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Written byNadia Hassim

Photos byErin Sweeney

The Price of Being Queer in South Africa

How many times does a queer person have to come out for it to stick?

The answer should be once. For me, it took three times (and I still don’t know whether it worked or not.)

I wish I could say that it went well at least once out of the three but it was far from the heartwarming acceptances we see when characters come out in the movies and TV shows. I felt the same way all three times: depressed and isolated.

Whenever I’m in England for my studies there’s a lot I miss about SA. The food (they really don’t spice their food over there), the people, the culture… But I do have one thing there that I don’t have here- community.

Being queer is already hard.

Being queer in South Africa? An extreme sport. 

We don’t have a law saying gay people can’t get married (it’s the bare minimum but yay let’s celebrate that) and I think this is partly why people don’t think there’s a problem in South Africa for queer people. We have the advantage of not having large hate groups targeting us, but is it really better?

The answer is no.

We don’t have enough space to exist safely here. If there is, it’s expensive, usually involves alcohol or is overrun by straight people (cough, Babylon, cough). 

We don’t have enough space to exist safely.”

For the longest time, the majority of queer events or spaces in South Africa were centred around queer men, leaving no space for queer women, non-binaries and everybody else in between to fit in. There are definitely some steps being taken to fix this, but not enough.

Cape Town is one of the luckier cities in South Africa for queer people. Janine Adams and Kelly Smith, two queer women, are the founders of the monthly and all-inclusive The Unofficial Pink Party in Cape Town that’s open to all members of the LGBTQ+ community. Hearty Collective hosts drag balls too, but the entrance fee for it goes for about R150, leading back to our original problem of affordability. With Pride month coming up, I was on the search for an event to connect with my community and stumbled upon the Queer Met event. I was excited and followed the link to buy a ticket only for it to end up being a R550 entry fee…

Going into writing this, I wanted to list the places I would feel comfortable visiting in Joburg as a queer for other queer people, but I drew a blank. 

It says a lot that I can count on my fingers the amount of queer spaces we have in South Africa as a whole, and even more that all the spaces available are mostly in Cape Town. To make matters worse, the spaces all come with a fee of some sort, meaning you have to quite literally pay to be in a safe space. Even then, your well-being isn’t guaranteed. I’ve heard from too many friends, and friends of friends, who have been harassed in the only spaces we’re supposed to feel safe in.

I didn’t know what direction to write in after I came to this realisation. I’d like to provide resources for queer people and foster a community but I have none to offer aside from the few I’ve already mentioned.

What can we really do? Even the ability to explore your identity in the safety of your home comes at a price. A look into what chest binders cost shows that the starting price is R275 and then ranges all the way to R400+ for bigger sizes. When you’re a student, jobless and overall struggling to get by, it’s just not affordable.

This article really comes down as a plea to straight people. Having strong allies is what has made my personal experience of being queer bearable. Stand up for your queer friends, welcome them with open arms but most importantly, don’t take up their space.

If there are any queer events or spaces you hear about the only reason you should be attending them is because your queer friend asked you to. Straight women in particular have taken to flooding queer spaces in large groups with all their friends even though there are enough spaces for them to do that in.

I understand for some it’s because they don’t feel safe around straight men. For others, I can tell it’s because they view queerness as a trend and love using queer people as cute accessories to spice up their lives and make it seem more interesting.

But I can assure you, there’s nothing cool about being oppressed and scared.

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