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It was 1992 when I hit puberty. The Internet was just becoming a thing. The only exposure I had to homosexuality or even the concept of homosexuality was basically the TV show “Will and Grace” and perhaps reruns of “Three’s Company” – not that “Jack” was actually gay. I grew up in a very religiously conservative household and community. A world where any boy that was slightly effeminate, didn’t play rugby or showed any fashion sense was called a “faggot” (Afrikaans “moffie”), was shunned, bullied and beat up. So, I grew up in a world where homosexuality was not acceptable in any way or form. My school friends were the jocks and the cool kids of the school. Even though I was never really one of them and was rarely included in their afterschool socialising, they tolerated me hanging out with them. I acted straight – actually, I believed I was straight – and always joined in the discussions of girls, breasts, sex, etc. I even had one or two girlfriends but I was never really in love with any of them or even tried to kiss any of them. There was no physical need to be with a girl. In my most private moments, my fantasies would always involve a boy. There were fantasies about girls or women, but it really didn’t do anything for me. At the time, I didn’t really think about this. In my mind, I was as straight as an arrow –seeing that there was NO information or education about homosexuality, I didn’t connect the dots between my attraction to boys and my sexuality in my younger teen years until much later.
During my teen years I was always depressed and constantly had suicidal thoughts. At the time, I didn’t know what the cause was. Again, this was before the “information age”, so the term depression wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Looking back, I can clearly see what the causes of my depression were. One; the fact that I wasn’t true to myself. I was living a life pretending to be something I was not. The constant feeling of not belonging was certainly one of the biggest causes of my depression, unbeknownst to me back then.
Add to that the strained relationship I had with my father. He emotionally abused us – my mom, my brother, my sister and myself. He was constantly in a bad mood, and it felt like if you just breathed funny he would give you a tongue-lashing. He would make you feel like the scum of the earth with his words. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was a complete lie.
I was 14 years old when I tried to commit suicide the first time. I didn’t really want to die, but I didn’t want to live either. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. No safe space, no shoulder to cry on, no Internet chatroom where people felt the same. Throughout my teen years I tried to commit suicide on several occasions – most often triggered when a kid at school was mean to me. I tried popping pills, drinking pesticide, suffocation and others I don’t care to remember – yet, not once was I harmed in any way. I was ill because of the chemicals and pills quite a lot, but not in such a way anyone really noticed.
The last time I tried to commit suicide was when I was 17. That day I was bullied at school and I just had enough. I was home alone, took my dad’s .38 revolver, loaded it, put the gun against my temple and pulled the trigger. It just went “click”. That was the day that changed me. The day I realised that I was meant to be alive – that somewhere some Higher Power or Force wanted me alive. It wasn’t an immediate change. Make no mistake, putting a gun against your head and pulling the trigger has a psychological impact on you. But it was the first day it felt like a ton of bricks was lifted from my shoulders. I was alive.
At age 18, after I completed school, I moved out of the house to study at a university in the city. Life was better. Much better. I met new, fascinating people, made actual friends and learned about life. Learned that there was much more colours in the rainbow than just the black and white my conservative upbringing let me to believe. And during this wonderful time of discovering the real world, a seed was finally getting water. In the back of my mind I have finally realised that I might be gay. A seed that was kept dry by conservatism, closed-mindedness and dogmatic religion. It was in my second year of university – I was 20 at the time – that I walked into a guy that went to school with me. We went for coffee to catch up. It wasn’t long before he admitted to me that he was gay. It was at that moment that the walls I have built up around the seed came tumbling down. “I’m also gay.” I admitted to my friend. But most importantly – for the first time ever – I admitted it to myself. You know in the movies when there is a revelation to a character there is the sound of angels singing and colours look brighter. That’s exactly how it felt like in that moment when I admitted to myself that I was gay. Only it was more unicorns neighing and rainbows just appearing everywhere around me.
As time went on I started visiting exploring gay clubs, bought my fist gay porn magazine (and thus seeing two guys doing “it” for the first time in my life) and came out to my real friends. For the first time in my life I was living. I had accepted my sexuality and myself. And I wanted to scream it from the mountains.
I didn’t come out to my parents or anyone in my family though. I knew they weren’t ready. They still lived in the rigid world I grew up in. I doubted that they would ever be ready, so I didn’t have any plans to come out to them.
I was 21 – just completed my studies – and visited my parents for the weekend. I bleached my hair just before the visit. When my dad saw me, with my snow-white hair, he was furious.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” He yelled heatedly. “Are you a faggot?”
“Yes. I am a faggot.” The words just came out of my mouth. I didn’t think about it and it was out before I could stop it.
“No, you’re not. I’m taking you to a psychiatrist.” He responded finally – dumbfounded.
“No.” I said for the first time standing up to my father. I packed my bags and left without saying goodbye to anyone.
I didn’t see my parents for 6 months. They never tried to contact me even though they had my number and knew where I lived. Until my mom finally sent me a message asking me to come and visit because she missed me. I missed her too. My mom was (and still is) a wonderful person. The peacemaker. Like a real mom, she loved unconditionally. So, I went to visit them. It was extremely awkward, but no one brought up the topic of what happened 6 months before. My sexuality. My visits became more frequent until I started working and I moved back in with them when they moved to the city as well. My relationship with my dad was still strained. He was still struggling with my coming out. On one occasion, he told me that he would lie awake at night crying because I was gay; wondering why and what he did wrong to make me gay. I tried to explain to him that I was born that way. I tried to explain to him that my sexuality was about me, not him. But being who he was, he failed to understand. Finally, I packed my bags again, and this time went to work abroad.
When I came back, several months later, to a better job, I moved in to a flat close to work. Not long after that I met my boyfriend and I moved in with him. It was only a year or two later that I took my partner to meet my parents for the first time. You could cut the uncomfortable atmosphere with a blunt knife. My dad would just glare at my boyfriend. It wasn’t easy, but for my mom’s sake as time went by, our visits became more frequent and things became less tense.
In 2007 my dad fell ill. After several doctors and tests, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he immediately started with treatment.
When I visited my parents at their home, my dad used to sit with me outside, while I smoked. And we would talk. He was a changed man by 2008. He was no longer the emotionally abusive, angry person. It was during one of those talks, late 2008 that he told me how sorry he was how he behaved when I came out. He said that it was the moment he regretted the most in his life. He finally understood that I was still the same person – his son – whom he loved. And he said that he was so happy to see me happy with my boyfriend – that he couldn’t have hoped for a better person I could share my life with. That day, late 2008 I forgave him for all everything he put me through my entire life.
My dad passed away in the first week of 2009. He was at peace. We were at peace.
I have many regrets about it all. I regret that I did not accept my sexuality earlier. I missed out on so much of life – as a teenager. I know, I couldn’t really help it. I didn’t know any better. There was no one to tell me that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. There was no one to tell me it would get better. Much, much better. If I knew what I know now, as a teenager I would have had much fonder memories of my teen years. I could have lived. Oh, to be a gay teenager – what I would not give to experience my teenage years out of the closet. Yes, I would have been bullied. But I would have been brave. Even when they would physically hurt me, but I would know that they were the evil characters in my story. I would know, that no matter how dark and dire a situation the main character found himself in, eventually good always triumphed over evil. Not all heroes wear capes. Standing up for yourself, for another person or for what is right is the bravest and most heroic thing any person can do.
I also regret not being prepared to come out to my parents. For doing it in the worst possible way. If I had a second chance, I would write them a letter. I would pour my heart out in the most honest way and tell them that it is in no way their fault. I would assure them that I was still the same person – their child. There is no easy way to break it to your parents. They have dreams and expectations of their own for their children. But in the end most parents love their children unconditionally. It may take years, or if you’re lucky only seconds, for them to accept your sexuality, but again – in the end love conquers all.
I regret wanting to take my own life. Looking back, I know that I did not see any light when I was in that dark place. I did not see any reason to be alive. That pain and feeling of complete and utter hopelessness cannot be described, and will never be understood by someone that has not been there. I am so thankful for my life being spared. It saddens me to think what my mom would have gone through if I was successful in taking my own life. No mother deserves that kind of pain. It saddens me to think about what I would have missed out on if I died all those years ago. Coming out, accepting myself. What a glorious feeling to have all that weight being lifted from your shoulders. The first time I kissed a guy. Another feeling no words could ever justify. The first sexual experience. Talk about awkward – but that makes it even more memorable. All the places I have traveled to over the years – such treasures on this tiny blue planet of ours to see. Buying the car I’ve always wanted. Driving a brand new car out of a dealership is something that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Music. How many songs, so many wonderful songs I would have missed out on. Food. All the exceptionally good dishes I’ve tasted. And the desserts! A good Crème brûlée can fix any feelings of depression. I would also have missed out on my boyfriend. My partner in crime. My friend. The one that holds my entire heart. We’ve been together for 14 years now, and I still love him as much as – if not more – than the first time we’ve met. The thought that I might have missed out on those 14 unforgettable years… I can’t even imagine it.
I don’t know if anyone will ever read this. You might be reading this with feelings of confusion. Maybe you are in emotional pain? Maybe it feels like there simply is no reason to live in a world where gay or trans or bisexual (or any other sexuality you identify with) people are victimised and shunned?
It gets better. These words are so very true. They are words of hope. They may feel like meaningless pixels on a screen right now. At this very moment, you simply cannot see beyond your pain. But I assure you there is so many wonderful and unforgettable moments yet to come. There are many LGBTQ+ support groups there for you. They are standing by to give you a hug. Lean on them. You have nothing to lose. Give them a chance.
Today the world is against you. Tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow you will be on top of the world. Words that hurt you today, will not matter in a week, a month, a year will not matter when you meet the person that will pick up the pieces of your broken heart.
Maybe you are the person to mend a broken heart. You may be the brave one, the hero without a cape. Look around you for the people screaming, begging silently for help. They are all around you – a smile, a friendly word, kindness from you might be the only sign they need to open up to you.
Fight the good fight.
Accepting yourself, your sexuality and your identity is all you need to do to “come out”. The rest is just a sideshow.