I knew from a young age that I liked girls, I was a lesbian – I never questioned it. I never struggled with “coming to terms” with my homosexuality, like many of my friends did. It was natural for me. Like heterosexuals, I did not think that I was going through some sort of phase, and I certainly did not need to explore other options just to make sure. There was no other way. I was comfortable and happy with who I was. [I speak in the past tense because I am reminiscing about my youth. I can assure you that I am still happy. I am still comfortable with who I am.]
However, this does not mean that I had it easy, especially growing up in a relatively conservative and religious family. South Africa was a very conservative country. My schooling was very strict and everything “heterosexual” was indoctrinated into our everyday lives. The boys had to play rugby, the girls had to play netball. I, of course, opted for hockey, but there was certainly a stigma attached to hockey girls. Our sexuality was unspokenly questioned.
Amongst all of our other standard subjects, the girls had to take cooking and sewing lessons, and the boys had to take woodwork as a subject. Thinking about those days sends shivers up and down my spine.
So, when it comes to finding like-minded people, people with the same sexual orientation, well, they just “did not exist in those days”. I grew up in the 80s so I did not have the luxury of having a smartphone, a computer or even the internet. We were not able to log onto a gay-friendly forum or website like Tickle.Life, unfortunately. Homosexuality was not discussed. This did make life quite isolated and lonely for me at times. I did not fit into the standard box like a lot of my classmates, who had boyfriends or girlfriends. They went through the initial dating, kissing and sexual exploration phase far earlier than me.
It was, therefore, inevitable that I was going to be attracted by one of my heterosexual friends. These were the only people I knew. I can remember that I was completely mesmerized and fell hopelessly in love with two of my straight friends. Of course, it felt like love at the time, but how could it possibly have been? It was one-sided and it remained a secret for the entire duration of my high school career.
The first of my female friends that I had a crush on was incredibly tall with long brown hair. She had the biggest blue eyes and a smile that could melt anyone’s heart. She was in some of my classes, which would make my day. I had my time-table memorized and looked forward to the lessons where I would see her.
I was a complicated teenager, and full of defences. My biggest fear was rejection. So, as a coping mechanism, I would build up these walls, and often remain aloof around her. This was very confusing for her, because most of the time we got on extremely well, had the same sense of humour, had so much in common, but when my feelings of ‘love’ became too overwhelming, I would create a distance between us. She felt betrayed and angry, because she never knew where she stood with me. All of this could have been prevented if I had the guts to open up and tell her how I felt. But it was too terrifying for me, so I sacrificed what could have really been a fantastic friendship in order to preserve my heart.
Looking back, I think it was pretty normal. As teenagers, we go through so many emotions, so many vulnerabilities, with the added inability to articulate how or what we feel… It can get difficult.
I left school at the age of 18. I went on holiday with a friend of mine, Dale, who 32 years later, is still my best friend. On that holiday we both “came out” to each other. It was one of the most liberating feelings in the world. We could not believe that we had been at school with each other, been friends of all of those years, and never discussed our sexuality. Turns out, 3 other people in our circle of friends were also gay. Life is funny.
Dale and I started going out clubbing together in Johannesburg. I could not believe my eyes that all of these gay clubs existed and that I had never known about them. My favourite club was a place called Champions. I was so incredibly nervous on our first night. I can remember it like it was yesterday. A place for gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals and drag queens. Pure heaven. I walked in, the place was absolutely packed. I felt right a home. Finally, somewhere that I could let my hair down and revel in the delight of being with other lesbians.
I can remember walking around the bar that night, fascinated, excited, nervous and incredibly shy. I looked over at the far end of the bar, and I was dumbstruck by the sight of what I thought was THE most gorgeous woman on the planet. Long blonde hair, incredibly sexy, confident, feminine, wearing a stunning skirt with long boots. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
After weeks of seeing her, I finally plucked up the courage to introduce myself. She was gracious, cool and had a beautiful smile on her face. She did not say much. We became very good friends, but again, I found myself holding back. I knew something was amiss, because she was always with a man at the bar. It turns out, with just my luck, that she was straight. She just liked coming to gay bars with her friends.
As much as I tried to turn off those feelings of attraction, they would just not go away. She was everything that I thought I wanted in a woman. After an evening of plenty of glasses of wine, I told her how I felt. In true style, she said that she was flattered, but she was not lesbian, and that nothing would or could ever happen between us.
I was devastated. I felt hopeless and was convinced that I would never ever meet someone.
The way she handled it though, whether you are straight, gay, bisexual or whatever, was magnificent. She did not make me feel like a freak or creep for having feelings for her.
Eventually, life runs its own course. I have been in a few relationships over the past few years. But then I met the most amazing woman 5 years ago. Beautiful, intelligent, sexy, French, sophisticated and incredibly funny. I have never been happier.
Can you choose who you fall in love with? I think so. Do not set yourself up for unattainable love. It is a waste of time, it is hurtful and incredibly lonely. You certainly deserve more, and there are plenty of beautiful people out there that are hopefully worthy of your love.