'Yes, I am! Yes, we are!' chanted the crowd at the book launch at Exclusive Books; an assortment of people from various walks of life - black, white, Indian, coloured, young, older, straight, gay, bi and everyone in between. A heartening response to Robin Malan's groundbreaking book, Yes, I Am - Writing by South African Gay Men. Groundbreaking because no less than five mainstream publishing companies turned down the chance to publish it. Undeterred, Malan and co-compilor Ashraaf Johaardien pushed on alone…and aren’t we glad they did.

The book features forty different writers – from personalities like satirist Pieter Dirk-Uys, Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron (who provides the foreword), Dean of Cape Town Rowan Smith and actors Sirs Anthony Sher and Nigel Hawthorne to new writers uncovered, largely, through Cape Town’s The Triangle Project. Although there is an overarching theme, explains Malan, writers were given free rein to interpret it as they saw fit. Hence a collection of different forms of writing – from extracts from works of fiction and autobiographies to journal entries, emails and text messages.

Back in 1995 Mark Gevisser and Edwin Cameron co-edited a book Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa. The title captured the mood of the times, and says Malan, it was this that prompted him and Johaardien to pursue Yes, I am. ‘We were interested to see if – fifteen years on – such a collection of stories would turn out differently. It did, and the title of our compilation reflects the positive changes in our country over this time.'  But, although South Africans are now privileged to have a Constitution which guarantees Human Rights for all – regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, Malan points to Cameron’s foreword, in which he cautions us that, while it’s correct to celebrate our hard-won Human Rights, we need to acknowledge that such rights remain to be won in other countries. 'I think of Malawi,' says Malan, 'And the two gay men recently sentenced to fourteen years hard labour for the "crime" of homosexuality. And let’s not forget the prejudice still experienced by many gay South Africans at home.'

Yes, I Am is a wonderful affirmation of what it is to be gay in South Africa. Such an affirmation has been a long time coming. In the words of  Adrian, a launch attendee, ‘if only I had had access to such a book during those confusing, angst-fillled teenage years.' Let’s hope that librarians everywhere take note of this simple request: stock at least one copy of this remarkable book on your shelves.

Lastly, but by no means least, mention must be made of the eye-catching cover: the naked torso of Joao the Portuguese. Jokes Malan, the lettering of the title curls tantalisingly towards the beautiful Joao's nipples...another good reason to reach for this read!

Yes, I Am is published by Junket Publishers.

Read these reviews:
Gay? Why, Yes I Am - SUNDAY TIMES
The love that not so long ago dared not speak its name - BOOK SA