Today marks Coming Out Day and people are celebrating freedom to live their truth. We share voices from queer people in South Africa and their stories of coming out.
Waseem Imam Saheb, 32, Pretoria, freelance writer and radio show host
I came out to my cousins, high school and my sister before coming out to my parents – I didn’t really come out to them, my sister decided to out me to them.
When they confronted me, my father said they were told something that concerned them and I knew I had two choices. I could say my sister was joking and talking nonsense and they have nothing to worry about and we could have gone on pretending. But I told them the truth and explained that I tried to “pray the gay away” too.
I remember saying: I exist like this because God willed it. It is natural. If anything, me accepting my sexuality has brought my closer to the Almighty more than ever. There is nothing wrong with me and someday insha-Allah I hope you see that.
It’s been many years since that Saturday morning at the age of 16, and it has been a very long and hard road to get to a place of acceptance. I was honest that morning. I could have lied and remained hidden in that Narnian closet so many LGBT Indians reside and die in.
But I was honest for myself and to free my soul from such shackles of oppression. And I must say being authentic to one’s souls feels like the first breath one takes after being submerged under water for a long time. It is pleasure. It is hope. It is peace. It is freedom.
In a survey of over 2000 LGBT+ people conducted in South Africa last year, 56% of those aged 24 and under said they had experienced discrimination in school because of their identity.
*Sifiso Xaba, 22, hospitality, Cape Town
In 2012 I started dating a guy in my hometown in Pietermaritzburg. We were both in the closet and no one knew about our sexuality. People had already been spreading rumours and because I was so close to him people suspected something was going on. I didn’t think the rumours would reach home but they did. My family just asked me about it and I felt the need to tell. It was a calm conversation. They said it was okay and as long as I was happy.
My feelings before coming out were mixed because I just started dating a guy and I was still exploring myself. I had inner conflict before my story got out. When my family did accept me I felt more brave to accept myself. It affirmed that being gay was normal.
My family and I have been okay ever since. We don’t speak about it often, like they won’t ask about my boyfriend and I don’t think they’d do it if I was straight because of a culture.
According to the report, Hate Crimes against Lesbian‚ Gay‚ Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in South Africa 2016, 7% of those surveyed experienced violence from a family member; and 6% had been raped or sexually abused.
Mawethu Nkosana Nkolomba, 27, researcher, Soweto
I always knew I was queer because queerness is not necessarily access but spiritual. I knew the opportunity cost of coming out – communal, family, systematic and institutional micro-aggression, violence and discrimination. So I stayed in the closet hoping to gain strength and courage to self-actualise. The older I became, the more scared I was of what was to be my life, especially observing societal reactions towards difference.
Being in the closet did not protect me. I was always under scrutiny, presumed deviant from “normal” masculinities. I was depressed because of the dishonesty I had to subject myself to; but also due to the confusion I suffered trying to navigate society’s linkage of sexual orientation, gender and sex. There were closet communities who held people with a similar anxiety to mine. In these communities we held each other tight in difference, we made best friends.
I finally came out in my early days at university as a sign of protest to hegemonic masculinity and patriarchy. I came out because I felt strong and loved myself, because the closet was becoming too small for big bodies with character and zeal. I didn’t want to steal my boyfriend’s kisses and hand affirmations.
I don’t think individuals should be forced to come out, straight bodies are not. There is secondary trauma from the questioning one undergoes when coming out. Some bodies have not survived this act and commit suicide after coming out due to the rejection. With more gender sensitisation projects maybe individuals would not even need to come out. Being forced to come out is inextricably linked to homophobia and biphobia.
In the 2015 Gauteng City-Region Observatory Quality of Life Survey, only 56% of the respondents said they believed gay and lesbian people deserve equal rights.
*Thembisile Ndaba, 22, writer, Johannesburg
I kept it in for a long time and only came out to the public in April this year. I told my friends “I think I’m gay,” and they said they knew. They said “Duh, we’ve just been waiting for you to be in a relationship with a women.”
I never dated in high school and was the only friend without a man. It wasn’t because I couldn’t, I went to an all girls Catholic school. There used to be this thing where all the girls who came out in high school were alienated. People thought they were just going with the wind and trying to be trendy and trying to be different.
I kept it in because I was never one for attention and I knew that it would get to a point where everyone knew. My teachers loved me and I had this thing at the back of my head where I needed to impress my staunch Catholic white teachers. It fucked me up. I didn’t think keeping it in was an issue.
I tried to suppress it so much and thought if I could suppress it I was in control. The woman I am dating went to high school with me and I realised if I didn’t suppress it we could have started this a long time ago.
It is so much easier to talk about things [now]. My friends and siblings know. [They] were so okay with it. I feel a little more free. I love my parents and I’d like to think they love me but their love is very conditional. I feel like I have a little more space but I am still cramped.
I need people to stop thinking of being queer as this hypersexualised thing. Whenever people think of gay people they just think sex. It is a relationship, not just sex. Stop hypersexualising queer people.
The South African constitution protect the rights of the queer community but in practice, many are yet to lead safe lives.
*Names have been changed to protect identity.