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Lately I have been thinking about the word “moffie.” Moffie is Afrikaans slang for a homosexual. Growing up in the 1980s and 90s in South Africa –the setting for “The Heroine Next Door”– that word meant different things for different people. If you were a gay white conscript fighting one of the apartheid- regime’s interminable bush wars, it meant that you were defending a country forcing you to suppress your identity. If you were also a person of color, it meant striking out against discrimination on many different levels.

When people talk about longing for the “good old days,” those days were not good for everyone in the country. That was doubly true for people like the character, Shuaib, in my book. His character sprung from my imagination, but was also based on many people I saw around Cape Town. His struggles, as outlined in the book, are probably similar to those experienced by numerous people growing up in restrictive environments.

Fashionable, witty, effeminate or over-compensating with an almost comical hyper-masculinity, these people that were integrated into Shuaib’s persona, were all bonded by the need to keep their private selves walled off from their public personas. The level of social ostracism varied, but could be quite virulent, depending on the conservative makeup of the neighborhood. Some people, who also thought of themselves as religious, basically had to invent new ways of expressing their spiritual natures.

Few people seemed to focus on that community at a time when there was so much political strife in the country. However, the arrival of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa, placed them on the national radar. Abdurrazack "Zackie" Achmat, co-founder of the Treatment Action Campaign, is a South African activist who became famous for his activism on behalf of gays, lesbians, and people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Today, homosexuality is no longer in the shadows. In 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. People are protected from discrimination on the basis of "race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."

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