Ripples

Cast a stone into a pond and watch the ripples spread. 

I cast mine in 2008 (though I didn’t know it at the time) when I joined a little message board for South African Pagans called Way of the Rede. I practically lived there in my spare time. I loved having a group of like-minded local people to chat to, relate to and celebrate with, even though at the time I was a solitary practitioner.

Every once in a while, a bunch of us from WOTR would get together. We called this the meeting of the “Pointy Hatters”. It was at one of these meetings, midway through 2008, that I met Jane. Jane ran a course called “Paganism 101”, the likes of which I had always wanted to attend but could never find one near enough to where I lived.

Through Jane, I met what would become my coven. Through Jane, I gained a far more solid working and understanding of the faith I had been following since 2002. I attended rituals. I gained a confidence in my own abilities within the Craft. I nurtured a bond with the Gods who had been calling to me for six years. I was happy.

Through Jane, I met Symi (in the hopes that we would form a relationship – we didn’t). When Symi was handfasted to Ava, I was present. It was the first time I had ever seen two people so in love. That day restored my belief in love, restored my belief that everyone has a soulmate out there; that one person who is meant to share your life. That was the day I met Ava.

Ava taught me how to dance. Between her and Symi, I grew in confidence, I became more comfortable with my body and how I look . I reconnected with myself and made peace with the shadows in my past. And even though I have lost my parents, those two women have become my guardians, my mothers. They have “adopted” me, opened their home to me and woven me into the fabric of their lives. Without them, I don’t know if I could have survived the past two years.

Ultimately it leads to a gathering like the one I just got home from –  Symi and Ava, Ava’s mom and dad, my “adoptive” sister Montse and me… one big happy family sitting round a table sharing a meal. A feeling more like home than I’ve felt in a while. As much as I adore my biological family, I never realised the bond I could share with friends so close they have become my family also.

The ripples don’t end there, though. Going back to Jane, I met her daughter Sandy who is a teacher like me. In 2009, my boss was making my life a living hell (it mostly started after she found out I like other women as opposed to men). After one spectacular incident when I collapsed on the playground with a massive fever, and then got royally shat upon when I had to leave work to go to the doctor, I asked Sandy if she knew any schools with open positions.

Through Sandy I met Lindy, who hired me even though she knew from the start that I’m gay, even though I rocked up to the interview straight from work in a dusty tracksuit and close-cropped hair, looking (as she said) more like a “Bernard” than a “Kirsten”.

I have been working at that school ever since. I have met so many wonderful children, and parents, who have touched my heart and changed my life. I have amazing colleagues who I would go to the ends of the earth for, and who would do the same for me.

And it doesn’t even end there.

Because through this school, I met Calvin. And through Calvin’s mom, I have a new home to move into, to begin my new life.

I am so, so blessed.

I am so, so happy.

All because I cast a tiny, insignificant stone into a pond by joining a message board.

Be aware of your actions. Take note of the little things. You never know when it will change your life.

Those No Longer Here

It’s 11:25 pm on Christmas Eve.

Presents are wrapped and under the tree.

Mince pies are cooling on top of the oven.

The Christmas pudding is in the freezer.

Father Christmas has been and gone and the Small’s pillowcase (a tradition in my family) is bulging with presents and sweeties. The plate of mince pies has been consumed, the beer has been drunk and the reindeer have left bits of carrot all over the stoep outside (and a little bit inside, just in case the dogs decide they like carrot).

I have done my absolute best to make this a nice Christmas.

My heart is heavy and tears keep coming up unbidden behind my eyes. There is a physical ache deep inside my chest where my parents are supposed to be.

This is my first Christmas without my Mom. This is the first Christmas without her saying (over and over and over again) how nice the tree looks. This is the first Christmas without her giving me strict instructions on how to make the pudding, even thought I’ve made it by myself for the past five years. This is the first Christmas where I haven’t walked the earth trying to find the perfect gift for her. It’s the first Christmas I’m not going to here her saying “Thank you!” and really meaning it even though she has no idea what to do with said “perfect gift”.

This is my third Christmas without my Dad. He used to buy my present all the way back in November and be absolutely unable to wait to give it to me. So I’d get it early, knowing that it meant there’d be nothing from him under the tree. He’d leave something for me under the tree anyway, always “from Santa”.

I was reading through old Christmas cards. Mom hoarded them, seriously. There are some dating back to when she and Dad got married. I read through them when the Small and I were putting up the tree. Christmas is about family and friendship and love, and I was very strongly reminded of that, seeing all the names that, while not forgotten, had not been thought of in a while.

Gran, with your Scottish accent that I’ve never forgotten (And Granddad whom I never met).
Tony, my uncle, I’m sorry I don’t remember enough about you.
Grandmum and Granddad, who spoiled me rotten and always bought me dresses.
Kay, Fiona, Warren who ended their own lives far too soon.
Donny, finally reunited with the love of your life, Art after a decade parted by the Veil.
Muriel, my “surrogate grandmother”. You were taken from us so horribly. Bron and I miss you.
Jerry. Beautiful, kind, passionate Jerry. You were a good friend and an amazing artist.
Christy, my other uncle. I hope you and Mom and Tony are catching up on all those years.

There are too many, and others unmentioned. I love them all. I miss them.

But most of all, I honour my parents by keeping the spirit of Christmas in my home. I know it sounds horribly clichèd, and like something out of a Hollywood movie. But Christmas has always meant a lot to me. It meant so much to them. And I will keep it alive. Even though the memories clutch at me and the tears are so damn hard to chase away.

It’s how I honour those no longer here.

Tis the Season

I am a Pagan who celebrates Christmas.

Yeah, I know, I get that look a lot.

I could give you a whole dissertation on Christmas being solidly based in Paganism, the origin of the Christmas Tree and the majority of the mythologies surrounding Christmas. I could tell you that Yule and Christmas are almost the same thing.

Let me get even weirder. I am a Pagan in the Southern Hemisphere who celebrates Christmas.

Confused?

It’s the Summer Solstice now, not the Winter one. It’s not Yule, it’s Litha.

Better?

Yeah, you can stop looking at me funny now.

Christmas is a very important holiday in my family. My dad, who wasn’t even Christian, absolutely loved Christmas time. He was like a little kid. He fed my belief in Santa until I was 13 years old, even though I stopped believing at 8. But he was Santa. He put gifts under the tree “from Santa”, he filled stockings “from Santa”. He loved it.

Every year, my mom would make mince pies and the Christmas pudding (we make an ice cream cake, because it’s the middle of summer). It was my proudest moment when I was finally allowed to help, and it was bittersweet when the only reason I took over entirely was because her illness no longer allowed her to continue.

On Christmas morning we gather under the tree and have coffee and mince pies and open presents. Then we head over to one or another aunt for the big family celebration.

I am very close to my family. They are everything to me. I adore my aunts and uncle and all my cousins. They are special to me. They make me happy.

Christmas, for me, has little to do with religion and mythology (though I know it’s important to a great many people). It is a time of happiness and family and joy. When everyone is just a little bit nicer to each other, even strangers. When we reconnect and remember the important things in life.

The first Christmas without my dad was very, very hard. This first Christmas without my mom is even harder. Christmas spirit is a little bit lacking, without her saying how lovely the tree looks every five minutes until it drives us to distraction. It’s funny the things you miss.

If it wasn’t for my 6-and-a-half-year-old nephew Xavier, we probably would even be giving it a miss this year.

But that would dishonour my parents.

So. I’m going Christmas shopping today. I’m baking mince pies and making the pudding. I’m going to make sure there are presents “from Santa” under the tree.

Because I am a Pagan who celebrates Christmas.

Closing Circles

2012 has been one of those years. Momentous and heartbreaking and fun and full of changes.

Some changes have been big.

My mom died.
I made the decision to move out.
I’m leaving my Ladybirds and moving to the toddler group at work.
I’m going back to college.
I finally realised I am a girl. With boobs and everything. For real.
I figured out I can actually fall in love – and I’ve even been on a date!

Some changes have been small.

I’m growing my hair.
I have grown in confidence.
I have gained a voice.
I am becoming my own person, undefined by others.

Everyone who reads this: I know you’ve had your changes, big and small this year.

On a global scale, things are changing too. More people have access to the internet than ever before. Dictators are being overthrown. Crimes against humanity are being noticed. People are talking. People are starting to care about one another, bit by bit.

Many circles are closing. And many new ones are forming.

2012. It may not have brought about the Zombie Apocalypse. But my world ended. It fell apart. And I’m picking up the pieces and gluing them back into a stronger whole. I am walking away from the things in my past that have hurt me. I’m letting go of the things that have weighed me down. It’s not easy to put them down, but I am finally ready.

So close the circles that must be closed. Start walking the new ones. They’re bright and full of promise.

The Little Box

Those of you who read this blog have probably figured out by now that I’m gay.

If not… hi. My name’s Kirsten. I’m gay.

I have also never had sex. Ever. With man nor woman.

But Kirsten! I hear you cry. How can you know you’re gay if you’ve never had sex?!

How do people know they’re straight without ever having had sex?

I am not one of those people who always “knew” they were gay from the time they could walk, although my obsession with Xena: Warrior Princess in my pre and early teens should have been my first clue.

Seriously.

Seriously.

I went to an all-girls high school, which was awesome. But it meant that all the crazy teenage hormones were happening and the only people around to feel attracted to were other girls. I was raised fairly open-mindedly by my parents and by the time I was fifteen I figured I was bisexual.

I did honestly feel attraction towards males. But they were anime for the most part and often looked like this:

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Or this:

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Yes. I was an absolute and unashamed geek. I’m not proud of it, but I was a teenager. Who understands teenagers? Trust me, if I could go back and slap sixteen-year-old me, I would.

At fourteen I did have a crush on Tom Cruise. It was just after Mission Impossible 2 came out and I absolutely hero-worshipped him.

Oh, and I still think Johnny Depp is gorgeous, but who doesn’t?

So, most of the male figures I “crushed” on looked like girls. And also, I was mostly fascinated by facial features. Anything below the neck on male characters failed to interest me and anything below the belt pretty much repulsed me. Girls however, fascinated me completely. But I was too dense to realise that I was actually gay. Or if I did, I stuck to “bisexual” because it didn’t sound so… gay.

Understand something: this is all stuff I’ve figured out in the near decade since finishing high school. I have done a lot of soul-searching and maturing since then. I had absolutely no idea who I was then and I’m only just figuring it out now.

My best friend knew from the get-go that I had “bisexual leanings”, but other than that the only person I told was another girl in my class who I knew to be non-judgemental and who gave me advice when I fell head-over-heels in love with a girl I’d known for years (I eventually told her. She wasn’t gay, but was very sweet and understanding). It turns out this non-judgemental girl was also gay. Go figure.

After high school I finally actually had contact with the Male of the Species. I had no social life, generally. I lived in books, as did my best friend. In my gap year after finishing matric, I was involved in the painting of a mural in a church Sophiatown honouring the life and work of artist Gerard Sekoto. I met a lovely guy there who I really liked. We got on well, we had very similar interests and he was very good looking. We spent a long time together and I really thought we might go somewhere. But then we kissed.

Ugh.

I tried to like it. I wanted to like it. I really really did.

But no. It was wet and disgusting. Maybe he was a bad kisser. Maybe it was my inexperience that was to blame. But it felt so horribly wrong.

It clicked for me a few nights later when my non-judgemental friend from school sent me a text reading: “to all the girls out there looking for a man, they can have my share!”.

It made me stop. And think. And realise that every male I’ve ever been attracted to looked like a girl. And that girls were just so much hotter. And I replied back, “Yeah. I think they can have my share too.”

I didn’t leave it at that. I still wasn’t sure. I thought I could maybe be gay, but also thought I could still be bi and just think girls were sexier. I wasn’t afraid of being gay because I knew my family and what few friends I had would accept me, but I wasn’t sure. I was so convinced back then that I had to put myself into a little box and be one extreme or the other or smack-bang in the middle. I didn’t think about the giant mix of shades and colours in the whole LGBTIAQ(Insert any letters I forgot here) spectrum. Or rather, my knowledge of it was limited.

I fell in love with a girl later that year. Real, honest love. She was beautiful and funny and kind. I told her, and she loved me back. Kissing her was everything I had missed out on with that guy. The only reason we never went further than kissing was the fact that neither of us felt ready for that kind of a step. For me, I’ve always understood sex to be about absolute trust  – not just in your partner but in yourself, and I wasn’t sure about myself at that point. I never understood how some of my friends could just go out and shag someone. Sex is something I struggled with, still struggle with.

That relationship lasted nine months. It was that time that made me really understand that I was gay. It had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with the fact that I loved that girl, and that I thought girls were so much more attractive than men. And I still do.

Yes, men are attractive. I like men. I do. But I wouldn’t want to be intimate with them and I don’t like seeing them naked.

So. I put myself into the box labled “gay”. Because that’s what society tells you to do. Sticky lables and boxes and categorisation because the universe might implode if you don’t. I use the words “gay” and “lesbian” to describe myself because it’s easier.

I am romantically, emotionally and physically attracted to women far more than I have ever been to men. “Gay” is a lot less complicated to say. I don’t need to have sex to know that.

It irks me when people say it, actually. “How do you know if you’re a lesbian if you’ve never had sex with a man?”

It’s the exact attitude that leads to the huge problem of so-called “corrective rape” of lesbians.

I don’t need to have sex to know myself. Yes, I’d like to have sex. That’s besides the point.

So. This is me. My name is Kirsten. And I’m gay.

I Feel Pretty?

For the longest time, I felt bad about myself. Insecure. Fat. Ugly. Undesirable. Unwanted.

I think it’s something girls are predisposed to as children. We’re force-fed Barbie and Disney princesses with long legs, skinny waists and well-endowed chests. We are taught that the ideal woman is thin, proper, wears pretty dresses and makes herself look beautiful for the guy.

I was about eight years old when I started showing signs of being Not-Skinny-Enough. I was an active, normal kid and while I did have a fairly large sweet tooth, I don’t think I was particularly overweight. Certainly, photos of me from that time don’t look like it. But, my mom felt I was gaining too much weight so off I went to the dietitian.

Now, I am a child-care professional. I have taken a course in childhood nutrition. I’ve read the books. Hell, I even passed primary school biology where they teach you about what a balanced diet is. What that dietitian put me on was NOT a balanced diet for a normal, active eight year old girl.

No sugar at all, fair enough.
Minimal dairy.
I could have rice with veg a few times a week.
I could have a protein with veg once or twice a week.
I don’t remember what breakfast was.
My school snack was a few slices of cucumber and a couple of carrot sticks.

I was so hungry. I felt weak. My body literally went nuts. I craved food. I craved energy. Anything I could get my hands on, I binged on because if I didn’t it would get taken away. I would eat my way through slabs of chocolate, whole giant bags of Smarties, tubs of ice-cream, anything with sugar.

It was round about then that I actually started having a weight problem.

“You are a thief! A thief and a cheat!” my mom would scream at me whenever I was caught. To this day, I hear that whenever I indulge in a chocolate.

By the time we moved house when I was nine and I started at a new school late in the year, I was the Short Chubby Kid. When I was ten, I became the Short Chubby Kid with Glasses. I was a bully magnet.

“Hey fatso!”
“You’re so ugly you should die!”
“The elephants are getting jealous!”
“Don’t come near me! You’re so fat you stink!”

Three years. I lived with that for three years. I started self-harming at eleven. So then I was the Short Chubby Satanic Kid with Glasses and Scars.

I would like to take this moment to mention that I was not, in fact a Satanist. But the enforced Bible study in my school taught all the kids to think that I was.

I would also like to mention that at no point did any teachers intervene. And my parents told me the bullies were “irrelevant”. Also, I self-harmed in front of my class of other eleven and twelve year olds. I got in trouble for bringing a knife to school but at no point was the issue of my self-harm addressed. How’s that for an awesome school system, eh?

I eventually became suicidal at twelve. I overdosed on pills (don’t remember what they were). I got sick, and got booked off with gastro. End of story.

By that point I had resigned myself to the fact that I was fat, ugly, a thief and a cheat and I would Never Ever be Beautiful Ever.

Incidentally, psychology indicates that a person’s view of themselves, their world, their morals and ideals are all formed between the ages of six and twelve. After that point, it’s ingrained and hard-wired and very hard to change.

By the time I got away from the bullies in high school, other than my school uniform, I did not wear dresses. My clothes were frumpy and hid my body. I wore a lot of boy’s clothes, tracksuit pants and jeans. My weight never went down (indeed, it went up). I wasn’t that much of an unhealthy eater, but the normal active eight year old did not become a normal active teenager. I hid in the library mostly. I curled up in a corner with fantasy novels and escaped.

In matric I cut my hair. If not for my fairly big boobs and wide hips, I could have passed for a boy.

After I left school and did my whole journey of self-discovery at eighteen (“Wow, I actually AM gay, fancy that!” It’s very hard to realise if you’re actually gay or just sexually and hormonally frustrated when you go to an all-girls school), I became even more masculine. Not because I was gay and wanted to somehow fit into the “stereotype” but because I wasn’t required to be feminine any more. I wore my hair short, even shaved at one point. I dressed in jeans, takkies and men’s shirts. I walked with a slouch to hide my chest and never crossed my legs when sitting on a chair.

You see, in my mind, to be feminine was to be beautiful. I was not beautiful, so how could I be feminine?

That was the truth of my world. It was one I accepted like an uppity colt accepts being broken in. The saddle was horrible but I didn’t actually have a choice.

And then I met two friends who saw my worth. Friends who called me beautiful and told me to stand up straight and be proud of my boobs and big hips. One showed me how to start letting go of my past (and with it the Short Chubby Scared Scarred Kid with Glasses) and the other showed me how to dance.

The thing with belly dance is it doesn’t require you to be any sort of fixed shape. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like the music. I felt awkward and ungainly (and too fat and too ugly and too unfeminine) and to be honest for the first few minutes I hated it. And then something clicked. My brain and my body met for the first time since the normal active eight year old stopped being normal, active and eight. And we kind of said, “Oh hi. I remember you.”

It sounds ridiculous, right? But you need to understand that when you don’t exercise at all for years because you’re too busy escaping into the worlds of fantasy novels, your brain knows nothing about your body except for what it sees in the mirror. My brain didn’t like what it saw in the mirror so tried to ignore my body as much as it could.

Dance changed that. Dance has helped me connect with muscles I didn’t know I had. Dance has taught me to be unafraid. Dance has taught me to shake my ass in front of three hundred people and dare them to say just one word about elephants.

It has been a long and painful journey and it is by no means over. I turn twenty-seven in eleven days time. For the first time in my life, I feel feminine. I feel proud. And if I don’t quite feel beautiful yet, at least I feel pretty.

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Me, in 2005, with a guy friend who happened to be wearing the same shirt (I’m the short one without a beard).

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Me, last week.

Changes

Things are happening so fast. It’s insane. It’s a wild rollercoaster that once set in motion is impossible to stop.

I’m moving. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I made the final decision last week. Preparing myself to confront my sister about it was hellish. I became convinced, in the dark recesses of my mind, that she would see it as rejection and therefore reject me. I was terrified of losing her, of having her hate me. And though I know, I KNOW, she would never do that, it’s a sign of my own insecurities that I felt that way. I told her last Thursday, her and Brett. I sat them down and with snakes roiling in my guts, told her that I wanted to find my own place to move by January.

Despite being shocked, she understands my need to do this. After all, she’s been in that self-same position before when she had to tell Dad she wanted to move all those years ago. She was younger than I am now when she made that decision and he told her “I’m proud of you, my girl”. So she told me the same in his stead, “I’m proud of you, my girl”.

Have I ever mentioned how much I absolutely adore my big sister?

So I started asking around. As a preschool teacher, I can’t afford much, but I was hoping I might find a small cottage or even a room somewhere, just to give myself a starting point. Then Calvin’s mom sent me a message saying she and her husband are busy constructing a loft above their garage – not a huge space, but enough for me, and they’ll let me live there at about R500 less than what I’m paying now towards my current home.

Oh. My. GODS.

Seriously? Seriously? I don’t think they actually realise how AWESOME this is for me.

Because the other change I’m making is that I’m going back to college. After Dad died, I never finished. I wanted to return this past July, and with Mom’s death I’m really glad I didn’t. So I’m going to go back. And that R500 extra per month is going to be HUGE because I can pay towards my education without starving.

BONUS.

I’m facing my future, my chance to finally jump into the deep end to see if I can swim. I am so excited. I’m on cloud nine. Over the moon. Insert other clichéd saying here.

And who knows, the way things are going, maybe I’ll finally be able to tell my friend I like her. Come what may.

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