Today’s blog can be summarised with this picture by South African cartoonist Jeremy Nell (Jerm):
For those of you not from South Africa, allow me to provide some context. In 2010, Shrien Dewani was honymooning with his wife in Cape Town when they were allegedly hijacked. During the struggle, his wife was shot and killed.
Things took an interesting turn when evidence later surfaced that seemed to suggest the hijacking was actually a hit ordered by Dewani. He sought refuge in England, but was later extradited back to South Africa where he is currently standing trial.
Before I get into the topic for today, I just want to throw out a disclaimer: I am not going to pass judgement on whether I think Dewani is guilty or not. That is up for the judicial system to decide, and we won’t know the truth until the trial is over.
Rather, this article is going to be criticising the way a certain aspect of the trial has been handled by the media. If you haven’t guessed by the opening cartoon, this is the issue of Dewani’s bisexuality.
Last week, Dewani admitted in court that he identified as bisexual. This fact was pounced on by every major news network both in South Africa, who trumpeted it from their frontpages and websites for days. Here are a few examples:
Dewani is bisexual, court told – News24
Of course. it wasn’t just the South African press who were obsessed with Dewani’s sexuality:
Shrien Dewani Tells Court He Is Bisexual – Sky News
The man possibly ordered the murder wife? Meh. The guy isn’t heterosexual? HOLY CRAP THIS IS HUGE!
There are two things that I find troubling about this reaction: the first is that it is a clear and blatant resort to click-baiting by what should be professional news organisations who are desperate to drive traffic at the expense of legitimate reporting.
The second is that it highlights the poor treatment that LGBTQIAP+ individuals in pop culture, even in an age where equal rights are (supposedly) on the increase.
Out of all the things that the media could have reported on, they decided that Dewani’s sexual orientation was more newsworthy than the fact that he maybe killed his wife. This should tell you all you need to know about how equal we are really treated.
Despite all the rhetoric thrown about, the fact is that LGBTQIAP+ individuals are still seen as an “other”, some mysterious group on the fringe of society. Oh, sure, our existence is occasionally acknowledged, but it’s more of a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” kind of situation than outright acceptance.
Society just assumes that everyone is cis-gendered and heterosexual, which is why there is still so much fuss about “coming out”. This is amplified tenfold when the subject is a celebrity or – say – a murder-suspect. Once that person is “outed”, all other aspects of their personality disappear. From then on, their identity becomes permanently fused with their sexuality.
This is troubling in itself, but the treatment of Dewani’s outing (because that’s exactly what it was) raises another serious concern for me. By trumpeting Dewani’s “unusual” sexuality, the media is implicitly conflating non-heteronormativity with criminality or other forms of deviation. The way that this issue is being reported makes it seem like Dewani’s sexual orientation was a key factor in his behaviour.
This is just part of larger problem when it comes to the treatment of the LGBTQIAP+ community in the media, one that would require a much more extensive discussion than this one post. It’s a conversation that must be had, however, if we wish to truly change public opinion.
See you all next week!
(Oh, and sorry for being away for so long. Turns out that two weeks away means two weeks of catch-up work.)
Brilliant article by Haji Mohamed Dawjee for the Mail & Guardian on the treatment of Dewani’s sexuality.