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4Men - Opinions

Letters and opinions from concerned male South African citizens on current affairs and issues affecting us all

Gay In The 'Platteland'

By Malcolm Peterson

Lets sit back a moment and consider your home environment. Where do you live? When you look out of any window at home – who and what do you see?

I am guessing that to some extent you can see buildings, roofs, TV aerials, bus stops, corner shops, people, bustle and so on. What can you hear? Trains, sirens, cars, chatter and again – bustle.

Do you know what I can see?
Fynbos covered hills.
Do you know what I hear? Birds… and lambs, cows, sheep and many other creature out and about playing the survival game amid the local flora and fauna.

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that because I live in the middle of nowhere (where I officially reside) that I am missing out. That the cosmopolitan gay lifestyle of Jozi or Cape Town has left me bereft of life’s little 'luxuries'. You’d be wrong. In fact, you’d be very wrong. You see, I have to let you in on a little secret, you’ll find more than a few gay things rustling in the veld around here: there’s full-blown equality.

I did not want to move here. Trust me on that one. I left my beloved city and moved to the middle of nowhere because my other half is a country boy. ‘We’ll give it 12 months max,’ I said. ‘If I have so much as one supply issue with Clinique or Blue Mountain coffee we’re back to the city in a heartbeat.’ And yet, five years later, I wouldn’t move back to the city if hanging baskets adorned every litter free street and the city’s barmen were trained to make killer Mojitos. You see, I have found something in the countryside, between the fynbos and the thorns that I never found in the city: Acceptance. Warm, welcoming acceptance.

Not that I knew that was going to be the reality when we first arrived. Back then I was on the verge of several sudden bowel movements as apprehension took hold. What lay ahead? What were we thinking – giving up the city for the land of pitchforks, blue-rinse perms and Jong Dames Dinamiek? Were we mad? How long before we’d be chased through the streets with forks and Toyota Hi Lux bakkies? How long before I’d be screaming: ‘Take me, but let fashion go.’

So you can imagine my surprise when, minutes after moving in, two things became immediately apparent. Everyone was friendly – coming over to welcome us and introduce themselves and secondly, they already knew about us. They knew we were gay, that we’d left the city and that I wanted to live there as much as I wanted a root canal. Despite this, there were no shocks, no gasps and no smiles that hide the obvious horror. It all seemed, well, rather dull.

Having come from a city where I was occasionally subjected to homophobic verbal and physical abuse, not to mention criminal damage, it was highly peculiar to be in a small town and swap said harassment for conversations about the size of my roses. I thought: small town: small minds – but could this all be totally wrong? Could the cities now be the actual breeding grounds for hatred and homophobia, leaving the country towns as havens of normality? After the recent stikes and the accompanying riots that have exploded across the country in many urban centres, it certainly seems that way.

Then again, perhaps we were just lucky. The town’s gay population is small. Make that VERY small. There is little to do here for anyone, let alone the gay clientele. I can’t imagine the horror and tedium of being gay and single here, let alone straight and single, but that aside, country way of life seems to offer something that the city can’t. With hardly any crime (someone had a post box stolen a year ago), rolling countryside all around and the internet bringing glitz by post, it’s no surprise it’s growing as a town and a community. The local population has a pragmatic sense of identity and has evolved to understand that the town is greater than the sum of its parts if everyone pulls in the same direction. As such, if you want to fit in, you will. If you don’t, you won’t. In fact the only occasion anyone has given me the slightest grief for being gay, (a drunken rugby club reveller who wanted to ‘ask me questions about whether it hurt…’) led to his public admonishment by his teammates and several invitations for me to join the rugby club myself. I was so tempted…

Soon it became apparent that no matter where we went in town, nobody cared. The bars in town (clientele too) seemed not to bother. The shop owners, sports club organisers and people in the street don’t seem to offer a hoot. Even the doctors in the surgery, the checkout operators at the supermarket and the farmers at the co op… no one batted an eyelid, and being a small town, naturally they all knew. Soon the only ‘issue’ became our acceptance of their acceptance. Having so long swum against the tide, to all of a sudden find our sexuality wasn’t an issue, became an issue. Back then it was unnerving. In time, liberating. When out with my other half, I have never once looked over my shoulder, felt uneasy, questioned our route home or felt threatened. I can’t say the same for city life.

Does this mean that gays are finally getting the every day acceptance we have craved? Does it mean I got lucky? Or is it a case of prejudice is a two way street? Who can say? What it has shown me, however, is that the gay community shouldn’t just gather in every so-called gay Mecca – but accept that a perfectly ordinary, sane and normal existence is on offer to us, in the very places never before imagined possible. Our preconceptions about the prejudice of others might be more revealing about our own bigotry than that of other people.

Platteland living is obviously not for everyone. It’s true you won’t find the same array of choices and cultural diversions available in the city; however, it’s misguided to assume that cities are the only option for gay people. They aren’t. Cities are fine places, with their own set of flaws, but the country offers a healthy, relaxed and remarkably inclusive alternative that simply requires all of its occupants to join in.

Do that, and no matter who you are; life will become surprisingly better. After all, where else will you see a posse of Volksdansers jingle past you in the high street on a Saturday afternoon? Yes, you may lose designer labels, but you could very well find dignity and decency amongst the fynbos and hills out there.

Now if you don’t mind, I have to pop outside; there are ducks are flying past.

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