Interview With MTV Shuga: Identity
The word identity seems pretty simple, but what does it actually mean?
Identity, as a concept, is not something that comes up very often as we grow up. Whilst it may mean different things to different people, it refers to all of the things that come together to make you the person you are. What you believe in, the personal qualities you have, the way you dress and what you like are some of the things that make up your own identity.
In MTV Shuga: Down South, our main man ‘Reggie’ is still trying to figure out who he really is. Even though MTV Shuga is a fictional drama series, the stories we tell are based on REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES which people go through every single day. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember that some of the things we watch on TV are actually taking place in reality.
Our very own Muzi Mthembu, who plays ‘Diliza’ in #MTVShugaDS, and Phumlani Kango, a South African blogger, are here to keep it real with you and tell you what life can be like when you’re gay in SA:
MTV Shuga: When did you first start identifying as gay?
I would say that I began identifying as gay in university to my peers.
I started identifying as gay when I was 13 years old in high school, where I had my first encounter with another boy. I had always had feelings for other boys, even since primary school days, but I only fully understood who I was when I came across material that spoke about same sex relationships.
MTV Shuga: What were some of the emotions you experienced as you began to understand your own identity?
I remember being anxious but mostly curious about my sexuality. A course in sexuality and spectatorship in film class inspired me to do a lot more research and watch films and books exploring the topic in a lot more depth than the mainstream would allow. It was actually a very exciting time as I learned a lot about myself and the world.
I was very confused because at the same time I was still in the ‘closet’ and was trying so hard to hide whom I really was. I was mostly frustrated because I used to bump into a lot of openly gay people in town and always yearned to be living so freely, and kept questioning: questioning “when is it my turn?”
MTV Shuga: Did you ever tell anyone how you felt when you began to understand your identity better? Did speaking about it help?
I did tell people and it helped a lot. I spoke to lectures and other LGBTQ students on campus and I finally found a sense of community within the varsity space. That feeling of belonging is really like no other.
I could not speak to anyone as I was trying so hard to hide who I was, so I just wrote in my journal, which I hid from the other boys in the hostel. This helped me a lot till I got to grade 11 when I met my now BFF, who helped me and still is helping me understand my sexual identity better.
MTV Shuga: Do you think your sexual orientation defines you?
As controversial as this may sound, my identity as a gay man does go a long way in defining who I am. Sure, there are other aspects of who I am but they all inform each other; my being gay impacts my friendships, my career, my Christianity, my blackness, my gender, my health and my family. It is as crucial as all those things. I am not just a gay person or only a gay man, but when someone says something homophobic they need not be addressing me to nonetheless be talking about me, because I AM gay. You can’t just choose which part of me you like or don’t, like I am some kind of chicken. I am not going to settle for any relationship with anybody who can’t accept that part about me because then you don’t accept me at all. Take it or leave it…
It does not define who I am but rather is a part of who I am.
MTV Shuga: Have you ever felt the need to hide who you really are to others?
I no longer feel the need to hide who I am. I am an actor and I play characters of varying orientations but my characters aren’t who I am. As an actor it was especially important to be out because I want to show other artists that you can still work and create work regardless of one’s sex life. Sir Ian Mckellan is my role model in this regard; he is respected, sought after and out. Similarly, Simon Nkoli on Robben Island was openly homosexual, but was also an anti-apartheid hero, an HIV/AIDS activist while also fighting homophobia in South Africa. He is gay but embodied so many movements and contributed greatly to his country. That’s the goal..!
Sadly, we live in a homophobic society so I always gauge the safety of the space I am going to be in before going. Safety first more than anything because homophobia is real.
MTV Shuga: What advice would you give someone who is confused about their own identity?
My advice to those who are confused is to research. You really aren’t alone. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to embrace any label, but also to know that there is nothing wrong with that label being gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual or questioning.
Take your time to find yourself, it’s YOUR journey; do not let anyone try and define you. You will know YOU when the time comes. We’re all still trying to know ourselves, daily, so you’re not alone.
Fam, if you want some more information then the following links can be a good place to start: