In Shakespeare’s timeless words, ‘Would a rose, called by another name, smell any less sweet’?
The labels we use are reflective of our thoughts and perceptions towards a person or thing. Humans use words and labels to symbolise our interpretations of things, and these can hold deeper meaning than the face value. We as people need to be mindful of word associations; sometimes the letters we string together, these words, are hurtful and derogatory, and serve little more than marginalising and cutting down the self-esteem and character of others.
It is important that we are aware of the power of our words and recognise the detriment that can be caused by the reckless and careless wielding of our tongues. In the same manner that words can be used to build and empower, they can minimise and destroy.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI+) community encompasses many different faces within a sector of our global society, and yet we give them all one label, ‘Litabana’, a derogatory term that reduces people to something less than what they are. ‘Setabana’ is a noun, a label, a term referring to a homosexual person. It is not a nice word, or at the very least it is a word that does not make you feel nice. It undermines and demeans, giving the impression of something untoward, distasteful or abnormal. If you have ever been called setabana, it most likely woven with a negative connotation.
This is sadly a phenomenon that has and continues to exist the world over, with terms such as ‘faggot’ and ‘fairy’ being used as insults and defamation, serving to further fuel the stigma and false perceptions associated with LGBTI. Internationally, such words have become politically incorrect, homophobic slurs that surmount to little less than hate speech. Their use today is indicative of a superficiality in understanding by the individual who uses such a term. This fosters an intolerance that we as people need to stray from in order to create an open-minded, considerate and fair society.
The label setabana has been used to make LGBTI people appear as though who they choose to be and how they identify themselves is wrong. It’s a word used to minimise, to vilify and denigrate, meant to make one feel small and ashamed of who they are.
How do we as Basotho move into the new age of true equality? Organisations such as the Master of Healing Foundation (MoHF) are here to voice and address the need for this mental migration. As an ally to this community, I have volunteered in this locally based organisation advocating for the equal rights, socially and legally, of LGBTI people in Lesotho. The LGBTI community needs to feel a sense of belonging within the society in which we all live. The allowance of a condoned discrimination and segregation of this community needs to become obsolete.
Let us beware. Labels can unite. Labels can divide. Labels can also create distances and chasms that breed mistrust between us, in spaces where the commonality of our humanity alone should have been enough to keep us tied together. However, a label is also just a curtain: You can pull the curtain aside and see the true individuals behind it for yourself. Have the courage to. Don’t judge a book by its ‘setabana’ cover. To those who are all too familiar with the dehumanising connotations of this word, remember, it’s not what they call you that defines you, it’s what you answer to.