#PrideMonth2023: There is no need to ‘come out’ when you are born free

#PrideMonth2023: There is no need to ‘come out’ when you are born free

In 1996, South Africa repealed its laws criminalising homosexuality; therefore, I was born free, writes Makhosemvelo Mthembu.
#PrideMonth2023: There is no need to ‘come out’ when you are born free

Allow me to tell you about my experience growing up in this world. Growing up, I was a sickly child. When I was 14, my mother, believing in the power of faith, insisted I join a born-again Christian church in hopes that it would help me get better. However, in order to join the church, I had to swear allegiance to the church and agree to adhere by its rules and laws, and I did both of those things. And indeed, I soon felt better.

In no time, I developed a deep attachment to this church. The friendships I forged, the youth choir rehearsals, the youth camps — it all felt so reassuring. This wasn't just a place of worship; it was my sanctuary.

Yet, as the days turned into months, an inner conflict began to surface. I started to question and understand my own sexuality, a realisation that stood at odds with the beliefs of my church.

At 15, I dared to open up about my feelings to a close circle of friends. I began the process of "coming out" about being queer to my small group of friends. The outcome? One of them, the pastor's daughter, betrayed my trust. She informed her mother, leading to prayers and lectures about the “sin” I was supposedly committing. I felt betrayed by my friend but mostly I believed I was possessed, evil and that there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed. I hated myself. “How could I allow Satan to tempt and play with me?” I thought to myself. This haunted me until I left the church. 

But every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, it was the unwavering support from my family and my best friend. Their attempts to understand were clear, and their love was steadfast. But it brought up a question: why the need for me to "come out"? 

Why we are coming out? Why should we explain to people about our sexualities in the first place? Why should we expose ourselves to such a large amount of criticism and risk being crucified for something that we have no control over? Responses like "It's just a phase" or "You're an embarrassment" hit hard. Even the seemingly kinder "As long as you're happy" felt patronising. Did I expect congratulations? The confusion was undeniable.

Do straight individuals ever find themselves explaining their sexual orientation? So why should I? Why is my relationship any different? When will I be looked at with the same respect and freedom as any other?

I yearn for change. I want love and respect to be unconditional, free from societal labels. I won't be boxed in because I don’t fit the heterosexual norm.

Because I can no longer exist in society’s shadows, I have decided to set myself free. You should never anticipate that I will "come out," because I am not hiding. I belong to myself. I choose to be myself. In 1996, South Africa repealed its laws criminalising homosexuality, therefore, I was born free.

Makhosemvelo Mthembu is the Soul City Institute  Feminist and Leadership Activism Centre (FLAC) Fellow and Communications Intern.

Makhosemvelo Mthembu | 17 Oct, 2023
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