The past week stirred an ‘uncomfortable’ debate on and offline. A stunning ‘80%’ Bulawayo night reveling/alcohol consuming men are gay statistic was specifically attached to Zimbabwe’s second largest City, disappointingly without any empirical evidence. The statistic was first published by a Bulawayo based online site, but sparked outrage on Friday when it made it to the ‘hard’ printed headlines.
Bulawayo is well known for its exotic and welcoming nightlife, where half of the City’s men enjoy recreating. This statistic further implicates nightclubbing as a significant variable of unsafe sex and as an incubator of ‘immorality’ with so much potential to create a suspicion on every men who clubs, specifically in Bulawayo. Such characterisation of sexuality gives a false impression of the reasons that influence sexual behavior and escalation of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the City.
Further, it institutionalises nightspots as spaces that enable every Bulawayo man to be gay, but above all, if the presentation of this ‘80%’ is not questioned, society will overlook the importance of the correct conversations on the intersectionality of sex and sexuality, culture, law and public health policy. Because the statistic singles out Bulawayo, for some reason only not known by the rest of the City, it’s a catalyst for incentivising a new brand of tribalism laced with homophobia attached to a specific ethnic group.
Besides lacking intelligence, the 80% statistic insinuates that 8 in every 10 men in any nightspot/bar you can be in, specifically in Bulawayo sleep or are attracted to other men, quite an unsettling assertion. One disrespectful to academic processes of arriving at conclusions, one deconstructive to all efforts of policy and public health planning, one potentially disastrous to an already fragile social fabric laden with broken families and resent to sexual minorities.
This is not an isolated case against manufacturing of stereotypes on Bulawayo men, sometime in October 2014, speaking in Gwanda, Former First lady Grace Mugabe said that “Matabeleland Men are only good at impregnating women”, yet another condescending utterance on men from the southern part of the country.
It left me wondering: what effect this ‘statistic’ has on HIV/AIDS national response, mitigation of sexually transmitted diseases, conversations on sex and sexuality and culture’s reaction to such discourse and reception of such a frightening attachment and limitation of men having sex with other men to Bulawayo.
The City is not only battling with scourges of HIV/AIDS and STIs, but also with tribalism, this statistic ceases to be just a number but a political disaster financing stereotypes. While many have argued that Bulawayo has always been a victim of stereotypes, many condescending and creating a bad image about the City and its inhabitants, at this point, asserting such statistics worsens the social fracture.
Using the 2012 ZimStats census, Bulawayo has a male population of +/-303 346, half of them (+/- 151 673) are probably revelers at nightspots or bars, disregarding the variable of being imbibers or not, which means according to the ‘80%’, about 121 338 men in Bulawayo sleep with other men, disturbing right? With such assertions, some stereotypes are enhanced by public statistics such as the Bulawayo HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 14, 3% which is slightly higher than the national prevalence rate of 13, 7 %. Added to that, in February 2019, National Aids Council reported that out of the 74 237 HIV positive people in Bulawayo, 4000 are ARV defaulters, making the City a risk zone in Anti-Retroviral Treatment.
Not to say that the NAC statistics have a problem, but with such alarming rates of HIV/AIDS in the City, concerted efforts by NAC to reduce HIV incidents, prevalence as well as mortality, a strewn of an alarming +/-121 338 Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM) provides manufacturers of stereotypes with political weapons against a City whose woes and wars against HIV is far from being won.
Not only does it do that, the ‘80%’ suddenly becomes a political weapon used in a tribal war, that disregards dynamics in the City, and they find it easy to conclude that :“8 in every 10 Bulawayo Males sleep with other men, perhaps this explains some of the public health risks and hazards reported about the City”. Not only do they refer to this unknown statistic, but at a certain point, this is a policy catastrophe to state the least where policy design should now respond to needs of 121 338 instead of what is empirically studied.
If we are to take the ‘80%’ statistic, it means that there is need for policy evaluation, particularly on public health, and whatever the National AIDS response strategy has been doing is folly. Truth be told, in our national conservativeness and sexual consciousness, as part of a continent, politically, governments in Africa have been sofar criminalising certain acts to ensure that they continue to remain taboo, usually with devastating consequences.
A case in point is by refusing to recognise the existence of ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) whilst public health risks are on the rise. This group has until recently existed underground and has been found to be amongst the ‘most at risk population’ in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This denial of this key population and associated stigma has discouraged even the best researchers from objectively evaluating homosexuality for fear that others would ridicule them and question their sexual orientation.
Callously, this has created a huge gap in the data available for the government to make the necessary concession in its service provision, disastrously, this ‘80%’ is not intelligent enough to influence policy evaluation and reconstruction; the best it can be is being a clichéd weapon, and should be treated with contempt as such.
The throwing around of the 80% has facilitated the increase in sexuality bashing because our society is very conscious on sex and sexuality issues and predominantly patriarchal. To understand the politics of sexuality in Zimbabwe and why sexual and gender minorities are ostracised, we must understand patriarchy as a social system and its continued role in social constructions in the society.
Patriarchy is a system that has supported men’s domination and teaches that women are not as intelligent or as strong as men. This system and its beliefs is well and firmly rooted in the African culture, probably more than any other culture in the world.
This is probably one of the reasons why many people are still uncomfortable in having an open conversation about sex and sexuality. It perhaps explains what that statistic has done; to put most men into defense mode and be aggressive towards anyone suspected to be gay because no one wants to be identified as one. The defense mode as a reaction to the ‘80%’ seen on social media proves how the politics and economics of sexuality hasn’t been explored and that thrown around statistic is a conflict trigger for extreme homophobic attacks, not only in nightspots but even in the community.
The conversation that has been triggered is never meant to explore sexuality and public health, particularly on how and why people who identify as gays can be helped to access public health facilities or are encouraged to go and get tested. What has instead appeared is that men who eroticise men instead of women engender a potential crisis in ruling ideas of true masculinity.
With male domination at the centre, it is no surprise that our ‘African’ culture as Zimbabweans that views women as subordinates would completely reject a man who would otherwise be seen to have ‘feminine traits’, and frown on a woman who conveys masculine ways.
In fact every time a discussion on homosexuality arises, you will hear someone asking ‘who acts as the female in the relationship?’ intimating that the female status is considered subordinate to the one who ‘plays the role of the male’. It is also not surprising to see women themselves also looking down at the man who is perceived to be the ‘woman’ in a homosexual relationship.
What the statistic has done is to ‘out’ those who self-identify as ‘straight’ men who are interested in attaching themselves to the ‘20’ straight percent. On the downside, those men are now hunting those who are suspected to be gay or attracted to other men.
The politics of body image is the tool now being used to identify and bash any suspected gay men. The ‘80%’ assertion has sunk us into a deplorable City, invested in self- identity instead of conversing on the critical issue of sexuality and public health. I think it was a bad way of starting the conversation.
This Article was originally published on www.sundaynews.co.zw