Sexuality Winter School Experience

By Celene, Bambanani, Tshepo and Letitia

On the 1st to the 2nd of June 2021, FruSTRAIGHTing the norm hosted its first virtual winter school called ‘Introduction to Sexuality Studies’. The winter school saw students from faculties of various national universities, as well as gender and sexuality practitioners, gather to engage with topics related to sexuality. The winter school was facilitated by experts on topics related to sexuality, gender, and sex. The speakers included an African lens in their presentations which was valuable, especially when considering how issues around sexuality are still viewed as a taboo in African societies and are therefore often challenged and silenced.

Dr Letitia Smuts opened the two-day workshop with a session that conceptualised key aspects of sexuality and the study of sexualities, focusing on ‘unlearning what we know’ in order to start thinking beyond normative conceptualisations of sexualities and binaries. Mr Tshepo Maake provided a historical overview of homosexuality in South Africa, and the role that the apartheid government played in silencing the experiences and lives of homosexual individuals. He also shed some light on the resistance by various individuals and organisations within the LGBTQ+ community.

An overview of intersectionality theories was facilitated by Letitia and this presentation highlighted the importance of considering multiple intersecting identities and power when studying issues around gender and sexualities. The presentation further shed some light on women’s experiences regarding sexuality and sexual pleasure and the importance of sexual agency when looking at the issues that women face (you can read further on this topic here).

The FruSTRAIGTing the norm team was also delighted to have Prof Anthony Brown from the UJ Department of Educational Psychology present a guest lecture on Queer Studies in South Africa. Prof Brown unpacked what the term ‘queer’ means and introduced critical Queer theories. Prof Brown reminded us how gendered and sexual identities are fluid – and what the dilemma is of putting people in boxes.

Tshepo ended off Day Two of the workshop with two sessions that placed a critical lens on heteronormativity, namely ‘Disrupting the Norm: Interrogating Hegemonic Social Discourses on Gender, Sex and Sexuality’ and ‘Heteronormativity in Context’. In the latter session, he reflected on his MA work conducted among black homosexual mineworkers and their experiences in a male-dominated workspace (if you want to read more about Tshepo’s study, click here).

All of the presentations opened up exciting discussions and engagements on these issues among the participants. The speakers allowed everyone to share their experiences and ask questions in a safe, non-discriminatory, and inclusive environment.

Celene and Bambanani reflect on the workshop:
The personal touch of individual stories throughout the winter school kept us engaged and yearning for more! This was the perfect mix between fun and education! The winter school was like no other- bold, straight to the point, enticing, educational, and so inspiring! The ability to deal with such serious concepts, which are often shunned within society, in an accepting environment was pleasant. The recommended readings and concept ideas after each section was highly appreciated to better assist us with developing our own research. The sexuality winter school was a success, and its value cannot be underestimated. It should be an annual event which hosts students who are interested in topics around sexuality, as this event was a great learning experience for us and needs to reach as many students as possible.

Letitia and Tshepo’s reflections on the workshop:
We were delighted to host this winter school, as more conversations should be had around sexualities and how to disrupt norms! We especially noticed the importance of bringing theory into practice. Academics should be concerned with reaching out to practitioners in order to learn from them, while also sharing their research to individuals who work on the ground. As mentioned in the concluding remarks of the winter school: “Our aims as a society, and in academia, should be to encourage inclusion, to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to recognise and celebrate difference & inclusivity” (read the entire closing statement here).

The feedback from the workshop participants was also overwhelmingly positive – with most participants pointing out how the winter school challenged their normative views on gender and sexuality. They also provided some excellent suggestions to make this an annual event. And for that – we thank everyone who participated and provided their insights! 

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