It was four years into our democracy and a new constitution, which protected everyone. You would think that when I officially came out the following year after I was outed it would have been an easy experience? Not so! Even though “Rainbow Nation” had a welcoming, inclusive feeling to it, the original “rainbow” community was still not welcome in the new democratic South Africa.
The boys that I had a close friendship with since high school and laughed and joked with turned on me when they heard that I was gay. Most of them were rugby players. They were rough, crude and chauvinistic. They often teased m, saying that I am like a bunny (a colloquial word for faggot). There were never malicious undertones though. I was one of them; part of the gang. So, “sissy ways” were tolerated. I think they just thought that I was a sensitive person. Not completely a guy, but not a “moffie” either.
During the last two years of high school, they started questioning why I don’t have a girlfriend. I got a girlfriend. Early in the relationship, I told her I was gay. I stayed. She probably thought I would change with time? We moved in together. We had a child.
I was afraid to just leave her because I was afraid that I would be ostracised. After five and a half years I couldn’t do it anymore and broke up with her. I told one of the boys I thought I could trust. Word got out that I was a “moffie” (gay). Most friends distanced themselves. People would shout “Bunny!” whenever they saw me. Some of them threw stones at me and spat when I walked past them. People in the community stared at me as if I was a leper.
It was a period in my life I thought I’d never live through. I moved to Cape Town. I was away from the mocking and hatred. I had my first boyfriend. He told me to come out. I told my mother. She was surprisingly nonchalant about it. I felt relieved. The sense of freedom made me decide to come out.
The years after that weren’t easy. I was still chided by family, friends and strangers. After years of living in the closet with self-hatred, I too had to learn to accept myself. It took me years. It was only in my late 30s that I finally learned to fully embrace my sexuality. The homo-hatred from family and people I have known also subsided.
Still, the homophobia from the public didn’t stop. Up until today I still get shouts of “moffie” and “bunny” and the crudest remarks. I just smile when I hear it. Sometimes it leaves a slight pang, but it doesn’t last. I have embraced my homosexuality.
It may be easier to be homosexual these days, but homophobia persists. Sometimes it seems the constitution is merely ink on paper for those who don’t have a voice.
Godfrey Luyt is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute, these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.