I remember the long conversation I heard with my late father about my sexuality, longest talk of my life. My heart pumping so hard I could hear it in my ears, my hands sweating uncontrollably and I was so scared of his reaction, his disappointment and mostly his anger. See I was raised by a single father and he was your typical muganda man. It was always preached in my family that while education is important it was expected and a sign of great achievement for a girl to present a husband. I remember my paternal aunties always saying, we expect a degree and a husband the same day you graduate from university. This was always told to my bigger sisters every holiday when my aunties came home to visit.
I am the 7th last in a family of 18 children, big as my family is we all grew up loved and well provided for thanks to my father who made it a point to always see to it that we were. My siblings and I attended traditional schools and unless you wanted to get allocated the most chores during holidays, we all always came home with very good reports least you incur father’s wrath for poor performance. I personally only joined a boarding school in my high school and as it happened I went to same sex girl’s school. I hear the judgments “this is where she must have learnt the habit”, but understand sexuality is not a habit you can learn or pick up from your peers, so, no I did not learn it there.
In my senior 5, I was 16 very shy and not much of a social person, I spent most of my time with a book as it allowed me keep to myself without having to engage in small talk with peers .I didn’t date or experiment with the adolescence phase mostly because boys where more of my friends than anything else. When my mind escaped into the Mills and Boons romance novels I spent my time with, my prince charming was always Princess charming! Ooh how I dreamt and pictured her carrying me off and living happily ever after. But after the dreaming I would always come back to question what my attraction and longing for “princess charming was about”. See I grew up in a setting that said sexuality and sex itself were topics we should never discuss. Those were grown up conversations. I first learnt the word lesbian from news papers, and didn’t know what it meant at 17 but hell I was very intrigued and interested in understanding what and who a lesbian was and where she existed. How do I know if I am one and why? I had all these questions and no one to ask and Google did not come by easy those days.
In the period of my questioning, I don’t know the exact moment it happened but during my first term of Senior six when I came back to school after the long holiday, two weeks into that term I remember some loud classmate pointing me out as a lesbian, when I asked why, she answered “don’t you see your clothes, the ill fitting pants, the haircuts you wear,” she retorted. (by the way, I still dress like this but I am not a lesbian, am sexually queer and gender fluid).
I was left feeling cornered and more confused about myself. I was a questioning 17 year old not aware of who I was ,why I felt how I did and most times very frightened by these feelings and what my strict disciplinarian father might do with such disappointments and unknowns.
Anyway, fast forward the mean classmate continued to harass me with the, “you are a homosexual” talk way before I ever understood, accepted or even started to learnwhho I was . This story is not about the mean classmate, this story is about my disciplinarian father, the longest conversation on sexuality I ever had and how he came to understand, accept and encourage me to overcome the prior hate speech about my sexuality and get over the depression that came with it.
So, the “you are a lesbian talk because you look like lesbians” continued and teachers joined the torment. My male teachers were always cool with me maybe because I always passed their subjects highly so even outside class they were usually the ones to alert me “today we had a staff meeting about you and your lesbian friends.” Huh..!!! My female teachers always retaliated with ensuring that I get belittled in class. I served time for a crime I did not do. But I refuse to empower hate by holding on to their story and how it affected me. Instead I choose to celebrate the people who chose to understand and stand by me while I discovered, understood and accepted myself.
My strict father stepped out of his anger and disappointment the day I was expelled from school,6 weeks to my final UACE exams ,17 years old depressed out of my mind and scared about defending myself of something I too was not sure what it was or meant. I remember my father’s footsteps from the moment he came home, I was so scared of what he would do, how he would react to this, I had been the first child in a family of 18 children to get expelled from school and here I was expelled on grounds of homosexuality, a subject never heard of or discussed in this family.
I guess love always wins in the end. We spent a night discussing what it was, the most profound question my father asked was “tell me what’s going on?, I have taken the time to consult psychologists and am told sexuality varies but here I am, your father you are my daughter talk to me, what is going on?” Maybe it was the fact that he took the time to understand that at 17 I definitely did not have a choice on what my body was going through or that before I understood or could come out to myself, hate had defined me and pulled me out of my sexual identity “closet”. But a 10 hour conversation later, my dad told me, “You need to understand that there is nothing you can do about who your body says you are, right now you should focus on your education who you are to become lies with you regardless of your sexuality… And I went on to earn a second class upper degree in environmental science!
10 years later I am thankful to this typical Muganda single father who did not go with hate, fear and prejudice but chose to go outside of his tradition and seek counseling on dealing with a subject he had never had to deal with- human sexuality. Out of love he chose understanding. Out of love we conquered misunderstanding and hate. There is the sister who though she did not understand what I was going through she always held my hand and said “ITS OKAY”. My beautiful mother that continues to hunger for knowledge on sexuality so she can understand me and my beautiful partner who has patiently let me outgrow the effects of hate speech.
The lessons I learnt, people who love you will always love you but you have to give them a chance to come to terms with what you bring to them. Let them take all the time they need. In the end, love heals.
As published in BOMBASTIC Magazine