Editorial: The closet was suffocating me

by Langa Mohlala

Image provided by author.

“It’s just a phase.”


“Maybe you should experiment for a bit longer instead of making an impulsive decision [by coming out].”


“You just haven’t found the right man yet. He will come.”


“I wanted to be gay as well, but I chose not to do it.”


Coming out is difficult. Arguing with people about who you are while they go on about who you are supposed to be is the most frustrating thing in the world. It is especially tough when these individuals claim to be allies but they try to force their ideas and opinions onto you to make you change your mind. At times one thinks that it is better to keep quiet and remain closeted until further notice just to please everyone, but there comes a moment when you realise that the pressure is too much. The closet is too small.


I had a hunch about my sexuality when I was six years old. I had my first kiss with a girl and, while I was too young to understand what that meant to me, I was old enough to know that it was uncommon and unheard of (or so I thought).


On the outside, I seemed like a “normal” little girl. I wore dresses, played with dolls and was scared of boys because of their cooties. I went to church every Sunday and would talk to my friends about the boys we considered cute and would date in the future.


However, beneath this “normal” girl who would rave about how attractive these boys were was a scared soul who secretly admired her female friends’ beauty. There was a girl who was attracted to and more comfortable around women.


The moment I could no longer deny my sexuality arrived when I was seventeen. I was going to a female friend’s sleepover, and we were going to be hanging out with her girlfriend and their friend. Little did I know, that I would return from that sleepover a different woman.


Before then, love at first sight was only something that existed in the movies. However, after I laid eyes on her (the other friend), I could no longer argue with myself or bury any emotion. What I knew all along was screaming at me and I was confused. Terrified. At that point, I didn’t know anyone who was out; my friends who were in the LGBT+ community were also closeted, and they were terrified of being rejected, disowned or even worse.


I wrestled with the idea of coming out for nearly three years. I argued with my psychologist, myself and the truth that I was too scared to face. I knew that I had the support of my chosen family (I am incredibly grateful for them) but revealing this truth to my biological family was extremely daunting.


My original plan was to only tell them when I was in a stable relationship and able to support myself. I abandoned that plan when I realised that I felt as if I was hiding and lying about who I was.


Being in lockdown was already restrictive, but this truly felt like a prison. I hated not being able to correct people when they made passing comments about me being married to a man someday. I hated being an LGBT+ advocate on social media but not being outspoken in reality around the people who’d known me my whole life. I especially hated seeing my parents being proud of my heterosexual brother who is engaged and living his best life. I felt as if they would be disappointed in the fact that I was never going to live that life or give them a son-in-law.


As guilty and upset as I felt, the desire to be honest outweighed any doubt I ever had. Walking on eggshells and feeling suffocated became too much to bear. I wanted to express myself. I didn’t want to wait until I was older or far away from my family to be myself. Living as if I did something wrong took a toll on my mental health and how I interacted with others.


We’ve been in lockdown since March last year and I barely leave the house. Looking at my parents in the eyes and telling them that I am gay gave me more freedom than any relaxed lockdown restrictions ever could. That moment was the first time I was able to accept myself.


After nearly twenty years of being smothered by doubt, fear and uncertainty, I can finally breathe. The reaction I received was neither amazing nor terrible, but the important thing is that I can finally be myself.


To all the other individuals out there who are being suffocated by oppression, fear or even self-doubt, I hope that one day you will be able to speak your truth and breathe again.


“One day we won’t have to ‘come out of the closet’. We’ll just say that we are in love and that will be all that matters.”

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Rhodes University (UCKAR), Makhanda (Grahastown), Eastern Cape

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