Moving from toxic to transformative masculinities as gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and heterosexual men and boys

by Hanzline R. Davids, IAM Process Coordinator

On 12 September some of IAM’s staff members attended a vigil at Clareinch Post Office in Claremont, Cape Town where the late Uyinene Mrwetyana was raped and murdered. Mrwetyana’s death (as well as the rape, violent attack and murder of many other women and children) caused a national outcry over gender-based violence (GBV) in our society. The vigil was organised by the Methodist Church in Southern Africa and attended by both the delegates of the MCSA conference being held in Cape Town, allies and locals. During the vigil you could hear motorists hooting and showing their solidarity. While standing there outside of the Post Office, one could feel that something in the conversation has shifted and I could not help but wonder – what do we do now?

This question of action is a constant in many conversations around South Africa. From a personal stance, how do I, as a 31-year-old coloured gay man who presents my gender as masculine, who is educated and economically privileged, that benefits from patriarchal systems, how do I feed the patriarchy, and how am I complicit in GBV?

You might wonder why a gay man would ask if he is complicit in GBV, but sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics don’t exempt you from perpetuating GBV. Expressing my gender identity as masculine puts me in a position of power, being educated and economical privilege moves me higher up in the hierarchy in society and faith community. These positions easily give me power over women and children. The question is how do we as men move from a toxic masculinity towards a transformative masculinity that contributes to well-being of all women, children and men?

The United Nations Women Training Centre developed a toolkit that indicates practically what can be done to assist men and boys1. The table below provides examples of how men can transform toxic masculinities into positive masculinities:

Transformative masculinities hold power-to and power-with women and children that is co- responsible to established gender justice. In the vigil liturgy I was astonished at how the MCSA excluded transwomen and intersex women. Brutal killings of lesbian women were acknowledged and mourned, but GBV is not only a cisgender problem. The binary politics of patriarchal power-over ascribes meaning and value to bodies. As men in faith communities we need to start at the heart of the matter that nurtures GBV – the Bible.

The World Council of Churches and World Communion of Reformed Churches developed a toolkit for faith communities to engage masculinities. The toolkit, entitled Created in God’s Image: from Hegemony to Partnership 2, is a process that engages masculinities inside of the church and the role that Bible plays in patriarchal systems. This process challenges men to:

“… forgo the privileges that patriarchy and gender injustice bring to them. They must read the Bible to identify ways of acting and being that do not cause pain and suffering to children, women and other men. Whenever a biblical passage appears to suggest that it is appropriate for men to enjoy power and authority, they must be critical and suggest alternative interpretations.” - Ezra Chitando

Clareinch Post Office in Claremont, Cape Town is a tombstone of societal violence and acts as a signpost for our responsibility as men, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics to transform our masculinities for a gender just society and faith community.




1See for reference:
2See for reference: