author: Christa Biyela
year published: 2013
published by: self-published
price: R177 (Adams Books)

I picked up this book at the Time of The Writer where the author  was one of the festival guests.

Disclaimer-nyana: Christa and I work on Uzalo along with other writers, so when I went to the 19th Time of The Writer, I didn’t know that she had published a book as well.

I started reading, I approached it with no expectations, really. I was intrigued by the title but didn’t now if this would be one of those annoying self-help/motivation type books. “Motivational speaker” is one of her jobs, after all, and often, I find motivational books to be really vapid and uninventive in the way they recycle pithy phrases (hey “not all” crew, obviously not all). But she’s not just that, she’s an amazing storyteller who manages to weave in some hard facts about a difficult subjects with her life story. And that’s what makes this book work so well.

“I’m not writing this book because I know it all,” she states in the first chapter. “I am blessed and I am not afraid to share my blessings.”

In Getting Dirty – Sex is Great, But Let’s Be Honest… Christa tells us about her experiences of living with HIV. Christa highlights how, even to this day, the HIV stigma lives on. She points out that it’s this very stigma that spreads the disease and leads young people to not confide in their parents because parents believe sex is “umkhuba” (undesirable behaviour). And parents say, “Khuluma nezingane, thina asisalali” (Speak to the kids, we don’t have sex anymore) when faced with that subject of sex and everything that comes with it. She calls out older married woman who refuse to face that being married and older doesn’t protect you from HIV or mean you can’t have a healthy sex life.

Christa also challenges notions that enable rape culture to continue when faced with parents who think young girls mislead older men or young boys who believe that they must have sex to release their sperm. Christa asks hard questions about who is responsible for talking to children about sex, if we all run away from it. She points out the illusions that parents tell themselves like talking about sex encourages children to experiment. Using her own life, she shows how young people will experiment and learn “out there” all kinds of things about love, sex and STI’s.

She does all of this in a humorous, irreverent, yet direct way. The book feels like a conversation with a good friend, who tells it like it is so that your stop lying to yourself and do better. I enjoyed that even thought at times you can hear her roll her eyes and cluck her tongue she’s neither patronising nor judgmental.

Christa covers a wide range of topics, likes same-sex relationships, love, STIs, accepting one’s status, when to disclose, choosing what kind of life to live once your know your status and once you become sexually active. The pervading theme is honesty.  Only honest conversations about sex, love, HIV between the young and their parents as well as between lovers.

There’s one subject that I feel she could’ve handled better – male circumcision. I feel like she should’ve expanded more beyond just what she prefers. Other than that, I learnt a lot about Christa as a human being and a colleague and was also left with a few heavy questions to consider.

I liked that she had a list of statements at the end of her last chapter that reflect some of the misconceptions we carry around everyday about sex and HIV/Aids. However, it felt like the book ended abruptly. She didn’t counter the list of perceptions in a more direct point for point way in order to fulfill the “lets be honest” stance of her book. I feel like that would’ve concluded the book well.

I recommend reading the book because it challenges your ideas without making your feel dumb or being weighed down with information. It confronts you with the myths you’ve heard around you but have also told yourself.

duduzile zamantungwa mabaso (@uzamantungwa) is a poet, scriptwriter, editor and publisher. She has written scripts, storylined, edited for televisions shows such as Uzalo, Muvhango, Soul City, Tempy Pushas, Uzalo, It’s Complicated to mention a few. She is the founder of Black Letter Media – www.blackletterm.com - where she is working to publish new voices out of Africa and bridge the gap between readers and undiscovered writers. She is the founder and editor of www.poetrypotion.com