Gay sexuality in a coloured community

Rabie, Francois (2007-12)

Thesis (MA (Psychology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Same-sex sexuality research in the field of psychology has adopted various different perspectives during recent history. Often these perspectives have been limiting in how sexuality is understood, and in answering why different forms of expression manifest. The normative research approach is to comprehend sex and sexuality as a set of physical behaviours that ideally should be regulated through models of rational decision making. Also, much of same-sex research has placed an almost exclusive focus on the behaviours of white, middle-class men. International same-sex sexuality research places heavy emphasis on matters of sexual health, notably that of HIV. Furthermore, the research is strongly influenced by quantitative methods of capturing information. Limited studies have been conducted on African same-sex interactions. The work that has been done is clustered mainly around the field of historical, sociological and anthropological investigations. In South Africa, it is remarked that we have not yet begun to debate the complexities of differing ‘sexual orientations’, both in terms of how it relates to HIV, as well as how sexual orientation is understood amongst the many cultural and ethnic groups in the country. Also, sexuality in all its forms has historically been understood as a private matter, and was also highly regulated by the state apparatus, resulting in the extreme limitation of any kind of public sexual dialogue. Still, even in post-apartheid South Africa, sexuality remains contested. This study attempted to address some of the many issues relating to sexuality research in South Africa and elsewhere. It was decided to collect information on same-sex sexuality by focusing on coloured1 men from a rural district in the Western Cape. This target group was selected due to the immense lack of knowledge in the field of South African psychology regarding the constructions of sexuality of both same-sex practices and coloured men. The objective of the study was to gain an understanding of how sexuality is constructed and experienced in this specific community. This goal was reached by collecting qualitative data from in-depth, unstructured interviews. The qualitative results indicate a highly complex interplay between understandings of gender identity and sexuality. The respondents all identified as ‘gay’ men, connecting this with being feminine and “like a woman.” A strong focus on a specific type of bodily representation was also noted. The sex act was read by me as an act of submission, with respondents placing great emphasis on behaviour, with little or no weight given to the emotional loading of the event. Sex just “happens”, with participants constructing experiences that strongly suggest the importance of them being passive. This in turn lead to me interpreting narratives as suggesting continued exposure to sexual coercion. Meanings around oral and anal sex were also explored. The grounded theory method was used to analyse the qualitative data. The core category identified the need to be like a woman and to demonstrate extreme forms of femininity. I showed that specific communities of practice produce and hold the idea of equating gay with having to be feminine. Further, I argued that the idea of a passive female subjectivity strongly informs the participants’ sexual decision making. I conclude by suggesting that a different way of being feminine is needed in order for these participants’ to expand their sexuality.

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