So often, people will ask me to tell them ‘my story.’ To me, this implies that what I have been through has come to an end, and that I’m at a point which allows me to look back upon it all from where I am now. To a certain degree, this is true. But for me personally, ‘my story’ is something which is still unfolding; I’m subject to new experiences all the time, and for better or for worse, they will continue to shape the person I am to become. This is still a struggle which I am bound to deal with not only today, or tomorrow, but for the rest of my life. I’ve know this for a long time now, but only recently has it become a personal struggle which I am proud to be a part of. It’s also become something which, although I view as a struggle, I no longer view myself as a victim within it.
Ask any member of the LGBTI community about their own story, and I’m quite sure the general trend will be the same. It’s not at all easy being different. It took up until very recently to appreciate that being different is not synonymous with being wrong. That’s something I came to learn, and I continue to hope that it will become something that many others will come to learn as well.
Growing up, I always knew deep inside that I felt things that others around me didn’t appear to feel at all. Perhaps it was my behaviour around others (the shy, quiet boy who struggled to identify with everyone else) that put me in a position which made it appealing for others to target me for who I was, or more importantly, for who they told me I was. Spending a large part of my childhood in a schooling environment where the name-calling and stigma was present at almost all times, left its mark on me, and still to this today. My own experience is by no means as traumatic as that of so many others.
I was well aware of the terrible things being done to other people like me who lived in my own country. South Africa has all the right words down on paper, but words written in black and white are not nearly enough to compel acceptance and tolerance in a society whose attitudes are one of suspicion and aggression. After all, the horrors of corrective rape are largely attributed to be a South African phenomenon, which sadly continues to spring from generations of ignorance. My own experience, although far less abusive than others, did define a large part of who I have become today. Now I find myself living in another part of the world, where being myself and expressing my sexuality is punishable by law. This was something new for me to deal with – how can I make a home for myself in a society which prohibits me from being myself? I’ve quickly come to understand that submitting to the laws of this land do not mean I am denying myself my own true way of life. I make no excuses for who I am or for what I do. Yet sadly, I also have to admit that I am well aware that it’s beyond me to act alone to alter the perceptions of so many who do not understand me and perhaps never will.
If I take the time to reflect upon my own story, it sometimes leaves me with more questions at the end than I had at the beginning. But I feel content in the knowledge that every day I find that I’m liking myself more and more. It sounds so simple but that is something I’ve had to deal with all my life. It seems I’m bound to spend my days hovering between moments of pure joy and at other times, moments of such deep sadness, the source of which I can’t even recognize but I assume must come from somewhere deep inside. I cannot change what has happened to me and I have only a certain amount of control over what will happen to me in the days and years to come. My own story is one of increasing acceptance; of myself and of others too.
Difference is not wrong. Damage is not always a cause for collapse, but holds the potential for growth and transformation. I’ve found that through being the shy, quiet boy, I’ve come to discover strength in places I never knew existed. I’ve been able to watch and observe; I do not take my introverted nature for granted. It’s allowed me to recognize the bravery I have inside myself at times when nobody else ever did; it is the bravery to keep going, to keep smiling, to keep trying, and to keep accepting. I think damage holds its own virtues. It speaks of experience, of ruin, of resilience and determination, and ultimately of transformation.