Photo by meri Williams

I Was A Child Without a Future

Why equal marriage matters to me

I was a child without a future.

Don’t get me wrong, I had all the advantages. I was bright, got excellent grades. I’d been born white in Apartheid South Africa, experiencing incredible (undeserved) privilege. I was likely to get a full scholarship for university. I had a stable home life.

But I was facing the endless drudgery of working and going home to an empty life stretched out ahead of me. Painfully alone, forever.

I didn’t want that.

I remember contemplating suicide for the first time before I even hit my teens. How different I was became increasingly apparent from about the age of ten. The girls in my class started to get giggly around the boys, to dumb themselves down (in SA at that time, girls weren’t meant to be smart and smart girls definitely weren’t attractive).

I was bemused. I mean, boys were alright. Some of my best friends were boys. But this sudden attraction my classmates were feeling? I never felt it, never comprehended it.

And with puberty came planning. Futures, weddings, girls scribbling their names with their crush’s surname appended. Idle, childish daydreams, but central to conversations all around me.

I couldn’t imagine anything worse. Marrying a man I didn’t love? Enduring sex I didn’t want and could never enjoy? I decided very young that I would rather die.

And so my planning became razor blades, hoarding pills, finding secret hideaways where I wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.

Dark years. Hard to write about, even decades later.

So how am I here today?

Xena.

Yes, that’s right: Xena, Warrior Princess.

In the relatively early days of the Internet, I discovered Xena messageboards. They gave me a lot of things: terminology for the things I felt, an explanation for why I found the show so compelling despite its ridiculously low production values and hilarious accent combinations (all medieval Greeks spoke with Kiwi accents, doncha know?), tentative new friendships. Exposure to a bunch of people in other countries, some just as backward as my own, some more progressive.

Interestingly though, the vast majority of us were in places where it wasn’t good to be gay: America, Africa, Australia.

The most important thing they gave me though was a friendship with a woman twice my age. She lived in Austin, Texas, with her partner of more than a decade. They were happy together, had a house, a business and a pair of adorable dogs.

I honestly had no clue this was an option.

Hearing about their life together was like being released from a tiny iron cell, coaxed outside and invited to look at a view that stretched out beautifully for miles.

I wouldn’t have made it out of my teens without knowing that view existed. I’d have been a statistic, part of the horribly high LGBTQ teen suicide rate.

In Apartheid South Africa, there were no visible, happy gay folks. We weren’t equal in the eyes of the law or society. I couldn’t daydream about marrying my dream girl, draw hearts round the names of my crushes. Marriage wasn’t an option for people like me. Happiness wasn’t an option for people like me. And it really felt like living wasn’t much of an option for people like me.

So if you’re bemused about the fight for marriage equality, wondering why it matters? It’s not just about giving folks equal rights and responsibilities. Not just about protecting our children and our families. Not just about legal and societal recognition and equality.

It’s about giving kids a future to believe in, too.