Winter School – closing statement

By Letitia Smuts

During these two days we have explored the different dynamics of sexuality. It is more than merely a label, and sexual behaviours and feelings. It involves norms and roles that inform how one is expected to act. It carries with it certain historical, cultural, social, and political meanings, and it can either limit or enhance personal agency, whether you are heterosexual or non-heterosexual.

Powerful heteronormative discourses shape people’s lives in very complex ways. And I believe it is time for us to question or “queer” identities, and what it means to be a ‘real’ man or a ‘real’ woman. Is there really such a thing? Was there ever?

Our aims as a society, and in academia, should be to encourage inclusion, to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to recognise and celebrate difference & inclusivity.

We should start by unlearning what we know – the socially constructed, heteronormative ways in which we have been socialised – and actively interrogate how heteronormativity plays out in our own lives and within the broader society in intersectional ways. None of our multiple identities are constructed in isolation, so it is of utmost importance that we advocate and further critically engage in the ways in which we can dismantle fixed gendered and sexual identities. Prof Anthony Brown reminded us how gendered and sexual identities are fluid – and what the dilemma is of putting people in boxes.

The main aim should then be to normalise all expressions of sexual and gender identities within various spheres in society, and to reject binary thinking. We have explored that this can be quite a difficult task – as these normative ideals are engrained in our societies. Amidst the gruesome murders of LGBT individuals in South Africa, we see pockets of opportunities where some individuals can express themselves openly, like Tshepo illustrated in his session earlier, or, for instance, where churches are welcoming of individuals with diverse identity markers.

The call then is for more South Africans, especially those in powerful positions, to become allies and spread the word of inclusivity. I quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “I would rather go to hell than to a homophobic heaven.” Even a respected man like Tutu was met with backlash for making this statement, but I believe it is important, for those who are in the position to do so, to have the courage to outright show their support to all-inclusive sexual rights and to castigate homophobia and restrictive sexual norms.

From us at FruSTRAIGTing the norm – go forth and queer, and continue to disrupt the norm.