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Making Badimo Happy at a Traditional African Gay Wedding

Tshepo Cameron Modisane, 27, and Thoba Calvin Sithole (27), got married in ceremony on Saturday 6 April with all the traditional umaabo, bells, skins, cow and whistles in KwaDukuza in Kwazulu Natal province before 200 guests. I enjoyed it. I laughed. And, weirdly, I felt all part of a new brave African world while I watched the images on television. And because we are a society that hates men who love other men, and women who love other women, at that moment I thanked my ancestors for being born in this goddamn place with all its contradictions. The Sitholes-Modisanes – both have changed their surnames – have become kind of celebrities and rebels all at once. The former Modisane was aware of the import of the moment. ‘We are making history here’, he told eNCA television. He also observed that their wedding is “against this idea that being gay is unAfrican. Being gay is as African as being black. We are part of our culture’. Viva Modisane.  Go boy.

As is usually done on such occasions, cow was sacrificed to honour amadhlozi/badimo. Their wedding called South Africa’s first traditional African gay wedding. Don’t you just want to go ‘Whooat the! at the sound that: ‘Traditional African gay wedding!’

I have been thinking about the subject of how traditions begin, to be sure. In June I will giev a talk in Lisbon on the topic ‘Non-traditional sexual desires and gender traditions’. In the abstract I say something like: ‘Animated by ideas on both decoloniality of knowledge and postcoloniality, I want to re-examine the idea of tradition in the lives of African men and try to imagine a possibility of reintroducing ‘non-traditional’ desires into the prevalent discourse African tradition, where ‘non-traditional’ desires means nonconforming desires, practices, identities, relationships, and bodies. The question underpinning the paper is, how do some desires become part of, while others are expelled from, tradition? The paper traces when and for what purpose do people take recourse in tradition, as well as how some scholars of gender and sexuality, in situating nonconforming desires, practices, identities, relationships, and bodies outside of that which is considered traditionally African, have worsened the difficulties for progressive scholars and activists working on gender and sexuality in Africa – that is, within a space where the discourse of tradition is used positively in attempts to challenge the effects of colonialist economic and cultural globalization. Decolonialising, transformative studies of gender and sexuality, it is argued, need to renegotiate the opposition of ‘tradition’ and ‘non-traditional desires’ if they are going to unsettle views of the former that clash with claims for the recognition of sexual equality and right to pleasure in post-colonial Africa, and undo views of the latter that implicitly or overtly construct African desires as exceptional. In conclusion the paper offers some ways of thinking through colonialist and traditionalist configurations of gender and sexuality that continue to inhibit much of African men’s desiring practices.’

Back to the Sitholes-Modisanes: I know that someone will ask, what do their families think about the whole affair?’ Well, a report from Mamba Online says Tshepo Cameron Modisane stated that “the great step that we took in our relationship as a gay couple was introducing each other to our families. We are so blessed to have supportive families who care about us. Even though we are gay they still love us.” Family, man. That’s where we become who we are. There is a story of the men’s families that needs to be told, isn’t there. For without their families, the two would not have gone far. At its worst, the family is a detention centre. But, at its best, it is the strongest mediator of culture and tradition. It makes traditions. It makes you believe in your place in the world, not just in the family. It gives that wonderful sense of ‘I am somebody’. And so if your family doesn’t support you, if it believes being you and gay is just ungodly, unacceptable, or whatever, then you are basically screwed. You might as well pack up and go to Perth rightaway, or you will never be you. But you will also never be free of them, that’s the bummer.

The same is true if your family thinks it cannot tolerate you if you are you and want to marrying a Chinese, black, white girl or boy; or being you and wanting to change the world. You are done for, girl. You have to kill one part of you if you decide to stick around when you do have an opportunity to fly and flourish somewhere else. 

The las word on this goes to Thoba Calvin Sithole, who said that “we communicated our intentions to get married to both our families as we wanted to have a traditional African ceremony and also have a traditional Western ‘fairytale white wedding.’”

Two families. Two traditions. And then some. Awesomeness.

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