LANDISA | Growing up queer in an Indian South African family

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 Theron Moonsamy (supplied)
Theron Moonsamy (supplied)

When I was twelve my misunderstanding of all these role models and their lessons coupled with my entry into puberty, a first interaction with my body and how it felt towards people of the same sex scared me, writes Theron Moonsamy

I was born 30 years ago to a modest South Indian South African family in Chatsworth. I was told that as a baby, I never cried and was content being alone whilst surrounded by stuffed animals and toy figurines.

You're probably reading this and thinking, "wow, those are some pretty terrible caregivers", that couldn't be further from the truth. Those moments of solitude is where I built worlds where I could escape to, to feel in control of an otherwise scary situation of being alone.

Growing up was confusing and scary, as is for most youth. I noticed this when I'd sit in social situations and try and figure out who am I most like and I could never see anyone so I'd sit by myself and imagine a world where there were others like me.

I used to imagine worlds filled with superheroes and people made up of characters of all the shows, cartoons and comics - all these diverse, wonderful and spectacular people celebrating their differences and abilities in one powerhouse society. I lived vicariously through these characters they were my creative outlet but served to be my comfort too.

Rooted in reality, I had other heroes that I looked up to. They were my mum, my dad, my granddad, my uncle and my grandmothers. My one grandmother jumped out a 2-storey building once and survived trying to escape from burglars, my other grandmother started her own business and was one of the first women during apartheid to do so. She also had her own car and driver's license before my grandad (her husband) who wasn't just an idle father figure - no, he built most of the homes and civil structures that make up modern Chatsworth.

My uncle and I still have this bond that I struggle to put into words. For as long as I remember, we've had serious thought-provoking conversations and shared hilarious moments too. My dad was stoic and strong, a father figure carved from stone. Much of what I know about engineering and DIY was inspired through him and his attitude to fix things by hand rather than paying someone else to do it.

My mum was probably the most pivotal figure in my life. There was a time where I walked step-by-step in her footsteps, because to me that was what I thought the saying 'walk in someone else's footsteps' meant and I'd hoped that what made her so amazing would rub off onto me.

My family made parts of me that I didn't yet understand - how could I love exploring my femininity and my masculinity, I was born a male therefore I should only have masculine thoughts.

When I was 12 my misunderstanding of all these role models and their lessons coupled with my entry into puberty, a first interaction with my body and how it felt towards people of the same sex scared me. It made me feel like I would let all these people down.

The pieces started to fit together then that something was "wrong" with me. I used to take my stuffed animals to make-believe school (like my mum), make sure they were well fed (like my grandmothers), I would play sports with them (like my dad) and I would build them loving homes (like my grandfather). 

What was I? I couldn't be all of my idols because most of them were women. I was so scared that on the 12th of December 2002, I peered out my window and thought to myself that I should jump to end this confusion to rid my family of the embarrassment that I was. I then remembered an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy and calculated that the fall wouldn't kill me, it would just hurt me. 

In that moment my education saved me. I then dedicated myself to learning and consuming knowledge. I learned what I was feeling and the terminology attached to it. Three years later I came out to my friends, then to my school, then to my immediate family. It wasn't easy especially the way my adored family initially reacted. So, I escaped, this time to Wits where I could further my studies and see if life was different in a city like Jo'burg.

Jo'burg was that and so much more. I explored my sexuality and my ideas of what it meant for me to be queer. I got a chance to speak on behalf of the difficulty growing up in a heteronormative society like Chatsworth, on a talk show. That moment was also my mass coming out to both my Muslim family (on my mums' side) and my Hindu family (on my dad's side). The process was scary but I knew I had to speak for those who couldn't or were too afraid to.

My courage and my confidence only grew from there and I continued to live unapologetically about who I was and I celebrated that every day. I knew then what I know to be true now too, that if my existence bothers someone it's not for me to remediate and if they choose to distance themselves from me then I am the one better off for it. 

I continue to use my voice to be that visibility for others as an adult and I continue to learn and grow into myself. I found solace in my religion and how queerness and being Indian was not only celebrated but it was revered in pre-colonial India. 

I celebrate my queerness through my expression of my femininity and masculinity to pay homage to my family idols and my religious deities. My growing confidence in myself exuded out into the world like a stampede of proud galloping unicorns. 

The world had no choice but to love me as they have. I realised that in a room of others I can be the idol I need. I can be the hero of my own story and in doing so be that person for someone else. We shape our realities and I continue to grow into myself. I am queer, I am loved and I exist.

PS: It doesn't get better- you get better. I now have the full love and support of my family and live with my amazing partner of nine years as we look forward to what the future has in store for all of us.

- Theron is an engineer working and living in Johannesburg with his future husband. 

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