Male-male sexuality in Lesotho: two conversations.
Abstract: Lesotho has an assertively heteronormative and "macho" culture. Indeed, Basotho men have long possessed a reputation in southern Africa for being among the fiercest gangsters, toughest workers, and most incorrigible womanizers of all the African peoples of the region. In 1907 an official enquiry into "unnatural vice" at the South African mines exonerated the Basotho of homosexual behavior. Yet by 1941 another report found that the Basotho were not only enthusiastically participating in inkotshane (male-male sexual relationships) but also public cross-dressing and same-sex marriage ceremonies. Given that Lesotho was almost entirely lacking in industrial development and any significant white or Asian immigration and tourism during the colonial era, it makes an interesting test case regarding the "spreadability" of modern homosexual relations in African societies. This article examines the changes to Basotho male sexuality that took place in relation to the migrant labor system. It assesses whether, and why, male-male sexual relations were as "contagious" as some people today fear.

Key Words: masculinity, homosexuality, homophobia, heterosexism, "mine marriage," Lesotho, South Africa
Article Type: Abstract
Subject: African American men (Psychological aspects)
Masculinity (Social aspects)
Homophobia (Social aspects)
Author: Epprecht, Marc
Pub Date: 03/22/2002
Publication: Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265
Issue: Date: Spring, 2002 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Lesotho Geographic Name: Lesotho
Accession Number: 87415345
Full Text: Basotho men have historically possessed a "macho" reputation in relation to the other peoples of southern Africa. They have long been known, for example, to be among the toughest, most pain-insensitive workers, the fiercest gangsters, the proudest, most independent-minded national chauvinists, and the most devoted to idealized patriarchal "traditions" in the region. They are also known as among the most incorrigible womanizers, with a cultivated refusal to act upon sexual alternatives to de facto polygyny. As a result, South African authorities in the 1930s identified Basotho men from Lesotho as the most heavily infected by syphilis of all groups of African laborers at the mines. Heterosexual promiscuity for men continues to be celebrated by Basotho men--and bemoaned by Basotho women--in media as diverse as popular travel songs and pseudo-academic studies. (1)

Conversely, male-male sexual relationships are virtually non-existent in the ethnography. The very first enquiry by the colonial government into traditional Basotho mores and law (1873) found that "unnatural crime" was so rare that it had no punishment. Another enquiry in 1907 found that Basotho men were among the least likely of all African groups working at the South African gold mines to practice male-male sexual relationship known as "mine marriage" or inkotshane. Also, in sharp distinction to the predominantly Xhosa and Zulu criminal gangs in the Johannesburg areas in the 1920s-1940s, Basotho gang members made the control and sexual exploitation of women central to their gang ethic and organization. As a protectorate of Britain, Lesotho was meanwhile largely spared from the kind of economic and infrastructural development typically associated with "situational" homosexuality in southern Africa (cities, same-sex hostels, boarding schools, prisons, Portuguese or Arab traders, a European military or tourist presence, and so on). Even a gay journalist, who traveled to Lesotho specifically to look for evidence of a pan-African queerness, came up virtually empty-handed in his search (Luirink, 2000).

The public performance of masculine sexuality in Lesotho would thus appear at first glance to confirm the claims of various Afrocentrists and African nationalists that homosexuality is "un-African" or a "white man's disease" that can be resisted with an assertively patriarchal culture of masculinity. (2) Yet evidence has begun to emerge that not only challenges the implicit stability of heterosexuality among the Basotho, but also causes us to query the assumed relationship between gender identity and sexual practice. Not long after exonerating the Basotho of inkotshane, for instance, South African officials in 1914 found that they were at serious risk of infection by the practice and recommended swift action to protect the men (Epprecht, in press). Those efforts apparently proved to no avail. By 1941, Basotho at the mines had reportedly not only adopted inkotshane as a mass practice but also public cross-dressing and same-sex marriage ceremonies. By the early 1960s, a Sotho-ized version of the word (bokonchana) was current enough to make it into a dictionary (Hamel, 1965). Ambivalent feelings, including the recognition of sensual pleasure between males, are then alluded to in the widely read novel Blanket Boy's Moon (Lanham & Mopeli-Paulus, 1953). When asked politely in the mid-1980s, David Coplan's (1994) informants freely admitted to as much, and to the attractions of having sex with "boys" when away from home (p. 141). Arthur Blair and John Gay's (1980) sociology of Basotho childhood and adolescence further noted that practices from the mines were being imported into Lesotho and that, as a result, in rural Lesotho in the late 1970s, "sodomy is very common" (p. 109).

That this information did not enter the realm of public debate in Lesotho can be explained partly by Basotho men's discretion. Colonial officials also seem to have repressed discussion of the topic, concerned as they were to preserve the smooth flow of male migrant labor, to protect themselves from scandal, and to promote an image of "their" Africans as less uncivilized or more manly than the neighboring states'. Yet discretion and denial about ostensibly unmanly behavior continued after independence, even in professional academic circles. Most notably, the historian Tshidiso Maloka (1995) conceded that mine marriage may have transpired among other Africans but then asserted that it "was an impossibility for most if not all Basotho migrants" (p. 306). Gary Kynoch (2000, 2001) appears simply not to have raised the question in his interviews with ex-gangsters. Others have demurred altogether or, like J. M. Mohapeloa (2000), characterized male-male sexuality in highly pejorative terms.

The Basotho male's enduring reputation for heterosexual virility, in other words, owes its existence at least in part to the blindness, myth making, and self-censorship of heterosexist or homophobic Western and Western-trained scholars. As something of an exotic construction, it commands only lukewarm loyalty among the Basotho themselves. Indeed, secrets that contradict that virile reputation are actually not all that difficult to uncover for those who care to look and who know how to listen. Even I--a straight, white, and non-Mosotho--was able to find a small but vibrant and uninhibited community of self-identified gay Basotho men less than 24 hours after beginning to ask around.

This article focuses on that brief, non-systematic research experience. Most basically, I want to draw attention to the existence of gay and bisexual Basotho men and allow them to share their own insights into same-sex sexuality and masculinity in contemporary Lesotho. I would like as well to promote reflection upon the importance of sexuality studies to our understanding of other gendered social relations, including race, class, and ethnicity, both as they play out in African societies today and as they have been structured into professional academic enquiry in southern Africa. Lesotho has a rate of infection by HIV of an estimated 24-26% of the adult population, similar to the neighboring countries. If for no other reason than this, I want to make the point that the time for Africanist scholars to shield African men from the consequences of their sexual behavior and attitudes is passed. Those who care about the well-being of Basotho, or indeed any group of people, do a disservice when they shy away from the honest discussion of sexuality in all its forms, whether they do so out of misplaced respect for masculinist academic conventions or from their own queasiness around the topic.


In 1988, T. Dunbar Moodie published his groundbreaking article on male sexuality in the mine compounds in South Africa. His thesis was that male African migrant workers had engaged in sexual relationships with younger male migrants in large numbers while they were at the mines. They did so in part to protect themselves from expensive and risky sexual encounters with scarce and often diseased and demanding town women. Sex with males allowed the men to save their money and health so that they could eventually return home as respected, heterosexually married and virile members of a patriarchal community. Patrick Harries (1990, 1994) corroborated much of this argument with his publication of a similar study of Shangaan men at the mines. Moodie's (1994, 2001) subsequent book and another article upon the vicissitudes of male sexuality then linked the rise and decline of mine marriages to changes in the political economy. He posited that African migrant workers today no longer have sex with males in part because their sense of masculinity is no longer rooted in the rural areas.

The first scholarly response to Moodie's and Harries' work as it pertained to the Basotho came from anthropologist David Coplan (1994). As with the novel Teba (Mokhoane, 1995), Coplan's informants confirmed that Moodie's claims about widespread and relatively non-controversial male-male sexual relationships applied to Basotho men as they did to the Mpondo or other African migrant mineworkers. Both Mokhoane and Coplan imply, however, that Moodie was wrong to portray these relationships as strictly a thing of the past. Two documentary videos and recent gay journalism also suggest that male-male sex among Basotho remains a contemporary phenomenon at the mines, not something that has withered away as structural conditions changed. They suggest, moreover, that the miners' sex life may not be as hermetically sealed off from more modern forms of gay sexuality as has tended to be assumed by academic researchers (Alberton & Reid, 2000; Edkins, 1992; Mkhize, 2001).

Meanwhile, gender studies in the West were invigorated by queer critiques of Marxist and feminist research. (3) Above all, queer theorists noted how homophobia, or more commonly, heterosexist assumptions and blind spots, weakened or betrayed the analytic power of the older radical approaches to social science research. Coplan conceded to this by admitting to his initial reluctance to delve into the topic of male-male sexuality. Others have been less willing or able to reflect upon their personal discomfort or ignorance. Indeed, in one of the first and most ambitious attempts to apply queer theory to African material, Rudi Bleys (1995) showed how the early ethnography about Africa was imbued by the European authors' unexamined anxieties around gender and class conflict in Europe. The creation of the stereotype of a sodomy-free black Africa, he argued, served bourgeois white male interests at least as much as it reflected the diverse and often contradictory empirical evidence from Africa. That early stereotype then coincided with the rise of "respectable" African opinion, to be further reified through the politics of African nationalism in the mid-late twentieth century (see, for example, Dunton 1989; Holmes, 1994).

The subjectivity of Africanist scholars who pride themselves on their scientific or objective approach and tools cannot, in other words, be understood without reference to the sometimes subtle contests around masculinity in Europe, contests in which homophobia emerged as a fundamental characteristic of the hegemonic gender roles (Fone, 2000). This is manifest in academic conventions that have tended to define sexuality as non-historical, non-political, unknowable, and uninteresting, and to regard same-sex sexuality as marginal, freakish, and professionally demeaning even to talk about. Such conventions in fact served to buttress or naturalize a particular construction of masculinity that is as alien to Africa as tea and crumpets. As queer scholars are now beginning to uncover, African societies actually allowed for and at times even celebrated a wide range of same-sex behaviors with sometimes-important ramifications to the political economy (Epprecht, in press; Murray & Roscoe, 1998).

The existence of a hidden, indeed mostly unconscious, agenda in the early Africanist academe holds enormous implications for African studies, particularly for our understanding of the durability of old stereotypes around African masculinity, and of some intellectuals' violent reaction against challenges to those stereotypes. Undoubtedly, much of the emerging queer scholarship and journalism in Africa has been flawed and over-eager in its revisionism. The reaction against it, however, has at times exceeded the bounds of what could be considered reasonable critique. (4) Bleys' work suggests that the specific expressions of masculinity implicit in some of the dominant expressions of Africanist research remain as an active and corrosive influence. This then could help to explain both the occasional visceral hostility to queer research by scholars working in older academic traditions as well as, more commonly, the apathy (passive hostility) toward pursuing queer lines of enquiry in sub-Saharan Africa. (5)

My own belated research into gay masculinity in Lesotho came about by happenstance. In May 1995 I took up a position in the History Department at the University of Zimbabwe. Right around that time, the chancellor of the university, Robert Mugabe, began to make a series of speeches in which he vilified gays and lesbians as "un-African." I began checking the historical evidence from Zimbabwe to test this intuitively implausible claim. I also determined to revisit the sources that I had used in an earlier project to check for, and hopefully to weed out, my own hitherto unsuspected heterosexist assumptions. This took me to Lesotho in March of 1996. There, in addition to discovering Chris Dunton's brilliant analysis of the portrayal of homosexual lust among Basotho migrants in Blanket Boy's Moon, (6) I came upon Maloka's flat denial of that very lust. Once again, I was inspired to test a seemingly incredible assertion against the empirical evidence.

That test proved remarkably easy to do. An anonymous article had appeared a few years earlier in the Maseru newsletter, Work for Justice, arguing the case for social acceptance of homosexuals in the name of human rights. I called up the editor, explained my problem, and asked if he could give my name and telephone number to the author. That evening, I received a call from Gerard Mathot, a Dutch educationalist who had been living in Lesotho for many years. He offered to take me to a gay-friendly bar to see for myself how "impossible" it was for Basotho men to have sex with each other. The next day we met, struck up an immediate rapport, and traveled to an informal settlement on the outskirts of the capital city. Down a bumpy dirt road we went, thence to turn into the courtyard of a bottle store attached to a set of one-room "apartments." Gerard introduced me to the owner, "M," a Mosotho in his mid-40s, who also happened to be a flamboyantly out queen. I explained my research in Zimbabwe and how I had just read that people like "M" could hardly exist. He laughed and invited me to return the next day to meet some of his friends.

By light of day, the area looked indistinguishable from the rest of the peri-urban sprawl that creeps up the jumble of rocks and over the erosion gulleys that surround Maseru. The store itself, with its corrugated roof, concrete floor, rudimentary furniture, and little black ghetto blaster, could probably be replicated in ten thousand locations around southern Africa. There were goats on the way in, and cattle, and I enjoyed the sight of a flock of egrets. In the courtyard, chickens scratched. Women with their infants were doing various womanly tasks. The language was Sesotho, although patrons kindly accommodated my lack of fluency in the language by switching to English when I had introduced myself. This place was clearly not, in other words, a slick gay bar in a cosmopolitan center. I was the only lekhoa (white) there.

"M" greeted me fulsomely then took me to a table in the courtyard to meet "P." I bought us a round of Lion, the clear beer preferred by Basotho men because of its reputed strength and manliness. I described the situation in Zimbabwe and how I hoped my research could help counter the homophobic statements of certain Zimbabwean politicians. They agreed that the situation sounded bad in that country and offered to answer any questions if indeed I thought it might help.

In the following section I reproduce the interview-like part of these conversations--the eloquence and self-confidence of my informants demand that respect. I make no claims about methodological rigor in this. (7) On the other hand, conventional standards of enquiry on masculine sexuality in Lesotho have not been notably impressive. My convivial, Lion-fueled conversation may actually be an improvement, at least as a starting point in deconstructing some of the more pernicious masks of Basotho masculinity.


"M," it turns out, had been to university and had traveled internationally. His lisp and effeminate demeanor were "sissy" in a stereotypically Western manner. They could in no way be seen as an exaggerated or mirror image of Basotho femininity. On the contrary, in all my time in Lesotho, I have never seen an actual Mosotho female even remotely behave with such florid, yet demure, coquettishness. Yet if he were not a typical Mosotho by class or gender identity, "M" nonetheless grew up in an underprivileged rural household. Moreover, he had opted out of a Western-style gay life that his level of education and travel experience potentially afforded. He struck me as happy and self-confident in his life managing a small saloon that catered overwhelmingly to working class and unemployed Basotho. He was just a bit on the chubby side.


"P" was a quiet, self-effacing man of about 50 years. His English was not as polished as that of "M," while his life experiences had been more parochial. Still, he was clearly not a "typical" Mosotho in that his father had been a policeman with a good regular salary and no need to leave the country to earn money to pay for his son's high school education and marriage. "P" conformed, by his demeanor and attire, to the picture of a healthy, handsome, heterosexual Mosotho man. In no way did he appear to be "degraded" or having lost "self-respect and sense of responsibility," as Mohapeloa (2000, p. 273) would have us believe is the outcome of homosexual relationships.


Gay Basotho men offer hitherto uninterrogated perspectives upon the dominant culture of masculinity in Lesotho. Their testimony, indeed their very existence, calls into question some of the most deeply held assumptions about gender and sexuality in the region. Clearly, more thorough research needs to be done here. I would suggest that there is some urgency to this, as the risk of Robert Mugabe-esque forms of homophobic nationalism emerging in Lesotho, and of disease and other practical research obstacles closing down research opportunities, is high. (8) In the meantime, I would like to draw the following tentative conclusions.

First, gay Basotho men make it clear that they did not require lessons from foreigners to realize their preference for sex with males, although they do tacitly concede that modern innovations like the mines, boarding schools, and good highways have made the actualization of their preference in mutually agreeable (non-violent) ways more possible than was the case under pre-colonial conditions.

Second, gay Basotho men provide the shred of evidence of bisexuality that true believers in the imperative of heterosexual virility for African men have denied. This raises the possibility that HIV/AIDS in the region may not be as overwhelmingly transmitted by unprotected heterosexual sex as is generally assumed. If bisexuality or casual male-male sexuality exists even in Lesotho, where gender difference is so pronounced, then positing it elsewhere in Africa (see, for example, Aina, 1991) is probably also warranted.

Third, gay Basotho men give remarkable testimony to the ability of men to say one thing but to do another, that is, to perform a public masculine persona while engaging in a private sexuality that contradicts that persona. Basotho men are certainly not unique in that respect. However, the apparent frequency with which self-identified "normal" Basotho men "mistakenly" or opportunistically have sex with gays suggests that there is less internalized stigma to the act than typically encountered in the West. Indeed, the possibility of straight men's preference for such "mistakes" suggests that Basotho men's sense of masculine identity may owe less to their actual sexual behavior than is typically the case for men in the West. In the West, compulsory heterosexuality is not only expected as the dominant public performance but is enforced through internalized homophobia. In Lesotho, by contrast, despite some mention of "stiffness" about sexual behavior in the most isolated mountain areas, my informants attest to straight men and youths who are apparently untroubled by having sex with males. The relative lack of homophobia as a comprehensive underpinning of the dominant discourse of Basotho masculinity is particularly striking to anyone who came of age as a boy in, for example, a North American school.

A recent study of informal marriages among the diamond-diggers in the far uplands of Lesotho provides insight into an analogous flexibility around gender roles and sexuality. Motlatsi Thabane (1995) describes how male and female diggers formed temporary marriages that would have been utterly scandalous in more traditional settings. In the freezing and isolated circumstances at the diggings, however, they were accepted as a necessary adaptation of culture. "Given that the diggers were part of a society which took unkindly to extra-marital relationships, the extent of sympathy and rational view towards these liaisons is remarkable," Thabane (1995) observes, continuing that "there is nothing shameful about living together as man and wife for practical purposes" (p. 107). Indeed, social condemnation where it occurred was not directed against those who so co-habited, but against those who seemed to prefer it. Appearances, rather than actual practices, carried the greater weight.

This is not to deny that Sesotho can be oppressive to people who do not conform to heteronormative expectations. It should, however, make us question the assumption that "modern" or "Western" is necessarily more liberal or tolerant of sexual difference than "primitive" or "traditional," as Kendall (1999) has so eloquently shown with respect to female-female sexuality in Lesotho. "M" and "P" were clearly not traditional Basotho. But they did live openly gay lives in a community relatively less Westernized and more underdeveloped than the norm for the region. They sympathized with their less fortunate brothers and sisters in more developed Zimbabwe.

Finally, gay Basotho men's presence and approachability in Lesotho give insight into how the dominant culture of masculinity there has been cultivated by academic researchers. With rare exceptions, the latter have not shown much interest in questioning the stereotypes, ideals, and boasts about the heterosexual virility of Basotho men, notwithstanding that that masculinity has clearly served to buttress racist, capitalist, patriarchal structures in the region. Scholars' failure to critically assess easily accessible and long-standing contradictory evidence about Basotho masculinity and sexuality is striking. It would appear to confirm the queer critique of how heterosexism and homophobia have been structured into conventional academic discourse. To put it another way, Africanist "macho" is implicated in the construction of African "macho."

That particular construction of masculinity today evidently fuels the devastating spread of heterosexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. The reluctance to assess critically the relationships between (and contradictions within) Basotho masculinities and sexualities is thus surely no longer defensible, if it ever were. Perhaps as the voices of African gays are heard, that reluctance will be made more visible, and in consequence closer attention will be paid to the ways by which oppressive and unhealthy masculinities are reproduced over the generations.

The University of Zimbabwe and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada supported research for this article. I also wish to offer special thanks to John Gay, Judy Gay, and Gerhard Mathot for facilitating this research in Lesotho.


(1.) The literature on Basotho masculinity and sexuality in historical context is discussed in greater detail in Epprecht (in press). On travel songs, see Coplan (1994); on Basotho gangs, see Kynoch (2000, 2001); on "mine marriage," including that among Basotho workers, see Moodie (1994, 2001); and for a prime example of pseudo-academic macho posturing, see Bereng (1982). Basotho masculinity can be contextualized by the comparative studies offered in Morrell (1998, 2001) and Murray and Roscoe (1998), which also offer entries into the theoretical literature on masculinities and homosexualities that guides the present study. The relationship between Basotho masculinity, on the one hand, and Basotho women's straggles and changing notions of femininity/female sexuality, on the other, is discussed in a rich literature that includes Gay (1983), Maloka (1997), Kendall (1999), and Epprecht (1995, 2000).

(2.) The "homosexuality is un-African" claim is discussed in, among other places, Murray and Roscoe (1998), Epprecht (1998), Hoad (1999), Alberton and Reid (2000), and Luirink (2000).

(3.) See Murray (2000) for a provocative engagement with the burgeoning field of queer theory, also developed with respect to Africa in Bleys (1995) and Hayes (2000). Heterosexism in my own earlier work was graciously brought to my specific attention by Wolfram Hartmann (personal communication).

(4.) Here I would like to mention Amadiume (1987), who denounced Western lesbians who speculated about the sexuality within woman-woman marriages in Africa, Oppong and Kaliperi (1996), who derided an article that posited bisexuality among African men as a factor in the transmission of HIV, and Phimister (1997), who heaped scorn upon my own earlier work. Caldwell et al. (1989) are also interesting in that they manage entirely to ignore the issue in their purportedly authoritative survey of African attitudes toward sexuality.

(5.) Here I would like to draw attention to Kendall (1999). Although she does not specifically discuss masculinity, she makes the point that the appearance of homophobia in Lesotho can be linked to modern, Western discourses around sexuality, a thesis also implicit in Jeater's analysis of the creation of (heterosexual) perversion in colonial Zimbabwe (Jeater, 1993).

(6.) See Dunton (1990) and Lanham and Mopeli-Paulus (1953).

(7.) For the record, the conversations took place on March 16, 1996, at Motimposo. From previous experiences of interviewing in Lesotho, I did not even bother to ask permission to tape record the event. Instead, I took shorthand notes that I then reconstructed as soon as I got home. Because I did not anticipate ever actually using the interviews beyond making a general point or two, I did not at first bother to send the transcript to my informants for their approval. Only much later did I realize that I would like to use them for placing my Zimbabwe research in context and for understanding the historical construction of masculinity in the region. By that time (May 2001) "M" was dead, and I was about as far away from Motimposo as one can get in this world. I sent the transcript electronically to Gerhard and thence to "P." Happily, "P" was still around. He approved of my rendition and sends his warm greetings to you all (personal communication, July 27,2001). He also added some autobiographical detail, which, for the sake of coherence, I have retroactively worked into the original "interview." Caveat anthropologor.

(8.) On a follow-up visit to Lesotho in 2000, for example, I found that "M" had joined the burgeoning statistics of young people dying and that his bar had passed to gay-unfriendly hands. I also found that the national archives, which provide probably the only documentary source for male-male sexual behaviour in Lesotho (criminal court cases), had been physically removed from their housing at the university and closed to public access. Many of the circumstances that have contributed to the emergence of state-sanctioned homophobia elsewhere in Africa (such as high unemployment, foreign domination, feminism, AIDS, and political malaise or corruption--see Epprecht 1998), are all alarmingly present in Lesotho.


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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marc Epprecht, History/Development Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6. Electronic mail may be sent to
Author: I guess my first question comes from the rumor that homosexuality
   among Basotho men started at the mines in South Africa long back. Nowadays,
   so they say, it has more or less gone away because of different factors
   like there are more women in town than before and so there is no need for
   men to have sex with men. Have you even heard anything about that?

   M: I don't know much about the mines. I never was there. I do know that
   there are some men who travel to the mines to earn money. To this very day,
   say, on the weekend they just go there and charge a certain amount. Then
   they return here, perhaps with some fancy things from town. And when the
   money runs out, they go back. The men there are willing to pay.

   Author: What do they pay for exactly?

   M: They sometimes demand anal sex, but this is a new thing, maybe only
   since about two years ago. (Shudders). I don't like it myself, it's dirty,
   it can hurt and tear. Ugh.

   Author: You say anal sex is a new thing? Then what would they do before?

   M: Between the thighs, of course, as our grandfathers did. Buttocks up, or
   buttocks down. You should try it (patting me on the thigh flirtatiously).

   Author: Mmm, no thanks. In fact, I have a wife.

   M: But she is not here!

   Author: Well, no, but you know, I am really square.

   M: Shame. You can always change your mind.

   Author: You are right about that. But please do tell me more. What you are
   telling me is really making me wonder about other things I've been reading.
   Like, when you say your grandfathers did that, do you mean that men
   desiring to have sex with other men is not something really new? You don't
   blame the whites, yourself?.

   M: Maybe it came from the mines, maybe it came from the whites, but really
   I doubt it. It just comes to us, one generation after the next. Of course I
   like white men ...

   Author: But you don't blame them for your gayness?

   M: No, that comes from inside. I think you know that.

   Author: Yes, but it's good to hear you say that as a Mosotho. Other people
   may be surprised that such things could happen in Sesotho culture.

   M: Although I am not saying that it [male-male sex] doesn't change, in fact
   it can change as the culture is changing. The culture changes, as you know.
   We are becoming more modern. So in the past it used to be just feeling
   [lust, the desire to have an orgasm regardless of who the partner was]. But
   there is love now, there is love.

   Author: And yourself, how did it come to you, I mean, the knowledge that
   you were a gay person?

   M: Me? It was just there ever since I was a young child. I looked girlish
   and I felt different from what I was supposed to be. Even when I was two or
   three years old I always played with the girls. Then I became a herd boy,
   which is what boys must do in our Sesotho culture. Other boys took me as a
   girl. They jumped me and poked me. I started to like it--there was nothing
   to do but learn to like it. Even now I still like it.

   Author: What did your family say?

   M: (Shrug). My uncle observed me with my boyfriend one time when I was a
   teenager. He had known it at the mines and he asked my cousin, "What's
   this? I thought that thing was only for the mines." So he was surprised
   that it was happening here in Lesotho. I do not think he was condemning it,
   but then we never talked directly.

   Author: So when you say there is love now, do you mean men really prefer to
   have sex with men and have emotional ties as well as simply coming on, or
   in, somebody?

   M: That is true. Look at all these handsome boys; they like it here.

   Author: Is everybody here gay, then?

   M: (laughs) No, no.

   Author: But some of you are. Like yourself, so out! Don't you worry that
   there might be a reaction against such things as I was telling you is
   happening in Zimbabwe? Do you feel society is now approving or disapproving
   of people who come out as gays?

   M: No, people don't mind us. See that one there? He's big, oh my! Once he
   and another of the boys were necking, mmm, mmm, mmm, right here. The women
   and children just laughed. In the old days you would never see that.

   Author: But outside of here? In town? Do you ever get mockery or experience
   threats or even gay bashing?

   M: I have never experienced violence myself. Even when I ask a straight man
   in a bar if he would like to have sex with me, there is no reaction against

   Author: Really? You are lucky then. In my country, to try to pick up a
   straight man might result in a serious beating.

   M: I'm sorry. (At this point, "M" tried to convince me once again that I
   might enjoy a little cuddle with him more than I thought. When I hesitated,
   he shrugged, then politely took his leave to return to tending the bar. I
   moved over to join "P.")

Author: So, "P", what of your own family? Do they know that you are a

   P: My parents and my children, they know it. But it is not because I told
   them. This is my father, right here [introduces me to a youthful looking,
   cheerful man, whose level of inebriation unfortunately precluded much more
   than an exchange of greetings and banalities].

   Author: And when did you know yourself that you were gay?

   P: Long back. I began to realize myself when I was about 10 years old. It
   looks like the manner that homosexuality comes into a man is the same with
   most men: playing with girls and imitated mannerisms. I used to play with
   girls and they liked me very much. I did not know that I was also handsome,
   so much that some older boys in my village used to kiss me romantically
   like if I was a girl.

   Author: Your parents knew this? How did they explain such a thing? What did
   they do?

   P: My parents thought it was caused by not looking after cattle, sheep and
   other animals, which most boys do, but since my father was a policeman, I
   did not. They then decided to let me grow up with a relative's family in
   the mountains. I tried the boys there, but they are stiff [that is,
   dogmatically heterosexual]. It was boring, and I fought to go back to Roma,
   my real home. I then went to St. Thomas boarding school in Mafeteng where I
   fell in love with one older boy, who was about ten years older. We used to
   eat together, hide in darkness, fondling each other and he used to have sex
   with me between the thighs. It continued for three years, after which we
   went to different schools.

   Author: Would you describe that as a love affair?

   P: Yes. It is nice when this is done in love. It brings such passion to the

   Author: So you yourself don't blame not herding cattle or the mines as the
   cause of homosexual feelings?

   P: Of course not. It is done at the mines, that is true, but I still
   believe this is done because of loneliness, just like in the prisons. Some
   men happen to adopt it permanently, why? Because it is fascinating.

   Author: Yet I understand that you married a woman.

   P: That is true. I tried very hard to do the proper thing by my family,
   although my feelings were different.

   Author: Can you explain?

   P: I had girlfriends, but not because of my own desire, but mostly for show
   to my friends. But finally I was nagged and nagged into marriage. That
   irritated me, but I had to accept it. What else can you do? Here in
   Lesotho, without children, who will support you when you get old?

   Author: And so you married ...

   P: Yes, and I now have two children. "M," maybe he told you, is very
   worried not to have children. He tried to have a husband, but the man ran
   away, so now he is alone.

   Author: Then what did your wife say when she learned?

   P: We had a good marriage. She understood me. As I was fulfilling my
   obligations to her then she accepted that I had this need. In fact, she
   noticed that I was not able to be excited sexually with her, although we
   had children.

   Author: Is this then a common thing? Is it a secret thing?

   P: I know that many men who come here [to this bar for sex] are married.
   Their wives know. In fact, their wives don't like me. Sometimes they shout
   at me, but I just shout back. Then we get to understand each other.

   Author: Do you mean that there are straight men who come here, not knowing
   it is a gay bar?

   P: But as I said, this is my father. Do you think this is a gay bar? And
   these young children?

   Author: No, no, what I mean is that there are definitely more gay people
   here than one usually sees in Lesotho. So my question is, do some straight
   men come here not knowing about that? Or do they know and prefer to have
   sex with men even though they are married?

   P: Some men don't know at first; that is very true. They think I am a woman
   until ... then they know. They do it, even though they may be surprised.
   Then they come the second time, the third time, and they like it.

   Author: So do you find that these men are also really gay or bisexual,
   though they do not admit it?

   P: In fact there are lots of gay men in Lesotho, but most of them suppress
   themselves. They do not want to come out, even if they feel themselves
   attracted to other men. We also have high government officials who are gay,
   and some of my best friends, too.

   Author: So they come here?

   P: Sometimes, as I said. But at M's joint you meet mostly his sissy
   friends. Personally I do not like those. Real men fascinate me, especially
   when I can play the part of a female.

   Author: Do you know if some of these are the same men who travel to the
   mines and that that is where they learned the practice?

   P: Maybe. I have heard that at TEBA [the recruitment center for migrant
   workers for South Africa] agents could recruit a certain number of
   under-age boys, illegally, the prettiest-looking ones, who can go there to
   the mines to become wives. But really, we have a word in Sesotho for this
   that makes me think it is not from the mines but has always been here. Our
   grandfathers did it.

   Author: May you tell me the word? The missionaries who wrote your
   dictionaries somehow failed to include it.

   P: (whispering) The word is maotoane, although this means between the
   thighs, not through the anus.

   Author: And does that mean the Basotho do not go for anus-style?

   P: (shrug) There is no Sesotho word for it. Of course this is not something
   we talk about. Even when men do sex with women, they won't be giving such
   details. Those are really private for the lovers. Personally, though, I am
   fully accepting myself, and I am enjoying it. I am not ashamed to tell you
   that since 1981, when I temporarily separated from my wife, until now I
   have never had the taste of a woman, and I vow I will never as long as boys
   are there. I mostly like to fuck, anal or between the thighs (this is
   called "in the passage" here). Interestingly, sometimes I like to be fucked
   by these manly men I have talked about before.

   Author: And so these manly men don't object to fucking another man?

   P: Not really, no. It's just feeling [lust]; it's animalistic. I myself
   sometimes have such feeling. What I mean is that sometimes it is done
   through lust, or when one is lonely. You sometimes imagine/think of someone
   who thrills you and immediately you feel an erection, which can drive you
   to pick-ups.

   Author: Do you feel safe here, as a gay man?

   P: It is a good place. You might find me here almost every day. It makes me
   sad to hear what you have said about Zimbabwe. By the way, do you have any
   lesbians in Zimbabwe?

   Author: Not many, I don't think. And you, do you have any here in Lesotho?

   P: Plenty!
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