Side note: One of my favourite songs of all time is ‘Half-Breed’ by Cher (written by Al Capps and Mary Dean). I’ll be quoting the lyrics as I move through this post.
It was just another day on Facebook. I was scrolling through all the usual Monday motivational bullshit when:
Being who I am, I immediately felt the need to comment. Only, I didn’t know what to say. So, being the quirky kid that I am, I said this:
As the day went by, the fact that I couldn’t come up with a gay South African role model started to bother me. It’s not that there aren’t any, it’s just that I couldn’t think of one who influenced my life during my closet years specifically. Well, except for Ellen DeGeneres, but she’s American.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
“My father married a pure Cherokee. My mother’s people were ashamed of me. The Indians said that I was white by law. The white man always called me Indian Squaw.”
I remember the moment quite clearly. I was about five years old and in pre-school. I was walking alone, which was already a pretty common thing for me to do. I looked at the playground filled with boys and girls and thought:
The boys are prettier than the girls.
I didn’t know what it meant. Obviously I made no sexual connection to it at the time. I just knew that I liked boys more than girls.
I quickly learned that this was wrong.
My infamous pre-school teacher once referred to two little boys as “moffies” (The Afrikaans word for “faggots”) for being to close together. “Moffie” became a word that I heard often. My father used it. My father’s friends used it. Almost everyone around me used it. It was never explicitly explained to me, but I understood the meaning. “Moffie” is a word used to describe men who love other men or who behave in an effeminate way.
In other words: me.
I didn’t know that it was a derogative word. It was only when I asked my mom if a local celebrity was a moffie and I saw how the word shocked and upset her that I realized its true impact.
“Well, that’s a very horrible way of putting it, but yes, people say that he is gay. Not that it matters.”
I guess that my mom was the closest thing I had to a gay role model at the time. She preached the Gospel of Freddie Mercury and often spoke in defence of gay people. A part of me always knew that she knew, or at the very least, suspected.
And yes, I thought Freddie Mercury was pretty cool. Here was this man who was so unabashedly open about his sexuality in a time when that was a major taboo. That must have been rather tough. But then I would look at the letters in Huisgenoot, one of the leading magazines in South Africa. People were writing about how Freddie Mercury was the spawn of Satan.
Sorry, Mom. Apparently this man who was adored by millions is now burning in Hell for… existing.
“We never settled, went from town to town. When you’re not welcome you don’t hang around. The other children always laughed at me; ‘Give her a feather. She’s a Cherokee!’”
As I got older, the word “moffie” continued to pop up. Only, now it was directed towards me. The kids at school called me a few variations of the word. So did my father. One psychologist I saw even used the word.
I couldn’t shake it off.
When I moved to Pretoria to study drama, I thought that this would be my opportunity to finally be myself. One of my former friends at school referred to Pretoria as “the gay capital of South Africa”, and told me that if I went there and “became gay”, she would no longer be my friend. Surprise, baby. I was born this way.
So, I came to Pretoria thinking, “Yay! I’m finally going to be accepted!.”
The only other two guys in my year group were huge homophobes who believed that Freddie deserved to get AIDS because he was gay. Once, during class, a lecturer said that would never kiss another man on stage. He asked me if I would. I crinkled my nose and said “Oh no!”. In the meantime I was daydreaming about one of the musical theatre boys with his curly hair and brown eyes. And his tight red pants that hugged him in all the right places.
I only found freedom in being gay after I graduated. I found people who accept me, and more importantly, I accepted myself. I love good old Sodom/Pretoria, despite homophobia being omnipresent. Especially in the small towns. I see this each time I go to my hometown. People stare at me because of my jewellery, clothing, and hair. These things don’t seem to bother most of the people in Pretoria, but in Harrismith I always feel strange and unwelcome. I realize now that although I love my hometown, my hometown never loved me. Whenever I drive up the hill, leaving Harrismith, I think of the last verse and chorus of one of my favourite songs:
“We weren’t accepted and I felt ashamed. 19 I left them. Tell me who’s to blame? My life since then has been from man to man, but I can’t run away from what I am:
HALF-BREED! That’s all I ever heard.
HALF-BREED! How I learned to hate the word.
HALF-BREED! ‘She’s no good.’ They warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.”
You think I have digressed, but I have not.
The truth is that I don’t have a local gay role model. Yes, I have friends like Weslee, who I look up to, not only as a gay person, but as an artist and overall awesome human being. But when I specifically think back to being a child and a teenager, I can’t think of someone who gave me much hope (except Ellen). There are two reasons for this. The one is that the local mainstream media and entertainment industry aren’t very keen on talking about LGBT+ topics. The other reason is the prevailing fear of rejection among the gays. I know of quite a few famous South African actors who are gay, but they maintain a public persona that seems heterosexual. They fear that coming out will damage their careers. They are right. It will. I know the fact that I am openly gay will probably keep me from becoming a part of the inner circle, both as an actor and a writer. Same sex marriage may have become legal in this country over a decade ago, but South Africa doesn’t care much for the gays. They tolerate us, because the law no longer permits them not to. But God help you if you’re a black lesbian.
So, maybe I was right in my joking comment. Maybe I am my own gay role model. Nobody showed me how. I just stumbled forward with my hands outstretched in the dark. I’ve come a long way from being the 15 year old boy who was suicidal and convinced that I would remain closeted for the rest of my life.
I became my own local gay role model. And darling, so should you. If you’re fortunate enough, you might have someone there for you, but you’re mostly going to walk alone. It’s like Glinda the Good told Dorothy, you have everything you need within you. Glinda did turn out to be a total bitch in Wicked, but that’s besides the point.
No one will show you the way. You need to find it yourself. And you can.
“You are flesh and blood! And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given.” ~ Florence + the Machine