By: Lindiwe Dhlamini
Photos by: Thembela Dick
The last Thursday evening of the first month of 2019 was spent at the historical Constitutional Hill where renowned Judge Edwin Cameron was about to have a conversation with Welcome Lishivha about his life as an LGBTIQ+ and HIV/AIDS activist.
Judge Cameron is known for his bravery as the first openly Gay judge living with HIV. A truth many prominent people will not divulge in public yet, Judge Cameroon was ready to live and tell his truth as early as 1992 when he came out as a Gay man. At the beginning of the event Kgosi Motsoane one of the founders of Bare Stories gave an inspiring life story about growing up and noticing people that judged him. People telling him he was different before he could understand who he was and what his difference was. Bare Stories is a platform created by four openly gay men who saw a lack in spaces where LGBTIQ+ people can share their stories.
Kgosi Motsoane, Welcome Lishivha, Humphrey Maja and Siphelele Vilakazi came up with this brilliant concept that allows for honest conversations about our lives as Queer people to happen in a safe environment. A space where networking and meeting other like-minded people is the goal. Surprisingly, Judge Cameron had also based his opening speech on stories and mentioned three types of stories that we all could relate to.
I loved his articulation of the three types of stories because I have a story of my own and so did everyone in the room. He put it this way; “there is a story we tell ourselves about ourselves, there is a story that other people tell about us, and there is a story told by us to other people”. These apply to our daily lives as people and the moment we own our truth that is when we have liberated ourselves from the expectations of the world.
Though judge Cameron affirmed cognition of his privilege as a white man his infatuation with Blackness was very visible and somewhat uncomfortable in some parts. He kept referring to Steve Biko as though desperate to fit in with the crowd which was predominantly Black. I appreciated his honesty nonetheless where he openly admitted that he was a “racial coward lurking in white privilege…” during the transitioning phase of apartheid which he still benefits from based on his positionality as a white man. He shared how he was affirmed and supported when he came out which is not the reality for many of the people in the audience. What stood out is that; this is his truth and who are we to judge him for telling it no matter how uncomfortable it may be to hear.
Judge Cameron also shared about the internalized stigma and shame of not only being Queer but also that he is living with HIV. He relates how living with HIV became more shameful for him than being Queer because of the stigma attached to how the virus is transmitted. The correlation with homophobic scientific findings in the past around homosexuality and HIV/AIDS suited the story that other people told about him before he could tell his own story.
Even in the midst of the prejudice of being bullied by a colleague for his sexuality, judge Cameron remained resilient, brave and continued telling his story the way he likes. I liked that he has a good sense of humor, even though many people living with HIV and being Queer will not be as open to share about themselves so cheerfully.
One of the main themes that keep coming up in Queer dialogue is the class issue that no one is willing to address openly and honestly. It happened that judge Cameron also mentioned it in passing. I would have loved to hear more of his take on the topic and how we can bridge that gap in spaces where we gather as the Queer community.
I am hoping upcoming conversations planned by Bare Stories will be a platform to openly discuss all the intersectionalities of our struggles and privileges, as the Queer community will be opened. Moreover, I am hoping that such a platform can be opened in the townships where many Queers do not have access to such conversations or the language to articulate their own struggles and privileges.
As a Black lesbian woman, I would also appreciate conversations that address issues that affect us to ensure that these stories also reach mainstream public dialogue which is always centered around Gay men or the brutalities we face for being lesbians. I wish to see more of what Bare Stories will bring us this year and to see its expansion to spaces where access to such conversations are limited.