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← How I'm bringing queer pride to my rural village

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Showing Revision 9 created 08/31/2020 by Brian Greene.

  1. "You don't belong here"
  2. almost always means, "We can't find
    a function or a role for you."
  3. "You don't belong here" sometimes means,
    "You're too queer to handle."
  4. "You don't belong here"
  5. very rarely means,
  6. "There's no way for you to exist
    and be happy here."
  7. I went to university
    in Johannesburg, South Africa,

  8. and I remember the first time
    a white friend of mine
  9. heard me speaking Setswana,
    the national language of Botswana.
  10. I was on the phone with my mother
  11. and the intrigue which painted itself
    across her face was absolutely priceless.
  12. As soon as I hung up,
    she comes to me and says,
  13. "I didn't know you could do that.
  14. After all these years of knowing you,
    how did I not know you could do that?"
  15. What she was referring to was the fact
    that I could switch off the twang

  16. and slip into a native tongue,
  17. and so I chose to let her in
    on a few other things
  18. which locate me as a Motswana,
  19. not just by virtue of the fact
    that I speak a language
  20. or I have family there,
  21. but that a rural child lives
    within this shiny visage of fabulosity.
  22. (Laughter)

  23. (Applause)

  24. I invited the Motswana public
    into the story, my story,

  25. as a transgender person years ago,
    in English of course,
  26. because Setswana
    is a gender-neutral language
  27. and the closest we get
    is an approximation of "transgender."
  28. And an important part of my history
    got left out of that story,
  29. by association rather than
    out of any act of shame.
  30. "Kat" was an international superstar,
  31. a fashion and lifestyle writer,
    a musician, theater producer
  32. and performer --
  33. all the things that qualify me
    to be a mainstream, whitewashed,
  34. new age digestible queer.
  35. Kat.
  36. Kat had a degree from one
    of the best universities in Africa,
  37. oh no, the world.
  38. By association, what Kat wasn't
  39. was just like the little
    brown-skinned children
  40. frolicking through the streets
    of some incidental railway settlement
  41. like Tati Siding,
  42. or an off-the-grid village like Kgagodi,
  43. legs clad in dust stockings
    whose knees had blackened
  44. from years of kneeling
    and wax-polishing floors,
  45. whose shins were marked
    with lessons from climbing trees,
  46. who played until dusk,
  47. went in for supper by a paraffin lamp
  48. and returned to play hide-and-seek
    amongst centipedes and owls
  49. until finally someone's mother
    would call the whole thing to an end.
  50. That got lost both in translation
    and in transition,
  51. and when I realized this,
  52. I decided it was time for me to start
    building bridges between myselves.
  53. For me and for others to access me,
  54. I had to start indigenizing my queerness.
  55. What I mean by indigenizing
    is stripping away the city life film
  56. that stops you from seeing
    the villager within.
  57. In a time where being brown, queer,
    African and seen as worthy of space
  58. means being everything but rural,
  59. I fear that we're erasing
    the very struggles
  60. that got us to where we are now.
  61. The very first time I queered
    being out in a village,
  62. I was in my early 20s,
    and I wore a kaftan.
  63. I was ridiculed by some of my family
    and by strangers for wearing a dress.
  64. My defense against their comments
    was the default that we who don't belong,
  65. the ones who are better than, get taught,
  66. we shrug them off and say,
    "They just don't know enough."
  67. And of course I was wrong,
    because my idea of wealth of knowledge
  68. was based in removing yourself
    from Third World thinking and living.
  69. But it took time for me to realize
    that my acts of pride
  70. weren't most alive in
    the global cities I traipsed through,
  71. but in the villages where I speak
    the languages and play the games
  72. and feel most at home and I can say,
  73. "I have seen the world,
  74. and I know that people like me
    aren't alone here, we are everywhere."
  75. And so I used these village homes
    for self-reflection
  76. and to give hope
    to the others who don't belong.
  77. Indigenizing my queerness
  78. means bridging the many
    exceptional parts of myself.
  79. It means honoring the fact
  80. that my tongue can contort itself
    to speak the Romance languages
  81. without denying or exoticizing the fact
    that when I am moved, it can do this:
  82. (Ululating)

  83. It means --

  84. (Cheers)

  85. (Applause)

  86. It means branding cattle with my mother
    or chopping firewood with my cousins

  87. doesn't make me
    any less fabulous or queer,
  88. even though I'm now accustomed
    to rooftop shindigs, wine-paired menus
  89. and VIP lounges.
  90. (Laughter)

  91. It means wearing my pride
    through my grandmother's tongue,

  92. my mother's food, my grandfather's song,
  93. my skin etched with stories
    of falling off donkeys
  94. and years and years and years
    of sleeping under a blanket of stars.
  95. If there's any place I don't belong,
  96. it's in a mind where the story of me
    starts with the branch of me being queer
  97. and not with my rural roots.
  98. Indigenizing my queerness
    means understanding
  99. that the rural is a part of me,
    and I am an indelible part of it.
  100. Thank you.

  101. (Applause)