Mark Gevisser’s essay ‘Edenvale’ in Granta 114 leads the reader into an unexpected world of hidden sexualities in apartheid-era Soweto, where layers of unofficial lives move among the more official layers. The Edenvale of the title is an old Home Affairs office, a place that ‘Had been the processing room of apartheid: it told you who you were and where you could (and could not) be. It was a place of profound alienation; of a million frustrations and rages a day.’
Edgar, one of the pseudonymous interviewees, has two wedding rings: a conventional one that signifies his marriage of half a century – his respectable persona – and the other: ‘A lush red silk tie, given to him by a male lover.’ Edgar’s friend Phil is living a similar dual life and they spend time in bars which are increasingly openly gay. But there are social layers within here, too: the two older men are disapproving of the younger patrons being so open and ‘showy’. They recall times in the 1970s where gay men were ‘After-Nines’ (the phrase refers to the true sexuality that could more easily be displayed in bars after nine pm, when straight men had gone home to their families).
In an era where the state classified people’s lives, secret existences were possible among apparently rigid social strata: when they were young, both men had been able to meet white men by delivering the washing their mothers took in for white households. And among the chameleons, sadnesses of their secret lives must be locked away from discovery:
‘In the life I have lived, you should have a room for disappointment.’ says Edgar, reflecting on the dual existence of the life he has lived for so long.
Gevisser, Mark. ‘Edenvale’ in Granta Magazine (114, Winter 2011)