Voices of Protest

Voices of Protest: Social Movements in Post-apartheid South Africa is a collection of essays on the different movements that exist in South Africa today. Two essays in particular caught my eye, one on the Treatment Action Campaign, and the other on the LGBTI movement. This latter is written by Teresa Dirsuweit, and is titled The Problem of Identities. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Social Movement in South Africa. In terms of style, this essay falls a little flat in two ways. Firstly, it attempts to do too much, looking at the LGBTI movement from too many different angles: gender, class, race, sexual identity, political ideology. Secondly, it incorporates quotes rather abruptly and so frequently that we sometimes lose the author’s voice. It is still a very interesting piece to read though.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was the ways in which social divisions intersect. The struggles of poor lesbians differ from those of middle class gay men, and these in turn differ from those of black lesbians or white gay men. Indeed, by the time I got to the end of the essay one question remained uppermost in my mind. Dirsuweit put it quite nicely at the end:

It often appears that sexuality simply is not enough to weave these sub-cultures of the LGBTI community together. Indeed, should one even speak of an LGBTI community in the singular?

Should we? I don’t think the issue of cross-cutting cleavages is unique to the LGBTI movement alone. Civil rights movements, anti-apartheid movements, indeed almost any revolutionary movement I can think of at the moment has had to deal with polarization within the group. Sure, these groups have presented unified fronts to their opponents, especially at the most crucial times. But within these movements, people tend to coalesce based on class or race or sexual orientation. So back to the LGBTI movement. In much of Africa, the LGBTI movement has its work cut out for it. Are these cross-cutting cleavages a make factor or a break factor? What does a unified LGBTI movement mean? And is there really any way to understand a singular LGBTI movement?