Is an honest debate on homosexuality possible in SA constitutional safe spaces?


By: Clyde Ramalaine

Over a very long period the subject of homosexuality became a source of interest particularly to ascertain if what some call a condition, phenomenon or choice was due to a biological precedent or origin.

Homosexual(ism) as a formal construct is accepted as propagated since the 19th Century.  We are also introduced to what some deem a difference between homosexual and gay in which the first speaks to the formal construct and the latter adopts a more informal sense. We read of this in Maureen Dowd’s article titled “Happily Never After?” published in the New York Times, on April 2, 2019:  “…most Americans use the word ‘gay’ now instead of ‘homosexual’.  Those who argue for the difference cite the fact that using homosexual can sometimes sound a little bit as if you were describing patients as if it were some mental illness. This effect is not very strong or ubiquitous, but it is sometimes there.

Permit me to acknowledge the input of academic and sexuality theoretician Robert A. Brookey who took the time to present an adumbrated trajectory of the debate essentially with theoretical frameworks as its base in his November 21, 2019 Homosexuality Debate article.  I, therefore, lean on him in this regard as a means to produce my maiden opinion on the subject. I will therefore herewith attempt to present a theoretical base for the discussion devoid of making any choices for or against but in hope of using that as a background to engage recurring incidents, and understand behaviours on the parts of those who seek to stifle an open an honest debate. I then move on to postulate a set of questions that comes informed by my observations and hope to propel further dialogue to broaden our collective understanding on a topic that will not go away, is often abused and easily riddled with victimology tendencies that labels others of opposing views as haters therefore chargeable to crimes of hate speech etc.


What this musing is not.

This opinion is not a discussion on identity in the totality of humanness; we are cognisant of the fact that identity is a much broader subject and equally so sexual identity constitutes an aspect of the fullness of humanity and cannot be assumed as the totality of a human being. Culturalism and identity theoretician Chris Barker holds, “Identity is best understood not as a fixed entity but as an emotionally charged discursive description of ourselves that is subject to change.”

It is also not a moral argument in judgment or defence of homosexuality. It is neither a religious-driven stance on homosexuality.  Theologian and liberation theology scholar Allan A Boesak in his opinion piece entitled “Homosexuality: Biblical Reflections” asks some pertinent questions, with the following statement: “A constant question that accompanies our reading, especially in regards to texts [the biblical text] concerning homosexuality is, do we know enough about the context of which the text speaks; do we know enough about ourselves; do we know enough, not just about homosexuality as phenomenon, but about the homosexual person about whom we form the judgement in which we call God as witness?”

It is better to appreciate this musing as a sincere pleading for an open and honest dialogue in safe spaces of constitutional privilege on a subject matter that so easily divides us in shallow victimhood, labelling and emotional ranting.  We know that sociologists Stets and Burke told us that the salience of identity is necessarily informed by the degree of commitment one has to the identity.

I cite these here less to engage them but to present an umwelt of what is often assumed the totality of an identity for a human-being necessarily narrowly defined in sexuality or the homosexual phenomenon.

Homosexuality in theoretical rainbow colours

The earliest recognised debates on homosexuality can be traced to the theories of the German jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1826-1895) which were essentially anchored in a biological condition for its explanation. It is perhaps worthwhile to contextualise the primary reason for Ulrichs interest on the subject matter. It is contended that for Ulrichs it was about securing the civil rights of homosexuals and he essentially believed a biological defence argument would make that possible. As a jurist, his primary concern was to secure a biological ruling for homosexuality. According to Ulrichs, the embryo contains female and male “germs” and that as an embryo develops, one of the germs becomes dominant, producing either male or female sexual organs. These sexed germs, he argued, also produce the sex drive, and thus the body of one sex can possess the sex drive of the other.

Following on the work of Ulrichs, later on, neurologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing who lived during (1840–1902) theorised homosexuality as a predetermined sexual attraction brought about by either genetic or situational factors. He deemed it ‘situational homosexuality’. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud equally so explored a theoretical framework for human sexuality in which he advanced that children were born into an ‘innate state of bisexuality” which is later directed into heterosexuality due to their growth.  For Freud, the development of proper relationships with parents formed an integral part to avoid what he termed ‘arrested sexual development’ which in turn may result in homosexuality.  Freud was pessimistic about the changing homosexuals into heterosexuals.

At least three more theoreticians are worth citing in this reflection, these are respectively Rado, Bergler and Kinsey. Psychoanalyst Sandor Rado rejected Freud’s theory of innate bisexuality. For Rado bisexuality does not exist, and he also rejected the possibility of biological homosexuality. He instead presented ‘mental pathology’ as  resulting in homosexuality and argued that change as a possibility is more possible than what Freud anticipated.

Another Freudian aligned theoretician Edmund Bergler advocated for ‘psychoanalytic therapy’ which he claimed to have converted homosexuals.  Perhaps noteworthy is that Bergler was an active opponent of the early gay rights movement since he often testified in USA government hearings that homosexuals should be precluded from public service. The psychoanalytic position on homosexuality remained unchallenged until Alfred Kinsey (1894–1956) began publishing his research on human sexuality. Kinsey would later challenge the psychoanalyst theories. His work indicated that human sexuality is more varied and fluid as engaged in the psychoanalytic theories.

 Hence Kinsey’s empirical findings of a significant number of people sampled had sexual experiences with persons of both sexes. Perhaps the biggest contribution in consequence of Kinsey’s research was it’s challenged of psychoanalysts’ convictions of homosexual pathology since it recognized that homosexuality was practised by a variety of individuals and did not treat homosexuals as a distinct or deviant class.

More contemporary and late 20th Century theories on a biological case for the presence of homosexuality identifies what is often described as the ‘nature-nurture’ debate, we have seen it enter both ethical and political debates on the subject matter. Those who argue the existence of homosexuality as a biological issue do so as relying on the research of Le Vay 1993 and Hamer and Copeland a year later. The aforementioned theoretical work indicated that there is a possibility that homosexuality could be a biological issue and less a choice matter as often advanced. I recognise that the debate on homosexuality is not a static one hence do not remotely claim the cited theoreticians as exhaustive to define a prevailing discourse.

A sojourning reality that manifests in jolts of discursiveness

The focus on sexuality is, therefore, an undeniable sojourning reality of life and humanity throughout its evolutionary episodes and thus the subject of sexuality and gender often framed in homosexual and heterosexual binaries of almost ‘black and whiteness’ senses of description is never too distant from the minds of a grappling and functional society more so in spaces where democracy as a system is the accepted means of governance. History in this sense is replete with incidents and moments when at either local or global world contexts we stood confronted with the contagious anti-polar opinions and views of many. We saw this again not so long ago when the Australian Rugby player Israel Falou was dropped from the national squad following his public social media remarks which were immediately considered as anti-gay when he asserted “Hell awaits homosexuals”. Falou claimed he was merely sharing his Christian religious convictions as led by biblical dictate. In a democratic society, his opinion could easily have been read in frames of freedom to associate in religion and the right to hold an opinion regardless of if it  being hurtful.

More recently again the ever-simmering subject of sexuality resurfaced when talks of a proposed adjusted curriculum for school-going children of a younger age were advanced. In May the Department of Basic Education had to respond to newspaper articles that claimed children would be taught about masturbation and a choice of their sexuality. According to the department, the new curriculum would be targeted at grade 4 to 12 pupils and would cover a variety of subjects ranging from healthy lifestyles to sex education. It said that grade 4 pupils would be taught most appropriately and sensitively about how babies are conceived, amongst other topics. Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga: “It needs to be improved; it needs to be enhanced because we have to check if it is giving us what we’re expecting if it was yielding the required result. We will monitor the outcomes on an ongoing basis.”

It is also a debate that is engaged in the United Kingdom.  Shall we remember that in February 2019, the Department for Education released new relationships and sex education (RSE) guidance for all UK schools, updating the curriculum for the first time in 20 years following a period of consultations with parents, teachers and religious groups? This new guidance aimed at coming into effect in September 2020, covers education for primary as well as secondary school students, including general health education for all ages. Significantly, the new guidance is LGBTIQ inclusive; it teaches primary school students, for example, about the existence of LGBTIQ families. Besides it obliges schools to increase the time they spend teaching students about menstrual health and informed consent, and also introduces new guidance on risks related to social media and the internet, for instance ‘sexting’ and ‘revenge porn’.

This past week, veteran journalist and former Ambassador to Uganda, Jon Qwelane saw the Appellate Division agree with him that a current very narrow and opaque law on hate speech infringes on the right to an opinion. The SCA last Friday overturned a high court ruling that found Qwelane guilty of hate speech and further ordered Parliament to rewrite the “vague” and “overbroad” law meant to protect against discrimination, according to multiple Sunday media reports. The Sunday Times reported that the ruling meant that an opinion like Qwelane’s may be hurtful without being hate speech, and thus he is protected by his right to express a view.

No sooner has Qwelane been acquitted when gay lobbyists and activists cried foul in claims of this ruling as not good for them and the rights of homosexual community members. We also read, the Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Professor Bongani Majola, considers the ruling “not a complete loss” since it will help to clarify the implementation of this piece of legislation – something the SAHRC has been saying is necessary for some time. He went on to say, “In a way the decision is welcome in so far as the case is going to the highest court, the Constitutional Court, for final clarification of how we should go about hate speech. For us, this case also means that we’ve got to sit down and decide what we do with pending cases that we’ve already initiated and cases that we are about to initiate.” Majola

Need for honest debate in safe spaces of engaging

It is here that I wish to ask when we will afford ourselves an honest discourse on the subject of human sexuality and in particular homosexuality.  When  I herewith argue for an honest debate it is a debate emancipated from the usual reverberations and often vibrations of a now almost endemic ever-pervasive victimology, or emotional blackmailing of being labelled with claims of haters, only because of we not willing to hear the views of the other. Philosopher and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche reminded us “sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed”. In our congested discourse(s) Nietzsche may just be relevant to the subject of sexuality and homosexuality. Our polarised society attests varied discourses of discomfort, and the subject of sexuality is one such that we can no longer avoid because it in my assessment is not dissimilar to the race subject a very discursive and real in rights abuse and or rights denied claims.

This debate also plays out in frames of unspecified majorities and minorities meaning when the debates are led it is inadvertently from majoritarian or minority footholds. Not only that but these often evidence inexplicably assumed rights in the superlative against others regardless of what side of the divide propagates.

To assist the discourse, I as heterosexual have a set of questions some purely premised on my limited observations the same I wish to put on the table as a means to enable further discourse. Maybe one has to right here again make a disclaimer, these questions have no origin of malice nor is it aimed to fuel any hate, and therefore by extension to infringe and violate the rights of fellow citizens. There would be no honour to in reductionist sense attempt degrading a very necessary discourse as we twenty-five years since political freedom struggles to deal with a plethora of convex realities that contest for our attention.

I furthermore choose not to make the debate a moral one premised with my known Christian Faith as the overarching departure point. I am conscious of the fact that the interpretations of both Old and New Testament scriptures have varied conclusions that often are sacrificed at the altar of preconceived minds, often empty of attempts at contextual cognisance and hyped in defence of a particular position. To this end, I deliberately attempt to engage this from a constitutional paradigm as a safer means for common humanity. Those who know me as a theologian may express discomfort with my conscious choice to enter the debate not from a naturally assumed Biblical point of view but instead from a human perspective. I am conscious of that and would plead with them to attempt hearing a little deeper than what is often assumed.

Questions based on observations

I have opted to frame my thinking in a set of questions as I attempt making sense of what we are confronted with that often manifests in naked blackmail, claims of hate speech, a sense of victimology and an unnecessarily stifled debate. It cannot be that the necessary dialogue is stifled if not hijacked by those who seek to exert control while claiming victimhood.  If the axis of the argument is common humanity than we should let that common humanity count in its totality and not arrogate a unique right to choose when we seek to be honest.

  1. Perhaps my first question to both sides of the debate (heterosexuals and homosexuals) are male and female descriptions of sexualities purely biological descriptions or are these and or essentially socialised structures of classifications that define a common construct of gender since we know the totality of humanity is not just its sexuality component? Cognisant that gender itself is not a concluded debate.
  2. We must also then ask are the known and overarching physical and often cited differences in biology considered as accidental, meaning sexuality at least from this vantage point is an accident of time, space and season?
  3. Perhaps a follow on question: Is the difference in biology purely accidental since ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ appears advocated as socialized binaries of human sexuality informed and directed by a dominant narrative? Shall we engage the accepted male and female expressions as socialized structures or binaries?
  4. If it is true that those who self-define in an ‘alternate lifestyle, reject and or defy the socialized structures of binaries in male and female definitions why is it that more than often in an ‘alternate lifestyle’ praxis of a biological and or socialized male- and-male relationships one of the two is glaringly more traditionally feminine and in a female-and-female relationship one can easily see the traditionally socialised male role player since that becomes obvious? Why is there maleness about a woman in a woman-to-woman intimacy relationship?  Equally so why do man-to-man intimacy relationships continue to depict femaleness as a present reality?
  5. We warrant knowing since this is observable, does this not inadvertently or directly confirm and reinforce in emulation the very socialized gender structures of distinct sexualities defined in male and female binary frames?
  6. Perhaps at another level, to what extent is sexuality politicized and made a means to an end for opposing constituencies? Can it be a means to have minorities rule majorities as we often have seen in political party ballot elections outcomes?
  7. On another score from a minority frame in a majoritarian heterosexual world, if the alternate lifestyle proponents intend to bid for an equal space in which the ‘alternate lifestyle’ is normalised as acceptable – who and what for the alternate lifestyle propagators determines that acceptability and if its acceptability in whose interest or dictate?
  8. Following this, if the struggle for equal space for homosexuals is equated to the ongoing common identity of race struggle, is it then merely to coexist in acknowledgement of a heterosexual lifestyle? Or is the struggle to free humans from gender as a dominant reality no different to race?
  9. If eight herewith mentioned is the utopia or dream does the path leading to such dream chronicle pit-stops of firstly fighting for a space, to progress to a point to have that space defined inequality of coexistence with the ultimate aim of arriving at a humanity freed from gender in its historical understanding and it’s professed oppressive classifications and categorizations that militate a sameness of being.
  10. Does the prevailing reality of a preoccupation of sexuality render a society in sense not in the form of a dystopia and if so why?
  11. What then to make of the African National Congress as the preferred  political leader of society since the advent of democracy with its articulated common raison d’être, tangible in the articulation of “we exist to work for a non-racial and non-sexist society.” It is a common cause that the African National Congress subscribes to the notion of a multiplicity of races; it never worked for the absolution of race per se. It instead works for the acknowledgements of all races. Let us not forget this issue was an unpalatable one for some of its former members, in particular, the most feared prisoner on Robben Island, Robert Sobukwe, who categorically asserted ‘there is only one race the human race. Shall we deduce that Sobukwe’s belief in the singularity of race in species definition confronts us till this day where multiracialism, as led by the ANC, has lumped us in uphold of apartheid dogma on racial identity frames of classifications? If we, therefore, can problematize the non-racial slogan of the ANC can the non-sexist claim of the ANC not equally confirm a challenge?
  12. Shall we know what those of the alternate lifestyle hold as their understanding of a non-sexist society, linking back to my earlier point is the struggle for the alternate lifestyle propagators one merely for space, defined inequality or one in rethinking the totality of what is meant with gender and or sexuality?
  13. Is the conception of new vocabulary even possible? What then to make of terms of “gender – justice”, “bi-sexual”, “feminism”? Can we not just talk of justice or would that be ahistorical?
  14. What then to make of the ever- expanding combined description and abbreviation LGBTIQ for those who self-identify in identity of sexuality? Is this the evidence of a searching and evolving society or does it communicate an even  more confused reality?
  1. How difficult and necessary is the introduction of new terms to the lexicon since Neville Alexander warned us that “Societies and the global village have changed so radically that to continue to analyse and describe things as though we are still living in 1848 or 1948 or even 1984 is be woefully blind and self-defeating.”
  2. At the hand of Theologian and academic Anthony C. Thiselton’s poignant question on liberation and feminists theologies and their respective hermeneutical systems, I wish to ask the same of the ‘alternate lifestyle’ measurable in homosexuality, do they merely reflect the horizons of the community of protest in self-affirmation, or do they offer a social critique under which all (or many) communities may experience correction, transformation, and enlargement of horizon? Do they offer a social pragmatic framework for interpretation beyond labelling others?

In conclusion, what then is the congruent reality, undeniable correlations and pregnant intersectional points of a common struggle for both race and gender struggles and can we learn from these that for the race debate is still not concluded and for gender, we appear even further behind.  In conversation with academic Rachel Dolezal, on the subject matter, she asserts, “The ultimate question is whether we as humans will evolve into a commitment to equity, access and inclusion for all humans.”

I hope that my questions and observations provide a premise for engaging a troublesome yet necessary subject that will not leave us anytime soon hence we must confront it with sobriety and a willingness to hear and not find cheap means to hoodwink courts into our political agendas.

Clyde Ramalaine
Political Commentator and Writer
Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA
PICTURE: Supplied