“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” – Zora Neal Hurtson
There is something about being confronted with militant homophobia that always shocks me. My first reaction is almost always surprise, which does not make sense because I know that virulent homophobia and transphobia are the default settings of the majority of Ethiopians. It could be hearing someone casually using “boosheti” to insult or an entire video espousing virulent homophobia and I find that it always shocks me into immediate silence. The sense of outrage that follows is always delayed.
I have watched a few homophobic videos disseminated by Ethiopians who advocate for the hanging and skinning of their fellow Ethiopians who are LGBTQ+. They are graphic videos where facts do not matter and the objective is to repeat debunked and harmful myths about LGBTQ+ people with the intent of scaring us into invisibility and “deterring” anyone else from “becoming” an LGBTQ+. The constant insults and degrading comments online directed at LGBTQ+ people or allies follow a similar and scripted line of thought.
I do not want my silence to send the message that I either enjoy the pain inflicted on me by their words or worse that I in some way deserve the pain.
I find that most times the shock I feel translates into a silence that refuses to engage the ideas or insults that the people are throwing at us. This becomes a concern because as Zoral Neal Hurtson says I do not want my silence to send the message that I either enjoy the pain inflicted on me by their words or worse that I in some way deserve the pain. The struggle for me has been to find the right sets of actions that communicate a resistance while not allowing their homophobia to define who I am or how I see myself.
Some of the ways that I have found to resist are by actively standing up for LGBTQ+ people without placing myself in the path of harm. Instead of directly naming myself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have learned to tackle it as a human rights issue – the right of all people to live their lives freely. I have also been able to mobilize family and close friends to advocate for LGBTQ+ people since by virtue of not being an LGBTQ+ people they can mitigate direct dangers. I have also been able to rely on LGBTQ+ people to share my pain and shock whenever I am confronted by homophobia. They may not be able to stop the homophobia but having someone who understands my outrage without me needing to explain it always helps and offers a sense of validity. I usually feel a sense of lightness after these conversations.
The struggle for me is to avoid slowly dying from the painful homophobia that is directed at us on a daily basis. It will kill us if we let it.