by Shirley Ndaba (Hendricks)
There I was at the tender age of 10 years, nothing seemed abnormal about me. I loved playing with dolls, I would play children’s games with girlfriends and boyfriends. I never thought I was any different from all the girls. I played doll-dressing, premature mother and house, just like other little girls.
Until my first crush was on one of my girlfriends. I remember very well, her name was Masego. She was light in complexion, tomboy and always had this amazing “S-curl and cut” hair style, as we would call it, loxion taal. I remember blushing so much when I saw her. Most of my friends had crushes on my boyfriends but I crushed on my friend Masego and never thought I was different.
I never told her until now, and I left the neighbourhood. When I was 13 years old I had a huge crush on one of South African greatest lesbian soccer players (PM). I knew all these feelings were the exact feelings a girl would have for a guy. I still didn’t feel different or see anything wrong. I then had my first boyfriend at 14 (chuckles to self), nothing serious of course, but that was me being a normal girl; looking back, it was me conforming. At that time I wasn’t really sure if was lesbian or if there was a particular label. I remember the feeling of being in a heterosexual relationship lasted for about 2- 3 days if not a week, literally!
From then on the feeling would die out, I would hide from the guy. There was never really a guy that I liked. I would only date a guy mainly because most of my friends liked the guy and the exciting feeling of being in that relationship would die, then I would start acting like a lunatic, by hiding and running away from the guy just to avoid seeing him. It was always awkward. Then came high school, I had started grade 8, and there was a stud I liked in my neighbourhood, her name was Busi. I told my cousin about it as a secret, but somehow it got to her Busi).
She approached me when I was 15 years old. I remember how being with her made me feel. I would be sitting in class hoping for school to end so that I can go home and see her. I can’t exactly describe how it felt but it felt just right, just like home. I hid the relationship from my schoolmates who lived in my neighbourhood. The only thought on my mind was that people would think it’s abnormal, more especially at school, even though I knew how she made me feel. I couldn’t hide it forever as there was a time when my schoolmates told me that they saw me with her and that we looked cosy, and how lesbian/gay it looked. I would make excuses about Busi being my friend and always helping me with my homework. I even got myself a boyfriend at school just to cover my homosexuality.
There were family complications at home so I had to leave home to live in a children’s home. That’s when I found my first love, my first in everything, her name was Anthea. We were the same age, she was just more experienced than I was when it came to relationships. I didn’t even know how to actually kiss. She was bisexual not that I knew what the term meant. I would like to think I was still finding myself at that time. I loved her so much that she could literally tell me to jump and I would willingly do so without questionioning. I was so free with her, I allowed her to touch me in places I would never allow anyone else to touch.
She was the first person to make me feel how it truly felt to be touched and caressed by the one you love. To experience what happens when you are gently kissed by that one person you love so dearly. How your body responds to all the gentle touches, the wetness, the soft skin on your skin, the heavy breathing, the moaning and letting all of yourself go. She took my innocence in the most gentle and precious way.
I loved it because I cared for her and loved her on an intimate level, to think I was only 16 years of age. We were together for a year and 6months. She had a boyfriend that she loved more than she loved me. I didn’t really care and all I knew was that I loved her and got to spend more time with her than he would. Just like all relationships, that relationship was the beginning of my journey to self discovery. We broke up, I couldn’t take it because I didn’t want to let go. I remember there was a girl called Linda, she found it weird that I was so in love with another girl. I would spend time sharing with her and describing the feelings I got when I’m with Anthea.
Little did I know that sister-girl would chase after my girl, she used everything I shared with her against me and got my girl. I couldn’t take it, I failed at school I couldn’t really concentrate. I would beg Anthea, at times I’d even kneel down, things that our young and naive hearts do for love. I can still say that it was love. I remember her asking me if I still loved her, I told her yes and that I couldn’t even describe how she made me feel and that I would do anything to keep her. She then told me right there and then that she didn’t love me anymore because her interests lied elsewhere.
I was devastated; it felt like my whole world had come crashing down. My depression started right there, reminding me of everything that was just not going right in my life I would literally cry every day. I couldn’t take it and that’s whe I took my first pile of pills. I remember closing myself in my room thinking I would drink that and be dead the next day. Nothing really happened, clearly I had a greater purpose in life. So I became more proud of being different I would say it out loud that I was lesbian, I even visited home and I came out to my aunt who was the next best thing to my mother.
When the holidays ended I went back to the children’s home. I remember tanie (house mother) calling me, Anthea and Linda to her office. She then told us that there had been complaints that there were lesbians at the home and that some girls wanted to leave the home because of it. She told us the board had our names and that they are still busy concluding on the matter. My aunt passed away that same year. Well that year is not one of my favourite. My aunt was the only mother I had since my mom passed away when I was only six years old. It was in September 2007.
I remember wanting to sink in that pile of sand along with her, she was my pillar of strength. As much as I hadn’t wanted to believe it, there she was being dragged into the ground and I would never get to see her again. I loved her and I don’t remember ever telling her, how much I loved her. I don’t remember crying at my biological mother’s funeral because I was still a child. I didn’t really know what was happening until later on. I knew the actual feeling when my aunt passed away, that was the last day and year I ever went home or visited my family, like I said there were complications at home so she was the only person besides my siblings at home that meant something to me, everyone else was just family because of the blood we shared.
Later that year we were told that we were being kicked out of the home for our lesbian ways. Linda was adopted so she was the first to leave. Anthea and I had to wait while they were still trying to find suitable homes for us. They then told us we were going to be moving as soon as the schools closed that year. We moved to Mould Empower Serve (MES) in Hillbrow. I failed that year so I had to repeat my grade 10, Devastated!!
Picking up the pieces and knit picking through it all like the granny I had surely become. When I got to MES we were given options to choose from. I was told that I for one would be turning 18 the following year and that I’d be repeating Grade 10, that I should consider dropping out of school and doing short courses.
Anthea decided to go live with her boyfriend’s family. I was left there alone, I then spoke to my Life Orientation teacher, Mrs Stacey about the options I was given to choose from. She told me that finishing school and passing matric was very important and that no matter how hard life was, I should hold on and make sure I finished school. I told the ladies at MES that I have decided to stay at school until I finished Matric. I was then told that since I had chosen school they would not be able cover my school expenses such as stationery, bus fair, school uniform etc. until I completed school. Things were different at MES, I attended a public clinic when I fell sick, long dreary lines and crowds of sick people and clinic cards and endless public service procedures that I was not used to. I had to walk everywhere compared to my old home, a lot of cars were available and took us everywhere, at anytime.
The old home cared for our wellbeing; the toiletries we received were great. I even shared a big room with only 2 girls and our wardrobes were huge. We didn’t have hectic house chores. I remember all we did during school holidays was eat, sleep, watch movies, listen to music, and go to the mall or trips. It was great there, while being at MES was a huge change. I had to learn to adjust because all good things come to an end at some point. I wasn’t happy but appreciated everything that came my way. The toiletries were okay, just that we never got stuff like body spray or shampoos, they would constantly remind me that I no longer lived with white people and that I should appreciate what I got, which I surely did.
I won’t lie and say the place was bad, it had its moments, I shared a small room with 3 girls and we had to share one wardrobe amongst ourselves. So the first thing I thought about was finding myself a weekend job. I drafted my first CV that same year and printed 10 copies. I remember using my bus tag to go to eastgate shopping mall, in my school uniform. I had a paper with a list of stores that were my main target of interest. When I got to eastgate, the first store I went to was Edgars, and it was not even on my list. I remember telling the lady at the reception that I was looking for a job, she looked at me in my uniform and told me to leave my cv on the table and take a seat as there were interviews taking place and that she would try to squeeze me in since I was there.
She asked me if I would do the interview, I told her I would. I was nervous I won’t lie, I had never been interviewed before. There was a girl already seated waiting to be interviewed in the interview area, she was a bit older than I was and was and her name was Siya. We talked about why she wanted a job, she told me her story and why she was still in matric at 19. She told me she fell pregnant at 17 and had to drop out of school, she then went back to school after giving birth. I shared a bit of my story too and why I wanted to get the job. I also told her I was so nervous and that I had never been interviewed before. She gave me some tips and told me what to do and say whilst in the interview room. I remember her telling me to ask the interviewer to kindly elaborate if I couldn’t understand what they meant. She was called first; when my turn came I did exactly what she told me to do.
After the interview, I began my job hunting journey and walked around the mall dropping off my CVs. Just when I was about to go back home, I got a call from Edgars telling me I got the job. I worked there on weekends from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon and had the best manager ever. He was like a father figure to me, I remember getting my first phone from him because he couldn’t get hold of me whenever he called to update me with my work schedules. It was great having a job because I was able to buy my own school blazer, fill my own bus tag, buy any required school books without bothering anyone, carry lunch to school and even buy my favourite toiletries. I met different people at work, young and old, I felt like an adult.
I then met a lesbian woman much older than I was, her name was Tumi. At the time I was basically out of the closet about my sexuality. I kind of liked Tumi, I remember I would sometimes work when I was not scheduled to work just so I could see her. There was a guy who liked me at work and tried his luck with me, I told him that unfortunately I didn’t play for his team and that there was someone I already liked. He wanted to know who the person was, I told him it was Tumi, he wasn’t so shocked. We became friends and he kind of hooked me up with Tumi, and as it would go we dated.
Most of the women at work couldn’t understand why I was lesbian. They would always ask me if I wasn’t bothered by being beautiful with a beautiful body and emphasise on the shape and curves of my body. Remind me that I could get myself a handsome boyfriend some even suggested that I date their sons and nephews. At this stage I was almost 18 years old, I was also a bit confused as to why a normal girl such as myself could be so in love with other women. I mean I had never been hurt by a man, nor raped, and I grew up as a normal girl. Had a girly upbringing with no hint of aspirations of being a man, I loved everything about being a girl. I loved my braids, my tight jeans, short skirts, heels, mascara etc. But there was this constant fixation and attraction towards my own kind that I could not seem to shake off.
People in our society normally call (butches/studs/tomboys) names and they are considered the lesbians, so there I was not a tomboy or butch, just a normal girl. I was getting tired of the “it’s just a phase” chorus from people. I would always try to picture myself with a guy and it just didn’t feel right. So one day, I was having lunch at work with some of the older ladies, one of the ladies asked me if I was still a virgin I said yes, she said that was the reason why I was lesbian, they all agreed. I was told that I was a lesbian because I was afraid of a penis/having sex with a guy. I mean most guys would say stuff like that and I wasn’t bothered because I thought men always replaced their brains with their penises at times. But for the first time I was bothered when all those women said that. So there I was, 18 years old, proudly lesbian, confused somehow as to why I didn’t feel the same way with men as I did with women. It would always puzzle me, I was mainly bothered by the fact that I might just be lesbian because I was afraid. So when I caught Tumi cheating on me at work, about 6 months into our relationship, I ended things with her. I stayed single and my best friend convinced me that maybe it was a sign that I was somehow straight, and I fell for it.
So when my ex-boyfriend approached me, it may have been uncomfortable to say the least, yet it was enough to hold me for two months. We dated for 2 months. I went ahead and that’s how I broke my virginity, I realised at that point that my sexuality had nothing to do with me being scared of having sex with a man or what I went through in life. It was just who I was and there was no escaping it or letting other people’s opinions define who or what I am. I remember walking into a store with my best friend and seeing two cute lesbian women. I liked what I saw but I couldn’t even share that with her because I was pretending to be straight with her. I broke up with my boyfriend, I just couldn’t do it, it wasn’t me and I had to accept that.
From that day on I embraced my homosexuality, I became proud of who and what I was. The following year I left Edgars just so I could focus at school. The same year I learnt that there was an organisation that caters for lesbian women, activists and fights against hate crime, helping lesbian women embrace who they are with pride. I wanted to know more about this organisation the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW). I was still in school then. I would attend events and workshops hosted by FEW, I learnt a lot at FEW, things I wasn’t even aware of, like hate crime, what caused it and how to deal with it. That’s when I also learnt that there are other homosexuals out there who died, got raped and were disowned by their families for being homosexual, there were a lot of sad stories. I even met more young lesbians.
At some point I didn’t feel accepted, I remember once, there was a lesbian who told me that I was lesbian because I never really got my mother’s love. When I told my story, a lot of them were convinced that I was going through a phase, bisexual or curious as I was still young. I had already established that I loved women and not men and that I could live without men but wouldn’t live without a woman. So that same year I reunited with my dad after so many years. I still continued attending workshops and events hosted by the Forum of Empowerment of Women (FEW).
The following year I was in matric and I met Zanele Muholi at an event at Constitutional Hill. She took some pictures of me with the other ladies and told me I looked good in those pictures.
We exchanged numbers and I received a call a couple of months later asking if she could feature me in her book and I was delighted.
I was also happy to stand up for those women who are still in silence and still live in fear of our society. That same year I had to come out to my dad, it wasn’t as hard as he had guessed it. It took time for him to fully accept my sexuality but he did at the end. I passed my matric and applied to study computer graphics and animation. I left the Home and went to live with my dad. Things were not so nice at my dad’s home. I lived with my stepmother and at some point she would be so insecure as though I would sleep with my own father. When she was around me, she would always compare herself to me, it was hard and my dad always took her side all the time when she would complain and made up lies. I decided to pack my stuff and leave. I went to the foster house where my younger siblings (mother’s children) lived. They welcomed me for just 3 months and then I was taught about the government’s rules. That I was old for the place and that I was no longer legible to be under the government’s care. At that stage my varsity application was declined as I did not reach the required points and had to upgrade some of my matric marks.
Everything seemed to not work right for me that year. I decided to go back MES to do some short courses. I did computer and call centre courses that lasted 4 months. They provided accommodation and food during that time. When the courses ended I was required to leave. I tried job hunting but I was unsuccessful. At the time I had a girlfriend, she told me I could live with her and her brother. I went to live with them and left most of my belongings at the foster home. The stay was not so pleasant, she lived with her brother, they were both from Zimbabwe so she was still inside the closet. I understood her situation, so we acted as though we were close friends in front of the brother. The brother would sometimes try to hit on me and I would always lie and tell him that it was inappropriate of him to be asking me out because I saw my girlfriend as a sister therefore I saw him as a brother.
Life was hard living with my girlfriend because I always had to pretend. The brother got tired of having me there then told my girlfriend that I needed to leave. I then went to live with my girlfriend’s friend for a couple of months and then later on, she paid for me to share an accommodation with someone else. Things became sour between us, so the clear choice was me going back to Edgars since things were not working well with finding a job. I was accepted to work again, then paid for my own accommodation. After a while of being single, I got a new girlfriend and we decided to live together after a couple of months into the relationship. It felt like the right thing to do, I was in love.
Things became so hectic, the temp workers at Edgars were cut off and, I was one of those. My girlfriend couldn’t take it, she would act up. She made life hard for me, I tried finding a job, it was hard as I was working under pressure, when I succeeded they wouldn’t last, I got a job as a PA but I wasn’t experienced enough so I lost the job after 2 months. I even tried being a waitress but that wasn’t for me at all, I quit after a week hoping something else would come up. I won’t get into further details but somehow things became even worse, my girlfriend told me to leave and that I was crowding her space, she knew very well that I had nowhere else to go. She started laying her hands on me. I felt hopeless, I then drank cockroach poison, which almost took my life, I spent 4 days in hospital and the doctor told me I could have died if I hadn’t come to the hospital. A lady at the hospital told me that everything that was happening in my life was because I had turned my back on God and that I needed to make things right and change my lifestyle. She said I was confused, I thought she meant to stop being homosexual. I didn’t know how to make that possible but I then started going to church hoping she was right and that things would change.
At this point I was so frustrated with my girlfriend and yet I had gone back to her. She started cheating on me, then kicked me out with no remorse, the only friend I had, who I had always been there for when things were hard for her, turned her back on me too. Right there and then I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I looked for a temporary place to stay in a women’s shelter, I took a break from relationships. I got to the shelter, did some introspection and I told myself that it was enough and that I would not throw myself a pity party because if I don’t look past my situation and pick myself up, then no one else will. I decided to put all that happened behind me. I told myself that I would not let my past life experiences define the person that I am, the person I was to become, I had to do it all for myself, believing that I can and I will. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but I also knew that I had to start somewhere. So whilst at the shelter, I got myself a job as a beautician/a customer service consultant in cosmetics, I left the shelter 6 months after getting the job and shared accommodation and bought most of my stuff while sharing. About a year later I got a job offer at Telkom Mobile through my stepmother as a CSR, I applied and I got the job. The pay was so much better; I managed to get my own place in Berea. I stayed with Telkom Mobile for 2 years and I have just recently got a job at MultiChoice as a CSR and currently training as a Quality Analyst. I love the atmosphere and have bigger plans ahead.
Let’s just say my goal right now is to accomplish a lot for myself in 2015. And my long term goal is to create a place for the LGBTI community, a personal space where they can express themselves knowing that they are comfortable and free at any given moment with their own kind. This will be a place where some will use to relax and unwind, a place to mingle and have fun, that will cater for both young and wise and all races specifically for the LGBTI community. It’s a goal that I am planning to reach in 5 years’ time. After all we are not limited by our abilities but by our vision. I can’t do it all in one day. I believe that big goals can only be reached through patience and persistence.
A lesson I have learnt in life is that people will always talk and will always have their opinions about you and what goes on in your life. You will be attacked by your society, your friends, colleagues, your own family and religious people will also have their say.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to you and what you want for yourself. At some point you will have to choose to either live your life for yourself and not for other people. Well do what your heart desires, allow you to be happy. Whether they call it fear, a phase that you’re going through or a sin, you know what brings you joy. People will always judge. I chose to ignore the negative side of life, I chose to accept myself as the humble and respectful person that I am. A proud homosexual young woman who is not afraid to be thyself. I chose to live for ME! Let God be the judge of your life, knowing that you did what felt right.
To be continued…