I was born female. At 3.46kg I was said to be normal and able to live my life to the fullest. My life was predicted to end after at least 85 glorious years on this earthly plane by the nurse. Simple mathematics was applied to a life said to be normal. My life was said to be normal from the 8th of March 1988 henceforth. They should have whispered the truth to me, and especially my mother, then.
At about 7 years of age, my normality came in to question, out loud, for the first time. It was Sunday. My father, who at the time had not known that Theology was an option to his purpose, put on his Sunday’s best and the rest of his family, my mother and three older siblings, followed suit. My pink dress was laid down on my bed. My mother insisted that it was my favourite, even though my hatred for the dress was vocalised on more than one occasion. It was said to be my favourite because my aunt had spent minutes, painful minutes, picking it out in the pink section of the shop. I hated it; hated the tuft that imposed itself around my knees; hated the pink hue that it exuded; hated the tightness that flared into puffs around my skinny arms. I hated it, but I had to wear it; it was on my bed ready to be donned at church for all to see. Church was endured without a sound from the good little girl I was taught to be in public. I nodded when I heard my mother said “Mmmm” and said “Amen” religiously when my father opened his eyes in affirmation.
I couldn’t wait to get home. At home no one was watching. Although I could not take my dress off immediately, I did not have to think about Aus’ Mang Mang commenting on dirt on the hem on my dress. At home, my mother’s guard would be down as to where my sticky, Swiss roll indulgent little hands would land. At home I could just be with my imaginary friend who was a manifestation of a freer me who could get away with what was taboo outside my home. At home, I could just be me.
The allure of the garden at home almost always captured my imagination every time I got out of the car, and this day was no different. This day I chose to venture to the part of the garden that was intrinsically forbidden. My parents had never spoken of the possible dangers that lay there, so in my young mind it was merely unexplored. I started up a tree rather confidently but after a few questionable branches I lost confidence in my ability to balance my weight on the ever-thinning branches. My next step saw the end of my “favourite” pink dress. That step marked the end of all other pink dresses that were sure to follow because as I stood bleeding from my stomach in my mother’s kitchen, she saw pure happiness in my bold eyes. The pain of my gash had been erased by the indisputable joy, exuded even by my aura, of never having to wear that hideous dress, and any like it, ever again.
My pre-teen years were coloured with the faces of adults struggling to figure out whether I was a boy whose voice had not yet broken, or a girl who had not yet reached the age of puberty which allowed for the growth of breasts. I had now arrived at the age, not yet developed into any curves, where a teacher had found me cowered in a corner, crying, and whispered into my ear that big boys do not cry. I was old enough, with my relaxed hair tied back, to be told in a scrum of older boys that this was not how a lady conducted herself. I was old enough to start assuming the role which my birth gender dictated, but not old enough to dictate what my sexuality commanded.
My teen years held tiresome years of conforming. My best friend at the time, who had rescued me from my other best friend who had an inane need to fit in with the cool kids, told of a boy who had an interest in my flat chest and did not care that I was book smart. He presented himself at a social where the accord was to ask a girl out and dance with her. I wanted to ask her to dance but I could not, so I decided to dance with him. We wrote letters to each other until another girl fancied his senses, two months later. My friend continued this ritual of linking me up with boys who thought of me fair enough, pretty enough, smart enough, good enough to call me “Girlfriend”.
In Matric I asked her to dance and she said no. I realised in my small city that I would forever dance alone, because she would say no forever. I did not know what gay was. I did not know that there was a whole word that would begin to describe my interest in my own kind. I did not know the word “Lesbian” existed.
The plan was concocted minutes before my English prelim. I was to disappear after passing my Matric exams with marks that earned my full academic colours. I started on finding my destination. Applications littered my desk; WITS, the newly reconstructed UJ, Pretoria even, where my siblings had schooled. They were not for me. Not where I wanted to disappear. I put in one application for university. One bursary application was placed too. UCT was the furtherest, and according to research, friendliest place for someone “looking for themselves”.
I told my varsity friends, with two boys waiting in the wings, that I was bisexual. My mother and father could hold onto the hope that a boy would one day take hold of my heart and steer me in the right direction as a bisexual, to be straight. I was bisexual even though a girl had taken the reins of my heart without even knowing. I never told her. I held her as a standard of who my first girlfriend would emulate, without her knowing. She did not measure.
I came out to myself. 20 years old, in a whirlwind year which I titled, myself, the most insignificant year of one’s life. I was wrong. I was so wrong. That year was the most significant for me. I came out. I came out to myself. I came out to my father, Rev. Father Mamabolo, to my mother. My mother took it the hardest. I hated myself for loving her like that. I hated myself for dreaming about my first love when I was 14. She still does not know that I loved her. I hated that my mother blamed herself but I took the stance to tell my mother that this was not about her. It was about me. It was about me accepting myself. It was about learning to love an outcast of my family, my society, my upbringing. It was about me learning to love me.
In all of the confusion of my becoming, this was the most difficult. Me learning to love me. As I had enjoyed a confused childhood. As I had struggled through boyfriends who I could never enjoy in that way. As I came to accept me. This was the most difficult. Loving me, in order to be loved by others and came out to me as a women-loving-woman, labelling myself a lesbian and owning my so-called “Lesbianism”. This was the most difficult part. Losing a childhood friend who I had shared innocent baths with, came to me a lot easier. Watching my mother break down, her eyes swollen from three days of crying, was dealt with a lot easier. Being unable to leave my room in fear of being “found out” was a simple task. Accepting me for myself without attaching negative connotations did not happen overnight.
I was destructive. Not to say that every woman that I hooked up with was a result of a self-hating ritual. I loved everyone I hooked up with in some way, but I was destructive in my lifestyle. By the preceding statement I wish that everyone who reads this chooses themselves from the get go. I did not. Choose myself. Never. I chose not to take care of a self I did not want. But in fact, wanted. I want me. I want me to be happy. Just happy.It took my short lifetime to realise that all I wanted was to be happy.
You read this. It might be a whole lot of bullshit. But this is who I am. Who I was. I have not revealed who I have become for a reason. I want you to know who I am. On the real. I challenge you to find the writer who calls herself “Mantis” and know her as the person she has become. Is she happy with her life? Her family? Her being?… Find her and know…