Rainbow Week: My pronoun is...

30 September 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Umlilo (left) and Syllable Whyt-lyon dropped some of their new material, to the delight of the crowd.
Umlilo (left) and Syllable Whyt-lyon dropped some of their new material, to the delight of the crowd.

Cloudy weather didn't take the shine off Rainbow Week as 2016's edition wound down to the rhythm of a thumping bassline on 29 September.

Queer hip-hop artists Umlilo and Stash Crew's Syllable Whyt-lyon brought the heat to the lawns of the HIV/AIDS Inclusivity & Change Unit (HAICU) on the penultimate day of Rainbow Week.

Organised by Rainbow UCT in collaboration with HAICU, the week is spent celebrating and interrogating the meaning and complexities of being an LGBTQIA+ person in South African society and at UCT. This year students questioned the use of pronouns – the he's and she's – as a way of reinforcing, and breaking, gender stereotypes.

Kuda Masamvu, acting chairperson of Rainbow UCT, explained why it was important to analyse the language used to refer to and define one another.

“We've been baring our bodies and writing what our pronoun is [on our bodies], because people tend to think that it doesn't matter, so your physicality should determine what your pronoun should be,” said Masamvu.

That's not the case, Masamvu said.

“People's physicality is not necessarily how they identify. Physicality is linked to sex. We're dealing a lot with gender,” Masamvu explained. “Pronouns are a very personal thing and it's very bad to assume a person's pronoun based on what they look like. We've been trying to create consciousness and sensitivity towards that.”

It's about “respecting people's decisions and the pronouns that they prefer”, Masamvu said. People that didn't want to bare their bodies wrote their pronouns on pieces of paper, and the students spread the message around UCT's campuses this week.

“We've also been in communication with people in the [student] movement just so that they are aware that this is an important cause,” Masamvu said, explaining that the LGBTQIA+ movement was a key element of the intersectional struggle.

Sianne Abrahams, HAICU's project officer who coordinates UCT's institutional sexual diversity response, echoed Masamvu.

“Rectifying the effects of discrimination against self-identifying students should not be the obligation of only those who experience the discrimination – there is a collective responsibility to enact change – and this is why HAICU works across the institution, through campaigns, workshops, curriculum and peer education, to educate and raise awareness about tangible and intangible forms of discrimination,” said Abrahams.

Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Michael Hammond.

Watch the video for Umlilo's Umzabalazo:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.