I wish someone told me when I was a child what the word gay meant. Growing up in the church, the word was never muttered, and then going to a Catholic primary school solidified that fact. I remember a boy getting in trouble for using that word; ‘Gay’.
The craziest thing was, looking back on it now, my first-ever crush was a girl. Of course, at the time I didn’t know nor realise that was the case. I remember looking at her in awe, wanting to be around her all the time – the feeling in my chest I got when she would laugh or smile.
As a child I simply thought she was special, some sort of being that existed to make others feel happy, and that everyone felt that way around her. I was wrong.
I wish at a young age my aunt told me she was bisexual. I didn’t know until I came out to her, and she told me herself. I remember it blowing my mind, I have never thought about the fact that someone in my family could understand, especially an adult.
My Teenage Years
I was 13 years old when I started dating a boy in my class, he was my best friend at the time, and everyone seemed to love that we were together. I had spent the previous two years getting bullied by everyone due to my close friendship with a girl, they would throw the word ‘Lesbians’ at us. Since I had just moved from a private religious school I didn’t know the meaning. She did and it drove her away.
When I started dating this boy people started to like me, and I was happy. But when a girl who was new started hanging around me almost every day, he started getting worried about our closeness, which I didn’t understand. It was only when my friend sat me down and explained bisexuality and the fact that this girl most probably had a crush on me that I understood. And I was very confused.
I loved this boy, I did, but we ended things the next year for totally unrelated reasons. And after that relationship, I did a lot of thinking and self-reflection. It was funny to me that if I were to hold a boy’s hand around school people would be happy, congratulate us and tease us playfully. Yet if I was to hold a girl’s hand we would be frowned at, mocked and belittled.
Nothing for me was solidified till we moved. My sister and I now were now attending an all-girls school which threw my perspective of life out the window. I got my first proper girlfriend. I came out to my parents by texting them from my boarding hostel’s study room “I have a girlfriend.” I was lucky enough to have parents that didn’t care as long as I was happy. This was lovely compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard.
Sexuality And Religion
I remember an extended family member getting so upset with me when she had an inkling I was gay. I recall her belittling me, blaming me for things I had zero control over. She reflected to me the burning question every homophobic religious family member would ask, “Have you told the church?”.
At that point in my life, I was already looking into paganism, but I did go to church still with my family. I had spoken to the priest about everything because I wanted to bring my girlfriend at the time. The priest laughed at the question and looked at me as if I was silly to even ask that. He told me that god made me this way and that he loves me this way. I know I’m incredibly privileged to have had that experience with a church, and I am incredibly grateful for it.
Sexuality And Fluidity
The thing with sexuality is that it’s fluid. Things change, you evolve as a person and with that feelings change. I never thought I’d be able to fall in love with a boy, yet now I find myself in a happy relationship with my boyfriend.
Past me would have been aghast, confused by how that’s possible. I stick with the label queer now. I’m still gay, and I still have a preference for women; now I just am in love with a male. And that’s okay.
It’s okay to change your mind, it’s okay to grow and evolve as a person, and it’s okay to fall in love with someone that changes everything because that’s the brilliant thing about sexuality. It’s accepting and loving and you are made to love whoever you want to love, the universe has your back.
I did not grow up knowing what it meant to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. In fact, I did not grow up to know anything about sexuality. In actual fact, when I was a child the word gay meant happy.
I remember having ‘the talk’ with my mother in my early teens. This was mainly centred around periods and how babies are made. I remember her being so uncomfortable about the conversation. My young mind interpreted this to mean that anything to do with this topic was uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Cultural Influences On Sexuality
The South Africa I grew up in was ultra-conservative and so there was no such thing as sex education. Even things like having sex outside of marriage, living with someone who you weren’t married to and having a baby out of ‘wedlock’ was severely frowned upon.
We had to cobble together our sexuality from romance novels, fumbled lived experiences and what we learned in conversation with peers.
Being brought up in a conservative religious culture also meant that the very idea of homosexuality was taboo. This was reflected in the wider culture around me too.
My First Experiences With Queer Culture
The first time I realised that two women could be in a sexual relationship was in 1991 when C.J. and Abby kissed each other on prime time television in the programme L.A Law. It was scandalous!
The first gay person I ever knew was my favourite cousin and I will forever be grateful to him. Because of him, I was exposed to the hidden gay and lesbian culture of our town. I got to make up my own mind about what being queer means from lived experience rather than from the fear-based assumption and the propaganda of the time.
How My Early Experiences Shaped My Parenting
One of the reasons I am so grateful to my cousin is that when my own children came out to me I had these positive experiences to draw from. And so it was never a big deal for me that my children were queer.
To be honest I spent so much of my life detached from who I was and living with the pain of this, that I am profoundly proud of my children for knowing who they are from such a young age and having the courage to express this outwardly into the world. This is something I know is not an easy thing to do especially since there is still so much prejudice, misinformation and hate out there in our culture at large.
My belief is that our sexuality is a deeply personal experience and expression of who we are as a person. We and our children deserve to be respected for our right to be who we are.
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