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.

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:

1151690766_mattdream

Or this:

images-ouran-high-school-host-club-20094852-400-300

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.

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.

Start Living

I find myself missing my Mom more and more with each passing day. Little things set me off. Like today, I was watching Bones on  the computer, and I learned something interesting, and I turned to her to tell her, and she wasn’t there. And then I burst into tears and wrote a sobby Facebook status uipdate about how much I miss her.

We have her ashes. We want to scatter them in her rose garden, as we scattered Dad’s in the rest of the garden. Finding the right moment for this has been hard.

It’s all so different now, and there’s a dull ache in my chest that I’m sort of starting to get used to. It’s similar to the one I have for my Dad, but it’s strangely sharper. Maybe because her loss is more recent than his. Maybe it’s because despite everything, the fact that I’ve lost my Mother hurts like hell.

And yet… despite all this, I feel an odd sense of freedom. I’ve been out the past two weekends. I performed at a dance show in the first weekend of September, and did the DVD editing this past weekend. I worked on it through until Wednesday, every night. And I didn’t have to feel guilty that my sister and the rest of my family were being forced to look after Mom when they might have wanted to do other things, or take a break. It was actually nice to give them time to do stuff together, just the three of them.

Also, I think I’ve started to fall in love (insert happy giddy, nervous-wreck grin here). I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve been romantically interested in. My longest relationship lasted only 9 months and I broke it off (seven years ago) because between university and what I perceived as family obligations, I couldn’t make time for her, and I couldn’t be there for her when she needed me as her girlfriend. It hurt us both (her more), and I am very, very lucky that I can still count her amongst my friends. The last time I attempted a relationship was in 2008/early 2009, and with my Dad being depressed over his recent retirement and Mom’s mental health failing, I felt too guilty to pursue it. Which wasn’t fair to her either. Again, I’m very lucky that I can actually count her (and her wife) as two of my closest friends.

Since then though, I’ve doubted that I could actually feel romantic love any more. Or infatuation, or simple “OMG, I have a crush!” giddiness. I haven’t wanted to pursue romance. It’s got to the point where I’ve been wanting to be artificially inseminated, get pregnant and raise a child on my own because I didn’t think I would ever meet the right person and fall in love.

Not that I’m saying this girl is the right person, I don’t know that yet. I don’t even know if she’s interested in me, or if she could become interested, or even if she’s attracted to other women. Though she might be? Maybe? Possibly?

All I know is that at this point, this giddy “OMG, I have a crush!” feeling is so alien to me that it gives me such a huge sense of joy to know that I can feel it in the first place. All I know is that I want to protect her and love her and make sure no one ever hurts her again. And if, if, if I can only do that as a friend, you know what? So be it. I won’t push it and I’ll take it very, very slow (I’m good at that, I think?) and I’ll see what comes of it.

I’m starting to live.

It’s a nice feeling.

Calvin

“I don’t know what I’d do with a special-needs kid.”

“You must have loads of patience to deal with him.”

“Oh shame, can’t he go to a special school for others like him?”

“Is he safe?”

“Why is he here, can’t he go somewhere else?”

“It’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? How do you manage to teach the other children when he takes up so much of your time?”

And my answer?

“It’s my job. And I love him.”

I have a little boy in my class who is classified as special needs. He has foetal anti-convulsant syndrome, because his mom has to take Epilem, a common anti-seizure drug. Many, many children are born this way because doctors don’t have a choice when it comes to managing a mom-to-be’s epilepsy or bi-polar disorder and ensuring the safety of her unborn child. They choose to ignore the data. So many moms have to deal with such guilt and pain, and the struggle of raising a child who, despite everyone’s best efforts, will always have a harder time than other kids. And it’s not their fault. Not at all. But try telling them that.

Calvin has clubbed feet.

He narrowly avoided spina bifida.

He is 5 and a half, and still on nappies much of the time.

Mentally, he is about 2 years old. Physically, he’s a big, strong boerkind.

He battles to swallow, so he drools a lot, and has to wear a bib.

He wanders off, and all the staff know to keep an eye out for him, especially when I am working with one of the other kids.

He gets frustrated because he knows that for some reason he can’t do a whole lot of the stuff the other kids in the class can do. The other kids are all 2 years younger than him.

He bites himself when he gets upset. He lashes out at other kids who tease him. He has to constantly be reminded to be gentle.

Calvin also gives the best hugs.

His smile can light up a room.

His laugh can bring smiles to the faces of people on the other side of the school.

He can tell a joke.

He loves doing work in class, and even though he can’t perform at the level of the other kids, he tries.

He loves to see smiles on other people’s faces.

He is perceptive and can tell when someone is upset. Then he’ll hug them.

He’ll greet other parents with lables of “Papa”, “so-and-so’s Mama”, “Oom” (uncle), “Tannie” (Auntie), “Ouma” (Granny) “Oupa” (Grandpa)

He’ll hug them, too.

He has this way of staring through you with this puzzled expression as he figures out who you are and your place in his world. Then his eyes focus, and he give’s the statement, “Calvin’s Teacher Kirsten”, or the like. It means he likes you. It means you’re a part of his world.

There is no special school for him. Not until he turns 7 and is in grade 1. And by that time, the formative years have passed and the brain settles into the patterns that will define a child for the rest of their lives.

He comes to our school because his mom had nowhere else to turn.

And I believe that some higher power must’ve sent him to me. And I thank that higher power every day.

I look after him because I love him. I love him so much my heart aches. He’s special. In more ways than one.

He has taught me so much about a world of things.

He has taught me patience.

He has taught me to see the funny side.

He has improved my ability to speak Afrikaans.

He has taught me to appreciate the beauty in simple things.

He has taught me about the strength of the human spirit.

All the people who’ve ever asked those questions at the beginnings of this post… they’ve all become his biggest fans, because they see how his joy, his sense of humour, his boundless energy and bright spirit enriches the lives of them, and their children, and their children’s teachers.

When he first came to me, I was uncertain.

I was stressed.

I was afraid.

I didn’t know how to deal with him.

I cried most nights for the first couple of weeks.

Not because I didn’t want to. But because, as his teacher, I wanted to do right by him.

Because that’s my job. My vocation.

And I won’t lie, this one child has affected me more than any other child I’ve ever taught. In the few short months I have been Calvin’s teacher, his spirit has become inexorably bound with mine. And even once he’s long gone like the others, gone to big school and a bright future, I will always remember that I was his teacher.

And when I remember that I was his teacher, I want to remember that I did all I could to make sure that future is as bright as I can possibly make it.

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