All of who I am.
by Silondiwe Mathebula
I am a woman form a very rural, cultural background of the Zulu clan in South Africa.
A clan with a rich history of kings like King Shaka and Cetshwayo; history that is noted all around the world. Zulus /amaZulu are warriors, heroes, they are cultural and they stay true to their roots. This means as a woman from this clan you have to know your role as a woman. I will give more clarity on this. The role of a woman in this case is getting cows paid – ilobolo for as you are married off to a man. You become a wife, bear children for your husband, stay home and take care of those children and your mother in law.
But what happens if one goes against these norms and pursues a different way of life, a different way of love, a different way of living?
It’s simple you get labelled the black sheep of the family, you have defied the rules and roles of culture, you are considered an outcast, an embarrassment.
I was raised well so all my life I knew that the right thing to do in life as a woman is be attracted to the opposite sex. As I reached my teens, peer pressure pounded on me, all my friends were dating guys and the cutest boy in school wanted to date me. I bended to the pressure and suppressed voices that I could not understand in my mind and in my heart that constantly crafted thoughts about other women and how it would be like to hold them in my arms and do things that lovers do. These were suppressed throughout my high school life at boarding school. Three years after high school I found my ego still battling with my ID and my super Ego trying to help me find the balance. My ID yearned for women right here and right now, my super ego wore an angel ring around her head and reminded me of all that I was taught at home around the fire when my grandmother told stories of princes and princesses like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It reminded me of Sunday school scriptures that spoke about Adam and Eve and the religious education I found at school that ensured that we know the heaven and the hell, and that if you do wrong you shall burn for all eternity. I went with my super ego and I met someone, a man. I convinced myself that it is all in the mind, I can do it, I am very much capable of loving him.
Five months later there was an embryo attached to the walls of my endometrium in my uterus, there was a heart beating, life was being threaded together inside of me. Through all the confusion and sleepless nights of praying, blocking back tears with my thumbs, I chose to keep my baby. Now I was going to be a mother to a very beautiful son. My yearning for women never stopped because now I knew how it felt like to be with a man. (Some people still confront me and tell me that he was not a real man, you should have got a real man, and then you would not want women). My yearning rather grew more because I knew there was a side of me that wanted me to explore and embrace. A side of me that is colourful. I accepted my fate and told my mind to let it be and allow my heart to love however it wants to love. It was the tensest, emotion filled, and most difficult journey I had to take.
Questions that kept on being thrown to me after it was known that I am a lesbian were: “you are a beautiful woman, why do you want to waste yourself and your time with other women.” And the most predominant ones were: “you are a mother, you have a child which means you know a man, and so how come are you lesbian?
How are you going to raise your son?
Should he call you Mom or Dad?
You are also going to make that child to be gay.” At the beginning, I never knew how to answer these questions, now I tell them, “my parents are straight, but they never raised a straight child.” I also tell them that being intimate with a man and having a child does not pacify my emotions because my emotions do not reside in my lower part of the body but they reside in my heart.
I love wearing pants, I love shopping in the men’s section, not because I am trying to be a one but because those are the clothes I feel comfortable in. At times I use to try as much as I can to hide my dress code when I go home, I would wear skirts and pretend to be what I am not. And people would be telling me that I will confuse my child and the people around me. It was not until I first created a safe space in my mind to accept myself that I was free to be who I am and embrace who I am anywhere and everywhere even in the community that abominated homosexuality in the name of religion and culture.
Now I am a student teacher, at one point I was told by my university lecturer that when I go for my teaching practical’s I have to “look like a teacher.” She continued by saying that I must not give wrong impressions to the learners because my job as an aspiring educator is to instil good morals in children. For her looking like a teacher means I wear skirts and high shoes and “look like a woman”. I did that in my 1st year at university until I had conversations with myself and asked why I have to put on a façade in the classroom, pretend to be who I am not.
What will happen one day when I am a qualified teacher and I want to marry a woman, do I continue lying and say my wife is my roommate, a sister from another mother?
Rev Ecclasia De Lange who was an ordained pastor of the Methodist church in Cape Town, was expelled from the church because she chose to come out to the church as a whole and openly say that she wants to marry a woman. They criticized her of intending to impose her views on marriage equality and homosexuality on the entire church community.
As a teacher I also face such accusations. Parents say that they will not have their children taught by a lesbian because it will make their children think it is a right thing to be a lesbian. I argue and say I teach their children better than the straight teachers. My sexuality does not have anything to do with my profession. I know a friend who teaches at a catholic school, she stays with her partner but she says that is her cousin.
For how long are we supposed to lie, suppress our voices and feel that we are outcasts?
It is about time we speak about who we are.
I am complete, I am an African woman from the southern parts of Africa who hails from a Zulu clan, I am a mother, I am teacher and I am a lesbian. If I eliminated one of these from me then I will not be me. I will be living a lie to please the world that thinks they are the Gods and hold rights of plotting my destiny in the palms of their hands. I want to be free. Let me speak, let me live, let me love, let me teach.
*ID = identity
About the author
Silondiwe is a proud lesbian mother, university student, poet and writer.
Silondiwe mean we are preserved. My grandmother gave me that name because my mother was not married when she had me. So if I was going to be born out of wedlock, it meant I was also going to be taken as my granny’s child, so she named me.
My mom said that my grandmother believed that great things are going to come through me, and I will grow up to be a strong responsible woman and take care of the family. So through me balondiwe…