As a teen, I was depressed. The source of my depression was a concoction of an absent father, a young mother who didn't understand and felt I was moody, insecurities that puberty brought along with it and not understanding why I felt so differently about almost everything from my friends. I had no interest in alcohol like everyone did, trendy clothes totally looked weird, all I needed was a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and my sneakers. Boys scared me and they were better off as just my friends.
Boys. My mom often enquired about it, and trust, her inquiries were not in a 'modern-mom' way, the way that encourages you to explore boys but be honest and open about it. My mother was making sure that I was staying away from boys! I guess maybe like every other Swazi mom. She was strict with how she raised me. Our relationship was troubled. It was an array of reasons why; from my depression, to me hating every item of clothing she bought me, to her reading my diary and everything in between. By the time I was doing my final year in high school, I couldn't wait to go to varsity and never come back home!
First year is when it all started. When all my questions were answered. Why I had no interest in boys and why I loved going to school every day just to see Miss Tabitha’s beautiful face. In my first year I fell in love with Mary. EVERYTHING made sense then. When I went home for first semester break, my mother was appalled! In front of her was not the teenager with braids and dangly earrings she had dropped at res, but this creature adorning a Mohawk, baggy shorts and a ripped T-shirt. She said nothing but I saw the disapproval in her eyes. It hurt. Because I had found myself and for the first time I was happy, and the cloud of depression seemed to be slowly lifting off in those few first months of my first year.
Her silent disapproval felt like a rejection of me, of my happiness.
The years that followed were more or less the same, her eyes inspecting my clothes and appearance with hatred but never saying anything. Weirdly enough our relationship outside her disapproval of my homosexuality was improving. Maybe a part of me understood that for a parent with Swazi traditional and heteronormative views about what a girl should be, this was hard on her too. It still hurt me but I hoped that maybe with time she would come around. We were hugging each other and sharing her bed when I was home. I loved the feeling of our closeness and I didn’t miss the troubled phase of my teenage years. I toyed with the idea of coming out to her but I was scared it would ruin things all over again.
We were in the kitchen cooking this one time when she said, "A colleague of mine asked me why I let you to dress the way you do." I will never forget how her eyes pierced through mine and how for a moment time stood still. "What did you say to her in response?" I asked, feigning a calm that was nowhere near the chaos I was inside.
"I told her I don't buy you clothes anymore, that you buy your own clothes. "
I smiled. I loved her so much more that moment.
But she wasn't smiling. I knew the meaning of that look in her eyes.
"Why don't you buy proper clothes like other girls?" She asked. I looked at her, and said nothing. To tell her why would be to risk everything.
"Usitabane wena?" she said. A derogatory way to ask if I was gay. Her tone was accusing.
"No mom. I'm not. I just love dressing up like this," I responded, hurt and shut her out.
We never talked about it. Ever again. Not overtly anyway. There were always the hurtful words flung around when a gay person appeared on the TV screen for example. Words meant for me. Statements about how my locks were not proper for a girl. There were times when family discussions were deliberately about homosexuality and how evil and unnatural it was. There were times when she talked about how she can't wait for me to be married and give her grandbabies. My mother knew I was a lesbian and her pretence that she didn't was her way to taunt me. It hurt, and no one's opinion mattered to me but hers.
During my final year at varsity I decided I was never coming out to her. As long as my straight little sister was not expected to come out about her heterosexuality, I felt I deserved the same liberty.
After graduation I got into a relationship that was to last for five years. My girlfriend had a baby that I totally adored. I was in love with both of them! I introduced her to my mom as a friend. We were always together and before I knew it my entire extended family had also met them. My girlfriend was charming and funny and they couldn't help but like her. And the child was so adorable. We presented to them such a 'normal' picture of a relationship and somehow the homosexuality factor didn't matter much.
This one weekend I was home and my mom said, "Where is my grandson? How is he doing?"
"Sipho," she said.
My girlfriend's son, she meant. Wow!
Her eyes were on mine, they were warm and she was smiling. I knew then she had accepted my sexuality, as silently as she had disregarded it. In the months and years that would follow, I would be asked about my girlfriend and her son's well-being, she would tell me she misses the little boy, parenting advice would be given and family gatherings without them were little.
The relationship with my girlfriend ended unfortunately.
A new one between my mom and I had began though, where I felt loved in spite of my sexuality. She finally came to accept me.
We don't talk about my love life today, and I do feel it is not because of her silent resolve to disregard it like she did back then, but because she is waiting on me to come to her now.
And I will.