and friends will arrive and stay to share a bottle of wine or a plate of food. I could get used to this, I think, as another gale of companionable laughter washes over me.

The consequence of our Sunday afternoon excesses is that Mike and I are asleep when Craig shows up; he has to break into the apartment. It is a joyous reunion, like we’ve been separated for months insead of days.

Yay! Craig's here!

Yay! Craig's here!

The following day, Craig comes with when Laurie takes me to see the safe house for gays and lesbians in Gugulethu, a township outside of Cape Town. I am currently reading South African author Sindiwe Magona’s novel, Beauty’s Gift, which is set in Gugulethu. The author describes the township as “sprawling…unattractively”, an accurate assessment from my short tour.

We pull up outside an unremarkable brick building surrounded by a locking gate, and Laurie shows us inside. He introduces us to Bulelwa, the woman who runs the centre. The Bible is prominently displayed under a crucifix alongside a few brochures ab0ut homosexuality and religion. Bulelwa tells us that the centre is open to gays and lesbians from all surrounding areas, and that they can house up to four people in two rooms at a time. They currently house two people, one of whom identifies as trans. To garner support from an initially resistent community, the centre devised a brilliant and telling strategy: by running a soup kitchen they have earned the support of the community.

Craig immediately hones in on the irritating question that is picking at me. “Do the people who live here have to attend church?” he asks. “They do not have to go to church,” Bulelwa says, “but they are expected to participate in the activities of the house.” Let me be clear: this place is obviously a much-needed facility doing very important work. That the term “corrective rape” exists is a disgusting testament to that. But how unfortunate – and potentially damaging – that to avail themselves of this modest service a gay man or lesbian must participate in the activites of a religion that may well play a role in the discrimination they have already faced… a religion that they may not agree with or take as their own. It seems an unfair requirement.

Bulelwa continues describing the work they do: aside from the shelter, they also educate people on the relationship between homosexuality and the church and advocate to increase harmony between custom, church, and the individual. In my favourite quote from this day, Bulelwa illustrates with an example. “In our culture women are supposed to wear a skirt, but we are lesbians and we want our pants.”  Amen, sister.

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