As the month of June rolls around again, it isn’t the gripping cold of winter that sends shivers down my spine. Instead, it’s the insidious nature of corporations digging into their own winter closets to bring out the old colourful logos and pride flags. While a few years back, a younger, rose-tinted glasses-wearing me might have rejoiced at seeing major brands and labels take this “stance”, I’ve come to find new excitement and beauty in Pride month. As the years go by, I find myself and other queer folk drawn more and more toward a rejection of the theatrics. The newfound beauty is in the refusal to take scraps because that’s just what this “stance” is: the scraps of activism. Scholars have come to understand the marketing phenomenon of brands aligning themselves with LGBTQI+ iconography as pink capitalism, and like any shade of capitalism, it is rooted in exploitation. It capitalises off the feeling given to members of the community that they are, at last, seen and celebrated. However, it doesn’t take an academic reading to recognise that it’s all a performance. When it really comes down to it, especially for Black African queers, life isn’t coloured in bright rainbows, much less celebrated by these corporations. It was just earlier this year when the surge in violence brought upon queer persons was declared a “war on queerness”. Unsurprisingly, no names of any brands come to mind as having declared themselves allies in the war on queerness. In their silence — I am reminded of what it means to embody a queer existence.
In conversation with friend and editor Lindiwe Mngxitama, she made me aware of what it is — in her mind — that separates being queer from simply being a member of the LGBTQI+ community. While recognising one’s self as the latter is an important part of self-identification, recognising one’s self as queer is to be aware of not only one’s identity but their positionality. Mngxitama made it clear to me that queerness is to exist on the fringe of society, in a way in which white and wealthy LGBT+ persons wouldn’t experience in the same way as Black, poor and/or trans persons would. When brands partake in pink capitalism, historian and queer studies professor John D’Emilo explains that they operate from the assumption that LGBTQI+ persons have the means and access to happily buy into the symbolic gestures. They have a clearly formed, preconceived vision of who is buying — and it isn’t the queers. On the fringe, the queers live in invisibility. And it’s where I’d rather we stay. I think back on how the language I use to describe myself has shifted over the years to “queer” and how that has easily formed the most comfortable fit. Even years before I’d ever exchanged words with Lindi (Mngxitama), I took comfort in the definition of queer that roots itself in negatives. To understand queerness as either not straight or not cisgender was a liberating experience for me. Treatment through my upbringing has always reminded me of what I am not and there’s a power in reclaiming that you are, in fact, not what the cooperative systems would have you be. More so, there’s a power in living in a mystery of what it is that you actually are. In those shadows, we have found community and held hands to keep each other safe as we navigate the dark. So when June comes around and the brands decide to spotlight the LGBT+ community, I hope the light never finds the queers. No light was turned to shine on us when we shouted from the fringe that we were being murdered and we were scared. Our pleas were drowned in the dark. Now, for June to roll around and a disco light to be flashed in our eyes is too fast a gear change, too stark a contrast, and it hurts our eyes.
In commemoration of the community lost. I hope, in their death, the right light shines on;
Sphamandla Khoza (34), Bonang Gaelae (29), Nonhlanhla Kunene (37), Nathaniel Mbele (39), Andile Lulu Nthuthela (41), Lonwabo Jack (22), Lucky Kleiboy Motshabi (30), Phelokazi Mqathana (24), Lindokuhle Mapu (23), Khulekani Gomazi (27) Aubrey Boshoga and the other angels we’ve lost this year.