By Miles Rutendo Tanhira
Having grown up in a traditional African family I was taught that If I am in harmony with my family, that’s success and at the same time I was constantly bombarded with messages such as ‘uchawana chinoda hama’ (you will always need family)
All my life I’ve never had to question this, let alone countenance the idea that one can disown family. Now that I’ve read and heard stories of people being exposed to incendiary homophobic remarks and being ostracised by there own families, I am beginning to wonder if this teaching is still relevant in a situation where your own kin endangers your life.
Recently the media was awash with the news that a sister reported and testified against her own brother in the Zambian courts. She alleges that her brother was living as ‘woman’ in a gay relationship. I also watched the videos of Cameroonian lesbian couple that fled from home following threats of violence from their own families. These cases are only a microcosm of the pernicious hatred unleashed by some families on known or those perceived to be LGBT people.
It just hit me that while others still abide by my childhood teaching, it has also become an albatross around the necks of many in the LGBT community whose families are aware of their sexuality. Gripped by fear of isolation, many opt to remain a part of the family at whatever cost. It is no wonder some within the community are buying loyalty, protection, and tolerance from own families.
Through discussions with colleagues I learned that while very few have found support from families, many were yearning to fit in and this came with a price tag.
I have come to the realisation that the issue of paying for ‘acceptance’ is a sad reality and a bittersweet testimony for others who say money can buy them happiness. They testified that there is nothing that would make them so happy than just being accepted by family even for a day.
What this does is anaesthetise one into a false sense of security, as witnessed when the coffers runs dry or you stop giving in to demands the issue of your sexuality or gender identity is thrown at you. Such barefaced behavior can be witnessed from parents, siblings, relatives and even communities.
Some colleagues shared that if you are working or gainfully employed and contributing towards your parents or siblings upkeep the less they kept their nose in your business. Others even bragged that they are protected because they are able to cater to the needs of family, friends, relatives and at times communities.
I still can not cotton the idea of being emotionally blackmailed by own family and having to pay for you to remain a part of them. Such situations conjures up scenes from movies where one had to pay the mafia for protection, yet your safety was only guaranteed for as long as you kept the money coming as you practically live at the mercy of the mafia with or without the money. A friend shared how his wife had found out that he was having a relationship with another man and she held him at ransom deciding to cash in on his secret.
While a lot of the violence experienced by LGBT people is instigated by external structured forces, it is sad to note that violations perpetrated by family are often swept under the carpet and in most cases justified even by LGBT people themselves in their quest to gain acceptance.
If you thought blackmailers were outsiders, think again. Just like rapists they can be those close to us, part of our families, friends and partners the people we look up to for love and protection.
LGBT people interviewed had this to say:
“When I started earning money, everyone was close to me, then I decided to take advantage of the situation. I can get away with anything as long as I am providing finances. Now I am even consulted during family gathering for decisions, unlike before when I was just another outcast.”
“I’ts true, when days are dark family is nowhere for us LGBT people. Whenever I have money and visit my parents they are so happy they don’t even ask about when am getting married. My siblings as well enjoy being spoilt. I need my family, I just have to part with money, as long as I am accepted as a person am happy,” said one lesbian woman.
“I was working and taking care of my family once I was jobless, my sexuality was the topic. My brothers were hostile my parents said I was being cursed because God is not happy with my lifestyle. I noticed I get different treatment compared to my younger brother who don’t even work, they are respected either way with or without money.’
Another gay man bragged: “In my neighborhood I have to spoil the street boys so when I have money I buy alcohol beer and cigarettes that way am protected. It has worked for me.”
However, others said they would be careful to attach stock to the idea of paying for acceptance.
“It’s good to provide for our families but when they demand things knowing we have no option that is abuse. Paying gives the idea that homosexual people have money. This is just feeding into stereotypes.” retorted another gay man.
“After two years of living my life to please family, I finally gave up, I disowned them. Now I surround myself with people who accept me and love me unconditionally. I was bed ridden for three months and no one in my family wanted to take care of me. My friends took care of me. They are my new family. I believe as we grown we can create our own family. Being taken advantage of and abused by own blood is the worst kind of pain.
They say blood is thicker than water, perhaps for some water tastes better.
Miles is a journalist, LGBT rights activist, feminist and pacifist can be contacted on email@example.com