23 November 2012

South Africa: An Interview With Andiswa Dlamini


The spoken word poet and performance activist explains her work and her experiences of being a 'butch lesbian' in South Africa.

Andiswa Dlamini is a spoken word poet and performance activist from Durban, presently living in Cape Town.

After spending some seven years writing and performing her own poetry, Andiswa felt she needed to expand her work by becoming more creative. Recently she began experimenting with drama as a way of exploring her own identity as a woman and as a 'butch lesbian' and how both of these are triggers for homophobic violence.

Much of Andiswa's work deals with gendered and homophobic spaces, and the physical circumstances in which lesbians are threatened whilst young men are unimpeded in carrying out their acts of violence.

Her latest work is a monologue called 'A Part of Me'. Originally she had set out to write a play in which she tries to embody the mindset of a man who thinks corrective rape is right.

However she found the challenge too difficult particularly as she herself had not lived in the township. It would therefore be dishonest to attempt to portray her sisters who walk within the shadows of rape and murder. Instead she chose to write a play in which she interrogates herself and asks what it means to be a woman and a 'butch lesbian'.

"There is a belief by young men that we ['butch lesbians'] want to be men", she explains. "The poem 'I resent you' was written to challenge this myth. I am not a guy and no matter how 'butch' a 'butch lesbian' is, they will always have a feminine side. Guys seem to think that we want to be guys - we don't.

So what is the point of trying to correct that which is not real. When I sit alone I have my own thoughts. I know I am a woman. I have feminine qualities and no matter how hard they think I am trying to be a man, I have so much of the female factor so no guy should walk around thinking I want to be a man."

Corrective language

I asked Andiswa whether she thought that the use of the word 'corrective' hyphened with rape had in itself begun to be problematic. My thoughts, not wholly convincing even to myself were, that by creating a category of rape in the context of specific kinds of homophobic expressions, and applying it to a specific sexual orientation and or gender identity had somehow made that form of rape acceptable to some degree. Indeed, rapists sometimes use the word to justify rape.

In other words while it is not acceptable to rape a woman, it is seen to be acceptable to rape a lesbian, particularly a 'butch lesbian', because they are not seen as having the same rights of citizenship or community belonging as other women.

Her response was that the word itself made her angry and many factors need closer examination, including who makes the decision to use certain words.

"Just knowing that the word exists raises questions in my head", she says. "Like whoever decided we are going to name this 'corrective' rape and make it known? I feel like it's been made okay. It's been put in a category of its own as if it's normal. Now guys go around as if they can excuse themselves. I don't feel like that's how they should be framing it."

'I resent you'

Much of how Andiswa feels about her own identities and the responses of both her family and men in general is expressed through her poem 'I resent you'.

She explains, "The poem came out of the research for my monologue. I had to ask my family about the reality of me coming out seven years ago. How did they feel then and how do they feel now? What did they accept then and what don't they accept now?

"My sister said something interesting. She knew that's who I was so it wasn't such a shock to her. But she asked, 'why do you have to act so tough like a man, like a protective brother?' If you want to show off your legs, why don't you wear a skirt or dress?

"Then she asked why I resented guys so much. I wanted to find out why she thought this because she kept repeating it. This made me think about how I socialise with guys. I realised that no, I don't resent all guys, only those who try to convince me that I made a bad decision as if my sexual orientation was a choice.

I feel it is hard to sit down with some guys because you don't know when they are going to start attacking you. How do you engage with such people? So basically it was an explanation to my sister.

"There are elements of the poem I really like such as the line 'You are weak and she is stronger than you and that can never change, because she never once questioned her inadequacy in this life'. It's my favourite line because I don't walk around thinking there is something inadequate about me. I think I am a human being. I feel that in order for someone to rape me they must be feeling inadequate about themselves. So I feel that line is very powerful."

This article was originally published here at blacklooks.org.

Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian social justice activist and blogger living in Spain. She writes an award winning blog, Black Looks, dealing with a range of topics such as LGBTI Rights in Africa, gender issues, human rights, the Niger Delta and Land Rights. She is interested in creating a community of grassroots African bloggers as a way for Africans to exchange ideas, share experiences and tell their own stories.

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