When Rhulani was in Grade 10 he was 15 years old and admits that at that age you are scared and you think you can’t be anything. But thanks to his love of reading and willingness to inform himself, he came to understand what this “gay thing” was all about. In 2004 he read about gays and lesbians in magazines and when he saw a gay scene in a local television series he realised “I may be that kind of a person”.
People started questioning him why he was not getting a girlfriend. One day he woke up and decided “today is the day I am going to tell the people of my community, who am I”.
And because he spent most of his time at school, he decided it would be good to start with his school mates and he called a meeting in class. “I was doing Grade 10 in 2004 at Shikundu High School. Luckily enough we had a free period and I said ‘guys, I am this kind of person – I am gay and I am proud of it and I love guys and I want to embrace who I am’. They were shocked and wanted to know ‘why, how can you be gay, are you cursed? This is a thing for the white people, people in urban areas, not you in a rural area’.
“They made jokes, some were supportive. I said ‘well guys, this who am I, it happens but there is nothing I can do. I have to accept myself. No matter what, I want to live my life; I don’t want to be fake. I want to date guys’. And then Gay became my name.”
So it became a joke in every-day life. “My friends started teasing me. If there was a hot guy in the class they would say ‘Rhulani has a crush’. My English teacher was a very religious man and he was very supportive. He encouraged the class that because gay happens and it is part of daily life, we must not discriminate against Rhulani. It was difficult for people in my area to understand why, and they went and spread it on the street corner, it became like their daily bread and they talked about it everywhere.
“In Limpopo they don’t know much. In rural areas they define ‘gay’ as a guy who sleeps with other guys, which confused them. I was called sometimes to explain this gay thing to people on the street when they were interested. I was willing to give as much information that I knew about. Even sometimes they would call me to talk to some of the parents. I did this until I could come to Johannesburg, which is the capital of gays and everybody is free to be who they are and now I am happy living my life.”
Rhulani had his first gay sexual experience with one of his friends in Grade 12 when he was 17.
“In early July 2008 I found that I had anal warts. I went to the public clinic in Olifantsfontein and they said: ‘let us see’. And then they laughed at me and said ‘how can you be insulting yourself?’ And then I went to another clinic and told them that I have something developing on my anus. And then they said: ‘Have you checked for HIV, because these things are STI’s?’ And then I said yes and I went for it. The result came back positive, it was 2nd December.
“I accepted it; I knew I did not practice safe sex sometimes. There are still people who still don’t believe in condoms, that it can protect you. So I would not go and say ‘why did this happen to me?’ Because I went looking for it, and yes, it is with me now. HIV is a friend. It shows me how wonderful life is.
“You know in life, I believe people will die. They don’t just go like that, something has to come up to them and HIV is one of those diseases. My body has to go through all the stages of life, all the experiences – and yes, I am happy to have this. I can call this my man, the man I sleep with every night.”
When asked what would a good HIV campaign be that could have changed the direction of his life?
“I think door-to-door campaigns. Condoms must be an every-day thing. People going around talking about it will stress that this thing (HIV) is here. Having people who are HIV positive, telling people how they feel. How they are living their lives.
“Encourage young people who are young – I am 21, I got it when I was 18 – and tell them that we, I who am young, am HIV positive and living with it. Never mind my age and that I am young, it came into me.”
1 IN 3 MSM IN SOWETO HIV POSITIVE
A study to examine HIV and the community of men who have sex with men in the South African township found that one in three men who have sex with men (MSM) in Soweto is HIV positive. According to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the highest HIV rate was among MSM who identified as gay, at 33.9 percent.
Local research in South Africa has indicated that HIV prevalence within the black gay male communities (Gauteng townships) is reportedly four times higher than that of the general population. This equates to almost 48% – or almost one in two – black gay men living with HIV in our townships.