The B in LGBTQIA+
By: Tariro Mushonga
I found myself frozen in time, the lobby in an Arusha Holiday Inn taunting me with its dusty and musty furniture, long overdue for an upgrade from the ’90s.
“Melusi?” I asked in disbelief. “How could the gayest person I know, get married to a woman?”
I had fallen in love with Melusi the day I met him. We had the spent the following two days together galavanting the streets of Harare, him me introducing me to a side of queer Harare I had judged from a distance, and I providing easy transport to get around to see his friends since he was from out of town. He was loud, the life of the party and you got the idea that what he was showing you was his real genuine side.
“Ndiri ngochani,” he had proudly announced at a party to a group of big-bellied Zimbabwean men whose masculinity was so thick you could cut it with a blade.
“Such a beautiful thing for everyone to be free without judgment. After a few beats, gasps here and there, pairs of eyes cast down on the floor, all the guys around that fire confirmed that they were LGBTIQ+ community members. With that, he opened what turned out to be one of the best gay parties I’ve attended in Harare.
Later, most of the faux masculinities couldn’t contain the girls heeding the call to Beyonce’s chanting. It was such a beautiful thing for everyone to be free without judgment in a society that othered them.
I was in awe of him! I constantly needed such confidence around me, and we effortlessly became sisters, as he insisted on calling us. I had never let anyone call me “sis” before, but with him, it felt endearing and beautiful.
“Most bisexual men who marry women never tell them that they are bi…”
Back in the hotel lobby, the air conditioner whirled, struggling to keep the hot air outside. My local Tanzanian beer, flat by now, sat there, long forgotten.
I picked up the phone and called him.
“Babe, is this true?”
“It’s true, sis,” he replied, asking how I had forgotten that he had told me that he is bisexual when we first met.
No. He had never told me that. I remember the birthdays of boys I’ve had one-night stands with. There is no way I’d have forgotten such an important detail about a close friend.
“Why though? Are you being forced to get married? How can you do that to someone’s child?”
We left that conversation tense, me angry at him for bringing along someone on his journey whom, in my mind, he could never love truly and fully, and he pissed off at me for articulating that belief to him.”Most bisexual men who marry women never tell them that they are bi,” I reasoned to myself, justifying my anger.
Together, we had laughed at other gay boys who had married women before. What had changed?
Our lives went on, our friendship quite strained, only punctuated by the occasional like on Instagram or a forced WhatsApp conversation after one of us had to another’s status. The very close sisters had drifted back to being the strangers they were before they met.
This year, as I have been researching the ChiShona word, ngochani, I have come across many African languages words that describe queer identity. Inkonkoni. Istabane. Onkurin. Mosodoma. Xinangi. Shoga. Sasso.
these words directly describe men who sleep with men as a harsh admonishment
Most of these words directly describe men who sleep with men as a harsh admonishment, at least in their modern, post-colonial incarnation.
None of them embrace bisexuality.
“As long as you put you touch another man’s penis, you are gay,” they seem to reason.
An entire identity is erased by language. And although most of these words can also apply to lesbians, the scale is tilted heavily towards gay men and perhaps that is why many African societies view lesbianism as a passing phase, one that may be changed with some corrective rape here and there.
Could this be the reason why bisexuals face a hard time, even from within the LGBTIQ+ community?
Am I part of the problem?
When Melusi said, “Ndisisitabane,” to all those men around that braai, all I had heard was, “I am gay.” That word, ngochani, stabane, nkonkoni, could have meant many things because it encompasses all of the LGBTIQ+ community, although we historically used it to identify men who have sex with men, regardless of their identity.
Melusi had told me. He had told me and my mind, closed and repressed as it was, had interpreted it to only mean one thing. Gay.
I admit I’m not the best at LGBTIQ+ issues. I am still walking my journey, learning every day what it means to be. I’m not the best friend there is. I tend to make issues about myself but I am willing to learn and do better.
Melusi and I still haven’t seen each other since the pandemic. I realize that to him, perhaps our friendship was not as deep as I made it out to be. However, there is no doubt that he helped me with my journey to fully embracing who I am
I pray that he and his wife are happy and that their new baby is a joy.
Here is to all the bisexual men and women we never understand. We’ll do better. Happy Pride Month!