An exploration of how Zulu gay men negotiate their Christian and cultural beliefs in the process of coming out.
Chamane, Thembani Bright.
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Struggles with sexuality vary from person to person depending on their unique circumstances and experiences, but those who are attracted to people of the same sex, arguably experience greater struggles. These struggles are most visible in the coming-out experiences of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI). Literature especially in the African religious and cultural contexts portrays gay men as victims of discrimination, homophobia and violent crimes. This study aimed to understand the experiences of Zulu gay men in this regard. What were their experiences of discrimination and marginalisation from religion and culture in the process of coming out was an underlying question. The participants of the study were purposefully selected initially and thereafter through a snowballing technique. Phenomenological interviews as well as a focus group discussion were held in private settings. The data was produced and analysed through the lenses of Gender Performativity, Queer theory and Queer Theology. While the experiences of the participants confirmed the literature in the field regarding the struggles and complexities of the coming-out process faced by gay men, the remarkable agency shown by this group of men also shone through, thereby demonstrating the importance of resilient and taking ownership in creating a conducive and supportive environment for each other. This study showed the power of such resilience and agency in the face of religious and cultural discrimination. Despite the challenges faced by Zulu gay men, participants from the research affirm that negotiating the boundaries of their Christian and cultural identity and their sexuality is possible by re-conceptualizing their sexuality within a religious and cultural context that emphasizes the concepts of love and compassion as characteristics associated with God. Spiritual fulfilment and a relationship with God and the ancestors become more important than adhering to congregational doctrine, conservative biblical interpretation and other rules which exclude homosexuals. Zulu gay men are reclaiming space and visibility by not divorcing their Christian faith and their cultural beliefs but rather they continue to find their own meaningful contribution by reconciling both their religious and cultural beliefs with their sexual identity.