Yesterday, we reported on a story that has been making the rounds, of a young teen boy murdered at the Echo Wild Game Rangers camp in South Africa, a place that promises to “make men out of boys.” Much of the reporting around the case has been irresponsible, with headlines about the boys being gay and this being a “gay conversion” camp, leading to retractions and changed articles at Huffington Post, GayStarNews and elsewhere. Truth Wins Out has no such retractions to make, however. When I wrote the article, I was very careful to report just the facts, while also noting important parallels between the right wing Afrikaner culture of masculinity and the American fundamentalist practice of “reparative therapy.” An excerpt from my piece:
Melanie Nathan points out that, though they don’t advertise themselves specifically as an “ex-gay” camp, certain undertones start to emerge when you take witnesses’ accounts together:
What is so shocking is that the murder of Buys is not the first, as Echo Wild Game Rangers has seen the deaths of 2 young teens, also perceived as gay and clearly effeminate, when in 2007, 18-year-old Eric Calitz and Nicolaas van der Walt, 19 both died in similar circumstances. de Koker was handed a suspended sentence in 2009 over Calitz’s death but escaped charges for van der Walt’s death, which was ruled to have been caused by a heart attack. It was reported that de Koker told Calitz that he wasn’t a “moffie” (like saying “fag”) and he “would make a man out of him.”
The idea of the camp is to apparently make men of teens and to “cure” ‘”feminine traits’ in male youths…” another way of saying gay reparative therapy, instead in this instance that therapy involved “beating the gay out of the kid” – torture and if torture didn’t effect the desired change, then certainly murder would; after all a dead teen is not a gay teen.
I chatted with Melanie Nathan last night and she agreed with my assessment that, though this isn’t specifically marketing itself as an “ex-gay” facility, the story seems to be in the fact that the reparative therapy elements of this camp seem to fly under the radar, while hidden in plain sight. She explained that the “moffie cure” idea is something that is well understood within right wing South African culture, and that it wouldn’t need to be specifically spelled out like it would be, say, in the States. She explained that parents seem to send their kids to this place for a variety of reasons, but that whether it’s ADD or other behavioral problems, or an effeminate boy, it’s understood in the rigid, Dutch-Reform Calvinistic culture, that this “turn the boy into a man” thing is a viable solution for a “problem child.”
While no specific ties appear to exist at this point between American “reparative therapy” programs and this gruesome camp, the notable parallel is that groups like NARTH and Journey Into Manhood, as well as “therapists” like George Rekers have long been focused both on “preventing” homosexuality by teaching boys to be as masculine as possible, and on “curing” homosexuality in teens and adults by teaching them how to Be Men. Of course, it doesn’t work, as sexuality has nothing to do with either effeminacy or masculinity, but that’s the idea.
However, the mere existence of the parallels has a couple of the professional “ex-gays” pissed off, and Christopher Doyle and Richard Cohen of the International Healing Foundation are pushing a piece written by South African Andre Bekker, which tries to discount all of the hyper-masculine posturing, saying it has nothing to do with sexuality:
But activist Melanie Nathan has suggested that the other aspect held in common by the three young men was that they were all perceived as “gay and clearly effeminate.” Gaystarnews also reported “When Calitz requested to leave, De Koker reportedly told him he ‘wasn’t a moffie [gay] and he would make a man out of him’.” It is not stated, but seems to be a quote from Nathan: “What is so shocking is that the murder of Buys is not the first, as Echo Wild Game Rangers has seen the deaths of 2 young teens, also perceived as gay and clearly effeminate, when in 2007, 18-year-old Eric Calitz and Nicolaas van der Walt, 19 both died in similar circumstances. de Koker was handed a suspended sentence in 2009 over Calitz’s death but escaped charges for van der Walt’s death, which was ruled to have been caused by a heart attack. It was reported that de Koker told Calitz that he wasn’t a “moffie” (like saying “fag”) and he “would make a man out of him.”
Interestingly, that remark is made to suggest that Calitz’s death was as a result of the report “de Koker told Calitz that he wasn’t a “moffie” (like saying “fag”) and he “would make a man out of him.” It is worth mentioning that this was never brought up as the motive for this crime in the 2007 trial. Of more importance is the fact that amongst the Afrikaners, to say someone is not a “moffie” is a saying, “you are not a sissy.” In this context it has no reference to a person’s sexual orientation.
For example, a boy would for instance dare his friend to do something risky, and if the friend would not have the courage to take up the challenge, his friend will then say; “come on man do it, you are not a moffie.” What De Koker then said to Calitz is that he is not a sissy, he will make a man out of him,” with no reference to his sexual orientation. This clearly means, “making men out of boys,” not changing gays into straights.
When we look at Melanie Nathan’s blog entry she unfortunately does not mention what “digging” she did and what “gay reparative undertones start to emerge.” Whatever she discovered is nowhere else reported in the mainstream media. She also made no mention of how she came to know that the “three young men were all perceived as ‘gay and clearly effeminate.’” Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the crimes committed were done so with the motive that these teens were gay.
In the light of these facts, it seems that these reports in the gay media are nothing but propaganda, based on half-truths and pure speculation. Raymand Buys does not deserve to be dishonored by such exploitation. He was was tortured at the hands of brutal criminals, and now continues to be abused at the hands of activists trying to score cheap political points for their own selfish objectives.
To which we respond, “bullshit.”
Especially the part where a writer on an “ex-gay” website is asking people to stop “exploiting” Raymond Buys’ death.
To be clear, calling boys “sissies” and “moffies” does have an undertone about sexual orientation, but Bekker is deflecting attention from the real issue by saying that “turning boys into men” is not the same thing as changing homosexuals into heterosexuals. Indeed, on a surface level that’s true. Moreover, no one is claiming that the crimes were committed because the boys were gay, but rather were part of a hyper-masculine environment committed to the idea that these boys wouldn’t be “moffies.” At the root of all such rhetoric is the idea that to be perceived as effeminate, to be perceived as gay, is something to be avoided at all costs, regardless of the actual sexuality of the person in question. The fact that a few writers completely jumped the gun and started calling it a “gay conversion” camp is unfortunate, because it’s giving Christopher Doyle and Richard Cohen a chance to flail their arms and whine, but they can do that all they want, and it won’t change the fact that there is a story here, and it does have parallels to their movement.
For even more clarity on this issue, we went back to Melanie Nathan, who is South African, who practiced law there at the height of apartheid, and who has an insight into the right-wing culture that Doyle and his pals are trying to deflect attention from. Here’s what Melanie has to say:
I know that no matter how Bekker tries to squirm around the reality, he cannot. De Koker and his henchmen are anti-gay as is the entire AWB, right wing Afrikaner, rigid Calvinistic mindset.
Bekker tries to twist the words of de Koker to mean what he wants it to mean. When someone says “you are not a Moffie” it is indeed subject to interpretation, through its context and tone. It is not a denial of the teen being Gay, but rather a suggestion to NOT be gay because it is unacceptable to be gay. It is like saying to a kid “you are not a crybaby” – while they are crying – because you don’t think its okay and you don’t want them to keep crying.
Whether the young teens were in fact gay or not is irrelevant and that is what Bekker fails to understand from my article. It is the fact that the accused de Koker clearly suggests that being gay is bad and that these teens must change to “man up” or else they will be perceived as “Moffie”. So to say “man up because you are not a Moffie” is as bad as saying “man up you Moffie”. It has everything to do with straight vs. gay as to these people even the perception of being gay, which in their thinking flows from being effeminate, is unacceptable and must be changed. Discounting this as simply “boys into men” is an apologist perspective and a failure to admit the reality of the culture.
Bekker is right to say this is political — but that is not a bad thing the way he suggests. We have every right to be political as LGBT acitivists because of the homophobia, especially rampant in South Africa. The minute the word “moffie” was used, combined with a deep understanding of the culture, makes this an anti-gay crime and we as human rights defenders must elucidate the attacks as being anti-gay, whether the victims were perceived as gay, actually gay or told “hey you are not gay, therefore don’t act gay!”
Melanie agrees that it’s unfortunate that some bloggers and news organizations inserted words into the story that aren’t there, and actually did some of the ground work in encouraging those with incorrect headlines and details to change them.
However, the fact that Christopher Doyle has his back up is telling, because he knows that the sort of rhetoric Melanie is describing simply isn’t all that different from the snake oil that many “ex-gays” in the United States have been pushing for years! Indeed, much of the Fake Science around “reparative therapy,” pushed by NARTH, Journey Into Manhood (it’s the name of the organization for God’s sake!) and Doyle’s and Cohen’s International Healing Foundation focuses on the discredited idea that homosexuality is a symptom of being disconnected from what it means to Be A Man. Seriously. Do a little research on those websites and tell me how quickly you were able to find similar rhetoric and teachings. I’ll wait. Perhaps the details of the South African case hit a little bit too close to home for them? In other words, methinks the lady doth protest too much.
No one is accusing these American charlatans of supporting what happened in South Africa. We don’t have any evidence for anything of that sort. But we do know that the South African case is an extreme example of what happens in anti-gay, hyper-masculine environments where the worst thing you can be, as a man, is an effeminate “moffie.”