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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2020

Chapter Five - ‘Guys, until Friday!’: Practising and performing gender in the HUMCC

Summary

In one of the first church sermons that I attended, in June 1995, a church member visiting from Durban offered to run ‘umamma’ classes for skesanas (effeminate men) in the church community. The idea behind the umamma classes was to promote stable relationships, by teaching skesanas how to be more appropriately and attractively effeminate in ways that would encourage their masculine partners (injongas) to be faithful to them. While his suggestion was received with much mirth by the Johannesburg congregation, it hinted at a complex, changing and contested terrain of gender identity within the HUMCC.

For members of the HUMCC community, a gendered division in male same-sex relationships between skesanas and injongas was a familiar pattern. Skesana is a term that refers to the partner in a male same-sex relationship who adopts a feminine social status and receptive sexual role. The injonga, on the other hand, retains a male social identity and, in theory at least, always assumes a penetrative role in sexual intercourse. Historical research and oral testimony suggest that the skesana-injonga partnership is the most common way of organising male same-sex relationships amongst township youth. Yet in the emerging politics of gay identity, the skesanainjonga polarity was increasingly being seen by HUMCC members as socially conservative and slightly out of date.

One should bear in mind that the church community was formed in 1994 during a period of profound social and political transformation in South Africa. One of the many discourses that the church community contributed to, and was influenced by, was the liberation discourse of the lesbian and gay movement in South Africa. As noted the HUMCC was a founding member of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) and actively participated in its campaigns. Reverend Thandekiso and Paul Mokgethi were both prominent in GLOW, and in 1998 GLOW celebrated its tenth anniversary in the HUMCC premises. Thus the relatively new language of gay and lesbian liberation was familiar to several church members. Gay and lesbian liberation articulated new possibilities not only for legal equality, but also for the form and structure of sexual relationships.