I will never be Zulu or Man Enough

Gay, skinny, big headed and undignified Zulu boy are some of the adjectives that are often attached to my identity. I always knew I would question my identity, but I never thought I would be forced to refuse it. Unlike the other Zulu men, the dominant ethnic group in South Africa, I don’t have a deep voice, broad shoulders, an authoritative or bouncy walk or posture. This became evident on my first day in high school. I have always sought to fit in with a crowd, changing my walk or faking a deep voice because of the fear of being rejected, misunderstood and ostracized.

It was my first day of high school, and among the newbies, I had a very conspicuous walk for a run-of-the-mill Zulu boy. My hips swayed each time I walked.

I heard feet crunching the ground, suddenly a group of senior Zulu boys surrounded me. Immediately, I toughened up. I didn’t want to weep like a little child. My heart was on a marathon with no sign of giving up.

“You little fag! Is that how Zulu boys should walk?” I was forcefully questioned.

“Are you sure you are Zulu? Where have you seen a Zulu man swaying his hips like you do? You are not a man! You are not a Zulu man”

I stood there like a tree planted near the river, constantly blown by air but never uprooted. I couldn’t fathom whether my manhood, ethnicity, birthright and my whole being were being snatched away.

The shame, guilt, and persecution I felt allowed me to find a gateway between them, it enabling me to sprint off to the bathrooms. They remained where they were but I could still hear the voices all over the corridor. It was as if the school had paused for a while and made way for this ‘undignified Zulu boy’ to pass. I slammed the door of the bathroom, sat on the dirty mud coloured tiles, my head against the wall and I wept. I wept more than the day my father was falsely imprisoned for five years. It felt like I was hit with a golf stick on the spine.

To this day, I still wonder if a walk defines one’s sexuality. Is there a way a Zulu man should walk? Does the fact that I sway my hips when I walk make me less of a man? Does this make me less Zulu?  Should I blame it on either watching every season of America’s Next Top Model or frequently listening to Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie song?

I hopped off the ground after weeping. I decided not to be a victim. The thought of permitting to be defined by strangers enraged me. I was scared but the glimmer of light that penetrated through the door gave me the courage to redefine myself. I might be able to slaughter a cow, shepherd my uncle’s sheep and proudly sing my clan’s praise, all of which make me Zulu, but is that enough? I walk differently, thus I can’t be Zulu.

I refuse to be categorised. I refuse to be a typical Zulu boy. I don’t bounce when I walk; my hips sway. This is who I am. Since that day, I have learnt that I am more than just a Zulu boy. My identity is not dependent on people’s perception about me. I thought my bullies were picking up on me because I was just a junior, but it happened until I was in the tenth grade. I felt rejected most of the time, but the solitary time I got allowed me to redefine myself. I am neither Zulu nor man enough. I am human.



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