Sex & Gender

cruising for control: subversive cruising and masculine dominance in gaborone, botswana

January 29, 2014
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Manly men and masculinity are two issues that are prevalent in many African countries, Botswana is no exception. With a heavy patriarchal structure, homosexuality is shunned for both religious and cultural reasons. Katlego K Kol-Kes queries the blurred lines between subversive cruising and masculine dominance in Gaborone, Botswana, where homosexuality is still a criminal offence.

Words & Illustration by Katlego K Kol-Kes, AFROPUNK Contributor

Think of a gay guy. Go ahead, I need you to do it for this exercise to work. Does he have a certain facial composition? Does he have a certain haircut? What about him makes him gay? Now, think of a cruiser- one who goes around looking for no strings attached (NSA) gay sex. How different is he from your dad, colleague, a pedophile or sociopath? The fact is we’ve become conditioned to see certain images in association with certain things.

Something I have been alarmingly awakened to in Gaborone, Botswana, is the population of men who cruise. They are not old, seedy or dangerous, in fact they are the picture of normalcy. No alarm bells sound off when you see them, that is until they come to you and offensively tell you what they want to do to our body. They don’t seem to have mastered the craft of discretion, unless they don’t need to.

Botswana’s socio-cultural make up lends itself to cruising culture which is strange because I hadn’t seen it until recently. I was quenching my thirst for a beer at a neighbourhood bar when I was approached by two friends who, unbeknownst to me, had decided that they’d like to establish an NSA relationship with me. This never happens to me in polished or up-market areas of Gaborone, yet it’s commonplace in the ‘hood’. I am not, by any means, an NSA type of person, so what was it about me that made them think I’d be up for their deal? I soon realized that it was because of my outward expression. I’m transgender which makes people liken me to effeminate gay males a lot of the time; but do these gay males that I am likened to condone the practice of cruising or is this born of male privilege?

Gaborone is the capital city of Botswana, and as with any major city, this is where most people encounter diversity. Having been gender queering for many years, I’ve grown accustomed to being mistaken for a woman, but rarely have I been propositioned for sex by a man. This is new to me, and the trickiest part of this dynamic is that these men are your average Joes who blend in. They are manly men who simply have sex with other men. It appears outwardly ‘gay’ men make for easy pickings.

I’d always thought Botswana, even Gaborone, was too volatile for this culture to pick up- homosexuality is still outlawed here. Sure, I’ve been privy to gossip about men who live a down low lifestyle, but I had never thought the cruiser or the gay ‘thug’ types were establishing themselves in this little country of mine. The early 2000s brought Botswana fame for having the highest HIV infection rate in the world- a statistic we are, gladly, no longer associated with- so my thinking was always that sexual frivolity was not something people would entertain. The key problem with cruising is that there is a precedent of not getting to know the other person; it’s just about the sex. It seems, however, that the Gaborone cruiser, and thug, is using something to his advantage that no one can take away from him: male privilege. He was born with it and he has grown to understand its currency in his life and lifestyle.

The many men that choose to go the down low route, creeping behind the backs of their wives and girlfriends haven’t embraced the full capacity of their privilege like this brand of man. He establishes himself as an alpha male regardless of his deviant sexual desires. He sets himself up as untouchable through intimidation. The very fact that one man declared to his friends, and strangers: “Do you have a problem with the fact that I want to sleep with this guy? Have you never slept with a guy before? Well, come to me and I’ll teach you what it’s about; you’ll probably like it!” came as surprise to me. Had I really been living in oblivion of this subversive culture?

My interest was piqued when I encountered a group of high school friends, now in their late 20s, who openly sleep with other men even though they are proclaimed heterosexuals. “It’s just sex” you’ll hear them say. But this sex is not without personal gratification. This sex is based on removing oneself from sexual politics and disregarding stigma against homosexual acts. The model is very much like the Roman arrangement where older men could sleep with younger males and only the younger ones were considered, somewhat, homosexual. By knowing the bounds of your privilege, you retained your heteronormative status.

My privilege, as with that of effeminate gay males, is no longer valid because in this community where you are either the man or the woman, I have seemingly traded it in for the ability to express myself differently. How, then, does my outward expression warrant the complete disregard for my personal health and morals by these blending alpha males? Obviously, they are too involved within the patriarchal make up of society to give up their status, but they are also not paying any attention to the risks involved with their lifestyle. They become the bombs that may detonate at any point causing mass infections, broken homes and social unrest.

One thing is certain about the future of this lifestyle, it endangers everyone concerned. The twinks who want daddies are at risk, as are their straight acting counterparts. It’s not as though this lifestyle is being forced into the societal framework, it has been accommodated by the cultural norms of power, privilege, dominance and submissiveness. There must always be someone on the receiving end and they are the prey of NSA cruisers and alpha male thugs who sit in neighbourhood bars shooting the shit with their manly friends. Of course there are no victims here, it’s consensual, but when you’re in a country that does not account for sexual diversity you are fundamentally placing yourself at a greater risk by entertaining this recreational sex culture. Where do we go from here? I call for greater personal responsibility from my brothers- whether they are straight, straight acting, flaming queens, twinks, tops or bottoms- showing that they care more about themselves than submitting to whimsical carnal yearnings.