“I think I like girls,” muttered my seventeen year old girl-self nervously after I’d being caught in the church cloak room by my grandmother, making out with a girl she’d always known to be my friend. I liked girls, a whole lot, for years I had known this about myself, but in that compromising moment I too had to act shocked by the words that had just escaped my mouth.
Her name was Lilitha, fondly known as Lilli, and she was two years older than me. We met at Sunday school when I was six, many years before this insanely uncomfortable predicament we found ourselves in. Lilli was beautiful, and arrogantly so. She knew this about herself. She had big brown eyes, a welcoming smile and was light in complexion, fairest in the class with a tone as light as the sand beneath the sea.
We instantly became friends. Her dad was a deacon at the church and my grandfather a pastor. On Sundays my grandparents would insist that she and her dad have supper at our house. Her mom passed on when she was a baby so she spent most days at my house helping me with chores and feeding the chickens when her dad was out running errands in town. On the days when he returned home after dark, he’d let her sleep over and pick her up the next morning. This is when we started playing house. She’d insist on being the dad and that I was the mom. This was our go-to game. It mainly consisted of naps and us kissing.
We grew closer and everyone knew that where I was there’d surely be Lilli nearby. We were inseparable until I had to leave King Williams Town to start school in Port Elizabeth and live with my parents. I’d return home every December, and every time my friend would welcome me with open arms – it would be as if I’d never left. I always came bearing gifts that I’d saved for her throughout the year, mostly clothes, books and shoes. My favorite part of going back to the village was that I got to see Lilli. And every holiday I came back, our game would unlock a new level.
Going into our teens things got serious. We progressed from just kissing and taking naps together. We began touching. We never really spoke about it and what it meant for us or what it is that we were doing. It was just one of those unspoken things where you just knew that this would happen. Although we didn’t talk about it we both knew it stayed between us. Growing up in a strict Christian home, and between feeding the pigs, and chickens, there was no room to unpack one’s sexuality.
However spending the year away from Lilli had me questioning myself whether it was her that I liked, or girls in general. The boys in the village liked Lilitha too, but she was not interested in them. I loved this about her – how she was always so unmoved by the attention she was getting, how they’d be staring at her, and she’d be staring at me.
We got to a point where my returning to PE after holidays became more difficult each time. The older we grew, the more beautiful she became and the more feelings I had. It was an ordinary Sunday like any other, until my gran walked into the cloak room to find Lilli and I making out. The look on her face seemed to show she’d been standing there long enough to see that we knew what we were doing and this definitely wasn’t the first time we were doing it. For a very uncomfortable few minutes she stood in the doorway while we got dressed.
All my gran said was, “It seems like it’s about to rain, we need to go.” She never spoke of that incident again, not even at a later stage. I spent days after that thinking she was going to tell my grandfather or Lilitha’s dad, but she did nothing then or later.
Before I left at the end of the holiday, Lilli and I spoke. I told her I was lesbian and that I wanted us to date, and try to be a real couple with a verbal agreement. She almost bit my head off, telling me how she did not like girls in that way and how it also goes against the teachings of the bible.
From that point on, I made the decision to keep my distance. Now that many years have passed and we’re much older, I still visit home and insist on living my truth as an openly queer woman, regardless of who feels uncomfortable or does not like it. Because learning to accept and embrace yourself as you are is never easy, and I do not need anyone who will make me feel like being me is wrong.
Tell us: how can we help young people express themselves more openly about their sexuality?
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