Maybe it’s his red shoes or blond curls that make Andy stand out. When he sits down, I realize it’s rather the subtle scar slashed across his ice-blue eyes.
“Anything but gay?” he says with a smile.
His voice is soothing and pleasant to the ear. It can’t be described as feminine or masculine, but rather as something in between. He peers across my notes.
“I haven’t said anything yet and you’re writing away!” he says with an attractive grin that has one hooked immediately.
The awkward silence between us is short-lived. He takes out his phone and proudly shows his photos. He continues to chat as though we’ve been life-long friends.
“That’s my mom, Dawn. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? She’s so proud of me. I’ve never pretended to be someone else. That’s my dad – he disowned me for a while. Called me a faggot, moffie, man-whore – you name it. He doesn’t treat me in the same way as my two brothers. Probably blames himself; he wasn’t around when I grew up.”
He’s silent while looking for a few moments at the blurred photo of a man in kaki attire, rifle in hand. He’s a hunter, perhaps. He quickly moves on to the next one.
“That’s my ouma, she’s the only one who doesn’t know I prefer guys. It’ll kill her.”
I ask him about the scar but he’d rather speak of something else – like joining Tuks’ (the University of Pretoria) first gay society. Surprisingly, they don’t get hate mail or threatening smses. Instead, they get messages like “Jesus loves you. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t change. Give Jesus a chance.”
The only people who hassled them were a couple of guys in the SRC (Student Representative Council), which caused some controversy in 2006. They declared the society ‘non-existent’ even after more than 100 members joined. They painted twice over the freedom of speech wall, trying to stop what Andy calls the ‘Pink Revolution’ from going anywhere. But they didn’t succeed – the society keeps on growing, embracing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people with their funky ideas and late-night parties.
After three hours of coffee, muffins and laughing, Andy decides to tell about his scar.
“My brothers did it to me when I was thirteen. They caught me cutting up pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and pinning them against my wall. They forced me to tear them down. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It felt right.”
He pauses for a few moments then continues, his hands shaking, “The night of my Standard 5 Valediction, they spotted the pictures under my bed and threw me against the wall. My parents were waiting in the car. After that, I blacked out. I woke up in hospital bruised, in pain and alone.
The nurse said my family would come by later. They didn’t. My mom came by two days later. I pretended to be asleep. She kissed my cheek and sobbed her eyes out. When I looked up at her, I saw her sunglasses hiding a horrible blue eye. Dad had beaten her up for protecting me. We moved away together; the rest of them couldn’t accept my sexuality. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, so I brought girlfriends home. She knew I was faking. Now, we laugh together – ‘he’s cute and him.’ It’s liberating.”
What makes people “gay”?
Andy found out he was different when he enjoyed playing excessively with his cousin’s Barbie dolls and fell in love with his tennis coach in Standard 3. Today, the mystery into what makes people gay is still being researched. Swidey (2006: 40) explains that some scientists believe it to be half the amount of neurons found in the anterior hypothalamus of homosexuals compared to heterosexuals. After Dean Hamer’s discovery in 1993, some believe it could be a ‘gay gene’: the X chromosome, Xq28, is more frequent in gay men. Some still believe it to be biological causes, such as the increase of hormones in certain foods. In 2005, Swedish researchers claimed the cause could be the different pheromones that gay men are attracted to. Like straight women, they are found to be attracted to male sweat rather than female urine. Whatever the case, Andy explains he never chose his sexual orientation.
Apart from the red shoes and strange voice, he looks like an ordinary guy. With a cigarette dangling from his manicured hands, he explains how he’s been labelled with stereotypes all his life.
“Yeah, so pink isn’t my favourite colour and I don’t wear two litres of after-shave. I’ve had my share of heart-breaks, just like any other guy. I’ve been sent for therapy. I’ve experimented with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been tested for AIDS, I’m negative. Basically, I’m just like any other student. People have stopped looking at me as that not-so-gay-guy.”
Andy removes his jersey. More scars are visible now – tiny red marks swim around on the inside of his wrist. I cannot help but stare.
“People are too busy to notice,” he says, “It’s not for attention though, it’s for myself. To remind me what I’ve been through. Each scar marks a closure of some sort. That’s the day my dad told me to go to hell. That’s the day my so-called friends from school locked me in a closet and yelled ‘stay there, you freak!’ This one’s the deepest – it was the last one – the night I decided to die. I woke up, luckily. I realized then I was born for something incredible. This gay society (UP and Out) has given me a purpose. It’s not HIV but the Human Indifference Virus that almost killed me.”
After shaking my hand firmly, he smiles and begins to walk away. A ray of light laps up his blond curls while he finishes speaking.
He reaches for a gold chain in his pocket and says:
“God has taught me to love myself beyond what this world thinks. They may say I’ll burn in hell for being gay, but I’ll burn forever in this hell by trying to be someone else.”
*based on a true person, some facts have been edited to suit the article’s purpose
Swidey, N. 2006. What makes people gay? In Fairlady, March 2006, Issue 830. Cape Town: Media 24.