Written by: Siliziwe Mapalala
“Pastor Keith didn’t back down from opening up in front of the congregation. He told the church how he’d been conceived. ‘I was a child of hate.’ His mom had been date-raped and he’d been raised by his stepfather. He’d also made subtly homophobic jokes from the pulpit and given incorrect but sympathetic theories as to why some people turn out homosexual. But what’s a little bullshit between friends, eh? Anyway, I didn’t beat about the bush. I had to come out to religion.
‘Keith, I’m gay,’ I told him after a morning service. His gaze was steady. No flinch, no blink – he knew.”
- You Have To Be Gay To Know God by Siya Khumalo – page 150
One of the few blessings that came from lockdown (the word ‘few’ is in bold to emphasise that the pandemic brought about hardships and misery we are still to this day contending with, so I do not mean to minimise this) is that I got to nurture my love for reading, and more importantly I starting exploring South African and African works. There is something magical about reading narratives (whether fiction or nonfiction) that are not only relatable but also educational, offering a new world of understanding and empathy. One of the books I would like to highlight today is Siya Khumalo’s ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’, published in 2018.
Now, I am sure a number of our readers have come across this book already, but for those who have not yet – take the time this new year to immerse yourself in Siya’s story, and what you may find is that though this is his story, it is also the story of South Africa.
Khumalo is an author and columnist, who writes for News24 and his writings have also appeared in the Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian and Mambaonline.com amongst others. His focus is on religion, politics and sex, and his autobiography examines the same. What makes it special is how he ties together South Africa’s relationship with religion, and how this trickles down on society, families and individuals and impacts how we relate with one another, what influences our politics and inevitably what drives our bigotry.
Khumalo shares his story of growing up in a Christian home; exploring his identity; the reception from family; the community and church; joining and leaving the army; pageants, pride and activism. He shares candidly, sharing openly of his experiences, whether it be shame experienced due to a homophobic threat, to explicit descriptions of sex. He also does not shy away from politics; going into depths on South Africa’s landscape, abuse of power, the narratives we have bought into and what is required to truly be liberated.
This book is a treasure and it challenges us to widen our lens on how we see the South African landscape. The book’s significance is further stamped by the foreword by Justice Edwin Cameron. Consider adding this to your 2023 reading list.