Written by Bulelwa Faya
Every parent declares that they love their child/children unconditionally. This was the same for me, I was raised in a very Christian house, where anything but the very best you could give was not accepted. I was told I was a manifestation of my mother’s faith and my father’s sacrifices. Unknowingly, this put a significant amount of pressure on my life to be nothing but the best at everything I attempted. It also had the effect of making near impossible for me to allow myself failure. It translated further than just my academics. It coloured how I interacted with people, my growth and my anxiety.
With the passing of my father before my 14th birthday solidified the fact that I had to the manifestation of their prayers and sacrifices. Something my siblings never had to think on. It resulted on a barely concealed resentment between them and I that was being fueled by my mother’s over protectiveness of me. I resented them for the freedom I craved, and I assume they resented the obvious favoritism I was being showered with. It was only after I turned 15 when the girl who would become my girlfriend for the rest of my teenage years kissed me, that I started trying to reach out to one of my brothers about it, as I was confused on how to react. I had what can only be described as a “freak out of epic proportions” by my teenage mind. To contextualize this, When I was younger, I remember walking with my mother to the shops in our township, we saw two men holding hands. For me, I did not perceive anything about two men holding hands, my mother was holding my hand. The reaction from my mother and some of the older ladies immediately taught me that a ‘girl’ was supposed to hold hands with a ‘boy’ and that the two men’s behavior was obviously not normal.
This had two effects that would continue to haunt until this day. The first being, that there was an ‘expected’ and ‘normal’ type of relationship. Anything deviating from this expected norm would definitely be frowned upon by society. The second effect had to do with my relationship with my mother. She had always told me she loved me unconditionally, but the look on her face when we saw those men together told me a different story. It told me that, if I would do anything that might not be what she expects of me, I would have disappointed her profusely. I learnt in this that my mother’s unconditional love came with terms and conditions. These effects were the catalyst to my teenage freak out of epic proportions.
I called one of my brothers, who was the only one who did not treat me differently, and told him what happened in the midst of tears and panic. He hung up the call. I was so offended I tried calling him back, he did not respond to any of my calls. An hour later, when I was more angry than panicked, he called me back. The first words out of my then 17 year old brother were “are you calm now? Good! So what if a girl kissed you and you liked it? What matters is, you are still my baby sister and I love you”. Obviously, the hormonal teenager that I was, I broke down crying again. He gave me words of affirmation that I needed at the time. Although he ended the call with, “don’t tell mum, she won’t take it well”. As affirmed as I was at the time by his words, it also solidified that my mother’s love for me was given to freely to me, as long as I didn’t disappoint her.
This led to a journey of my self-discovery as both a woman in a very Christian home who had certain expectations to fulfil, and as a woman in a society that had already decided who I was, the identity I embodied was fixed in their views. Thus, I hid. I hid who I was from my mother, the person whom I have described as the love of life, because just calling her my mother never seemed enough. She to the best of her abilities tried to raise me to be in a warrior in a world that was not designed for people who look like me from its conception. I hid, from my mother until this last December 2018.
I admit I did not plan to come out to my mother until I was at the very least not her dependent anymore. And I have never been known to have a lot of tact, so in the middle of playing cards with my mother I just blurted out, “Mommy I have a girlfriend” and immediately started crying. My heart was racing faster than it ever has. I have had several panic attacks in the course of my life, but nothing will ever compare to the panic I felt in that moment. My mother as a near 60 year old Xhosa woman who has never been exposed to terms like Pansexual, Transgender, Queerness and such (LGBTQIA++) understood what I was trying to say to her. She looked at me crying and she asked for an explanation, one I did not have the words for. Realizing this, she reached out for me and I flinched away from her. Something I had not done in years. She grabbed me by my face and started apologizing for failing me as a mother to the point that I had hidden who I was from her. We ended up having one of the longest talks we have ever had just the two of us. I for the first time since I had learnt that there was certain situations in which my mother’s love had conditions I explained to her why I worked so hard to be the best daughter I could possibly be for her. She apologized for all the pressure she put on me unknowingly. She told me, “Mntwana wam, you were my miracle child after being told by doctors I would never conceive again”.
In her attempt to love me, she communicated the wrong message, and years of hidden secrets was the result of that. Yet, how do I blame her when she comes from a generation that did not have such conversations with their children? How do I not acknowledge that, it was safer in my closet where my fear of her judgement meant I would have her loving me a little bit more, a little bit longer? Both of us decided to attempt to learn how to talk about such things, not make them taboo as it was done when she was my age.
Funnily enough, when we were done, she got serious and looked at me straight in the eye and she said “Don’t tell your sister, you know how she is”, and I do. I have seen her reaction to one of my cousins coming out. She has expressed the rhetoric of a man being with a woman and it being an abomination otherwise. Any attempts to educate her have yielded similar rhetoric that are obviously not even questioned in her mind. Yet again, as much as I have learnt that, yes, my mother loves me unconditionally, I still know because of my relationship with my sister, there are still terms and conditions when it comes to unconditional love.