The Anatomy of Queer Love & Commitment in the 21st Century

by | Feb 28, 2023 | Inspiration, Psychology, Self-care, Wellness | 0 comments

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In this century, the queer community is more visible and loud, resulting in the radical evolution of queer love. However, ‘Black Queer Love’ is still plagued with complexities, often making it difficult for queer people to be in healthy and committed relationships.

Main Photo: POSE Season 2, Dyllon Burnside as Ricky, Billy Porter as Pray Tell. (Michael Parmelee/FX)
By: Anele Siswana & Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti

The queer community has taken great strides in achieving freedom and equality in the past two decades, especially in South Africa—the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage (2006). But society has not yet fully embraced the community, so they can begin to understand us. Many still ‘tolerate’ and don’t often seek to understand queer-identifying groups.

As a result of our black culture and customs, and religion, often there is a great wall that makes it hard for society to accept the queer community. This complicated relationship between our society and queer people sometimes results in many false stereotypes about us. This directly or indirectly influences how we love and approach romantic relationships. Some still opt for DL [Down Low] relationships, keeping their love life a secret or settling for casual encounters for self-protection.

As a black queer man with various identities as a spiritualist/healer, a clinical psychologist and an activist for queer identities. I have also had to overcome several struggles that come with being queer and the plight of romantic relationships in the queer community.

Some misconceptions hold our community hostage and we are complacent. If we can begin working on a nuanced redefinition of our relationships as queer people and engage on personal journeys that hold space for introspection and psychological healing, then we are likely to explore a range of possible narratives that affirm healthy and committed relationships within the community.

NSA (No Strings Attached), Hook Ups & Queer People

Promiscuity is a construct of humanity; it is a universal human experience and one that is socially constructed both within the heterosexual community and queer community. People cheat because they give themselves permission to do so—driven by various factors.

Moreover, in my view, the construct of promiscuity in the queer community has been perpetuated by ideas of sexual prowess (an extension of masculinity; sexual experience and ability to perform sexually), hyper-sexuality associated with over-sexualisation, which suggests that queer people, especially queer men, are more sexually active.

For some reason, men tend to normalise and justify problematic notions of hegemonic masculinity, which suggests that men are bound to be hyper-sexual with high libido and access to multiple partners.

I also have a problem with the over-sexualisation of queer bodies, as if there’s something exclusive around sex and queer identities. This also extends to the term “same-sex relationships”; it reduces queer bodies to mere sexual beings. The labelling of the same sex negates the experience of love, romance and intimacy in the way it’s understood.

Over the years, we are seeing several queer relations shifting the narrative through the representation of healthy relationships, and this affirms my argument that we do have solid and quality relationships.

I want us to talk about casual sex: NSA (No Strings Attached), one-night stands and sex buddies. Casual sex is a historical phenomenon that has always been around and is not limited to queer people. I suppose it works for the new generation because of alternative ideas around relationships and the construct of sex has changed with time and space.

It seems that young people enjoy fluid sexual engagements that do not necessarily require fidelity within monogamy. This is how many people deal with boredom, ‘sameness’ basically being with one person. I suppose this also opens up space for naming and legitimatising these ideas through constructs of polyamory.

In my view, many queer people are likely to be in non-normative [considered a norm] relationships because they seem to lean more towards casual sexual encounters with no sense of strict accountability to one partner.

I suppose; the idea of casual sex is about fun; it’s a moment thing, not necessarily about a relationship. So, queer identities are more likely to engage in casual sex because there’s a shift in that space and space for fluidity.

In my past single life, where a serious relationship seemed like an impossible dream, it was easy to have these occasional sexual encounters because it was somewhat normalised. Though I eventually found my long-term partner that I settled with, and never felt a need for occasional and multiple sexual partners.

Anele Siswana, Clinical Psychologist. (Photo by: Katlego Mokubyane)

Redefining Queer Relationships & Sexuality

To shift these existing queer narratives, we need alternative ways of engaging with the notion of meaningful sexual reproductive health and affirmative language in the community. Meaningful sexual reproductive health holds space for consideration of engaging with healthy sexual behaviours and other alternative forms of re-imagining desire, romance and love in the queer community.

This helps us to think beyond sex as just sexual behaviour, the shift away from sexual scripts whether you are top, bottom or versatile. But to really explore other possible ways of engaging with desire and intimacy that has a less heteronormative influence one that dictates some of these problematic constructs of promiscuity.

We also need to develop our own affirmative vocabulary around sexual practices and sexual behaviours that have problematic labelling. Times have changed, and now, there are progressive ideas to understand non-normative relationships. For example, we now have polyamory and open relationships. We need such a progressive way of labelling or defining relationships that reflects these times.

A New Approach to Queer Love

Interestingly, these boxes and binaries around non-normative sexualities and identities are hardly seen and constructed as meaningful and healthy relationships. I mean, an ideal relationship in the eyes of society must have a heteronormative picture of binaries—a man and a woman.

How we talk of a queer relationship is a different picture of what a relationship is. It’s standard for me to understand that any relationship, especially a romantic relationship, can never be confined into boxes of gender, sexuality, culture and religion—a relationship becomes one because we are human beings that thrive in meaningful relationships.

Love in any romantic setting can never be limited to gender and sexuality. Love is a universal construct that cannot be redefined but experienced in various forms of expression.

Queer Love and Commitment

I differ with the suggestion that queer identities struggle with commitment in relationships though, there is a sense of a ‘cut and paste’ of the heteronormative lens of love and commitment. I also differ from the view that to love and commit is a choice one makes beyond race, culture, sexual scripts, gender and sexual orientation.

We cannot be biased, by problematising commitment as a normalised construct amongst heterosexual identities. From what I’ve observed, generally, infidelity is a most common phenomenon amongst heterosexual identities. This happens in multiple relationships. Polygamy then comes in, where men validate their choice to have multiple partners.

The only thing I can somewhat agree to is the cut-and-paste approach that is so binary where – in the context of gay-men relationships—it’s easily assumed that the one who identifies as a ‘top’ (sexual preference that relates to the sexual position and power dynamic in a queer relationship) will be expected to take care of his partner; a role ascribed to that of a hegemonic man. Contrary to this the ‘bottom’ assumes a more effeminate and submissive role – as the receiver.

Straight appearing and top identifying are still required to fulfil the duties of ‘Indoda Must’ [A Man Must] to tick all the boxes of hegemony. These dynamics somehow shift the way we think about love and commitment. In the case of two gay men, it will then be normalised when top cheats – and suppose this happens in various forms in other queer-centered relationships. Changing this view is subjective to different couples and how they experience their connection.

Finding and Keeping a Healthy Queer Relationship – Personal Journey

I don’t subscribe to the heterosexual lens of a relationship. I’ve had to work with my partner to redefine and re-imagine what healthy commitment means for us. This has helped us to create space for uncomfortable conversations and shifts that we’ve needed to nurture our relationship into what it has become now, and I can safely say we have defined its uniqueness.

To some extent, we do subscribe to core ideals and values of love, respect and transparency. These are not easy virtues to adopt as a way of life, but we hold each other accountable even in times of vulnerability.

Our dynamics are interesting; I’m a Xhosa man from ezilalini [rural area] and township and he’s your typical ‘Joburg boy’.

In the beginning, it was hard to understand his world and how he navigated his life before our relationship. My world and worldview beyond being a rural guy with a spiritual calling [umntwana wethongo] and the work I do as a therapist/healer was way different to his world.

I admire how my partner has made an effort to immerse himself in my spiritual life; he understands that it’s the core of me. He understands that our relationship is guided and shaped by my elders and ancestors, and that requires a certain way of being. Now we know that our commitment is sacred.

Yes, life happened, and I made mistakes. I even thought it was the end for us, but in those challenging moments, our faith and relationship were strengthened. 

Eight years into our relationship, you would wonder what made it possible. It has been a lot of work and tears. The beauty and pain of making and remaking helped us know where we come from and has kept us intact in being truthful to our commitment.

Our relationship is guided and shaped by vulnerability, and at the core of it, our spiritual life is the gift that keeps the consciousness of our relationship. 

Anele is a holistic healer: a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice and consulting, spiritual healer & Founder at Indigo Wellness and Consulting Services. This practice has now expanded to hold space for integrating Africa(n) centred healing practices.

Areas of speciality: Sexuality studies, men’s health and masculinity, decolonization of psychology in South Africa, the study of western psychology and African spirituality.

Follow Anele:

Instagram: @anele_siswana

Twitter: @AneleSiswana1

Website: Anelesiswana.co.za


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