GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES
Alex Joshua (20) always knew that he was different from a very young age. It made him the target of bullies throughout his school career and culminated in a brutal beating in school.
Alex was born in Cape Town and raised in a home in which both parents were present. He had a sister who was three years older than him.
“We moved around the country a lot because of my father’s job. I’ve almost lived in every province in South Africa. He worked in IT. The first time we moved I was just under a year old and we moved to Durban. At the time, my mom wasn’t working. She was taking care of me and my sister at home.
“I would see my father every other weekend while growing up. It was mostly my mom, my sister and I. It was good because although we moved around a lot, we always had each other. That was the constant. We moved every nine to 11 months. The news of a move would be sprung upon us a week before the time. For me, that was the only type of life I knew. It wasn’t good or bad. It was harder for my sister because she would make friends and then have to leave them behind. My family owned very little because we would always rent in a furnished complex.”
His parents’ volatile relationship added to the instability of young Alex’s life.
“From what I can remember, my parents’ relationship was always volatile. You wouldn’t know when they would start fighting. My dad would accuse my mom of cheating and of being a gold digger. He would tell her that the way she was raising us was inadequate. My mom would fight with him about not respecting her or us (the children) and that he didn’t even know his own family.”
The relationship was often violent.
“My father would hit her. He would push us out of the way. We always tried to stop him. My sister and I would put ourselves in the middle of the situation and he would push us away. We tried to push him and said, ‘please stop fighting.’ My sister ended up in the hospital on one occasion, when he pushed her into the door. At the time she was seven and I was four years old. She had a concussion. I just remember her passing out and my parents rushing her to the hospital. She stayed in hospital for a day or two. It was at that point, I think, that I started to hate my father.”
As far back as Alex can recall, his relationship with his father was complicated.
“My father and I had very little in common. We had little contact when I was small. He would tell my mom that she was raising me wrong, that I would turn out to be gay and that I was too soft. I would hear him say that. I didn’t understand what gay or ‘moffie’ meant at the time, but I understood it to be something bad. I knew I wasn’t what he wanted as a son. I was three or four years old when I realised that women were stronger than men. I always preferred the feminine qualities over the masculine ones. It was around that time that I realised I was a bit different.”
Alcohol fuelled his parents’ explosive relationship.
“There isn’t a time that I can’t recall alcohol in the house. My dad and my mom would entertain a lot – my dad’s friends, his colleagues and family. I would say every weekend there was a braai or a party. There would be late nights, way too late for children. It was rowdy and loud. It wasn’t violent. They would get very drunk – like, blackout drunk. I would wake up in the morning and there would be a bunch of people passed out in the hallway or in the lunge. My father would be blackout drunk. My mom wouldn’t drink at this point because she was worried about us and the other children who were there. She’s still like that. She knew what was about to happen with the rest of the adults and she would abstain completely. But when my father was at work during the week she’d like to get tipsy and drink on her own. She still took care of us. She’d still remind us to brush our teeth even though she was almost passed out on the couch. I just thought that grown-ups were so weird. All they did was party.
“I don’t drink at all now because I’ve smelled enough puke and alcohol to last me a lifetime. People got sick at those parties. The first time I saw someone vomiting I got scared, but after seeing it over and over again, it becomes normalized. You start thinking that this happens all the time, so it’s normal, and you think this is how life works.”
When Alex was six years old, his parents got divorced.
“By the age of six, my mother, my sister and I moved back to Cape Town. My mom decided that she was going to divorce my dad. Moving back to Cape Town was abrupt. My mom just packed our bags one day and we flew down and my father came home to an empty house. She just said, ‘we are going to Cape Town’. We didn’t think much of it at the time because we had been moving around a lot.
“We moved into my grandma and my grandpa’s house in Belgravia. From living in a nice house in a complex, where my sister and I had our own rooms and a playroom, to sleeping in one room all together (my mom, my sister and I) was difficult. It was tough at first. My sister couldn’t understand why she had to share a room. I thought it was going to be temporary – like we were not going to stay there forever. I grew up moving around a lot, so I didn’t think anything was going to stay the same for too long. It was unconventional compared to what I was used to, but somehow also nice to just be the three of us.”
The move to Cape Town meant Alex had to make several adjustments.
“My mother was like, ‘you work for what you want. Life doesn’t hand things to you.’ She didn’t give us a lot of leeway on that. She became a lot stricter about cleaning up. She taught us the value of money and how to save it. She started introducing us to family we never knew we had. It was an adjustment but it was good. In Cape Town, my mom started working as a bookkeeper and also did catering on the side. My granny would take care of us when my mom was working.”
“We continued to see my dad. He would visit Cape Town over December and take me and my sister out. It was difficult for me to talk to him. He was almost a stranger. My sister and dad used to be the ones who talked the most.”
The following year, Alex started Grade 1.
“I started to get bullied because I was seen as a teacher’s pet, because of my accent, and because of how I enunciated my words. I went to a crèche in Joburg where the majority of children were white, which was the reason for my kind of accent.
“I would come home bleeding, with blue eyes, and scars sometimes. The bullies were a group of boys. Some of them were in my grade and some were older. My mom had countless parent-teacher meetings about the bullying after I told her about it. The parents of the bullies were called in for disciplinary hearings and the school said that they had to discipline all parties involved. The parents of the bullies would say, ‘our child wouldn’t act that way if your child didn’t act like that’. My mom and sister would defend me because my sister was at the same school and she would fight for me because the boys who were hurting me were bigger most of the time.
“I always thought, ‘why me?’ It was an everyday thing. I started thinking that there must be some merit to what they were doing. That they wouldn’t make fun of me and hurt me if there wasn’t a reason behind it…like they felt they needed to correct the situation of me being gay or a teacher’s pet. I knew I was gay. I was born this way. I didn’t have to have a coming out party. Everyone knew. I had been gay all my life and my demeanour was feminine.”
Alex was comfortable with his sexual orientation around his mom and sister.
“When I was 10 or 11 I said, ‘that boy is cute’, and my mom and sister agreed. It wasn’t like they said, ‘oh you’re gay’ and so I knew that they knew. It was a matter of me coming out of my shell, and them accepting it.”
The bullying continued for the duration of primary school.
“I started recognising who the bullies were and began avoiding them. I tried to keep to my work and make myself invisible. Even though I liked school itself, I was scared of going to school. I wouldn’t want to befriend anyone because I didn’t know if they would turn on me.
“During break, I would sit and read. I had one best friend and she wasn’t at the school. I met her through church. My grades were perfect. I focused on my schoolwork. The very fact that I couldn’t resolve the situation – because I was still a child – and the school was doing nothing about the bullying, made me feel insignificant. Like I didn’t matter! A teacher actually told me once I was an abomination.
“I would basically take the punches as they came and put on a brave face. I used to think, ‘I wish we could go back to moving every few months. In that way maybe the bullies would go away.’ My mother would ask about my blue eyes and she would continuously go to the school to complain.”
The attacks on Alex culminated in a brutal assault one day on the school premises.
“I was in Grade 5 or Grade 6 and a bunch of guys in Grade 7 – eight of them – started fighting with me. They pushed me around. That’s how it started out. I tried to retaliate. They started punching and kicking me. They would say, ‘you’re a ‘moffie’. You are worth nothing.’ It went on for twenty minutes. I kept telling myself to be strong.”
A teacher eventually broke up the fight.
“It was traumatic for me. I don’t remember much. What I do remember is the teacher and a physical education coach carrying me to the sick bay. They checked my vitals and they asked if I was okay. I was still in shock. They called my mom. That fight was a turning point for me. I started worrying about myself. I started thinking that the bullying could become extreme and that they could really harm me. The bullying could escalate to a level that some people can’t return from. I was worried about potentially serious injuries.
“My mom came to school. I was worried about my wellbeing and so I told my mom to take me to the hospital. When I was getting examined by a doctor I started hurting in places where there was no visible pain, and I was taken for an ultrasound and an x-ray. They also did an MRI scan. I had a fractured shoulder, internal bruising on my abdomen and whiplash. They gave me a sedative that first day in hospital, because I was still emotional about what had happened. I was in my own head. It was as if I was not physically there. From what I remember, I would respond to people, but I was very distant. I was replaying the incident over and over again in my mind and thinking about the worst case scenario. I was in hospital for just under a week. My mom and sister came to visit me.”
The attack and his subsequent hospital stay to physically recover had a lasting impact on Alex.
“It was more of an emotional pain than anything else. I slipped into depression from the time I was in hospital to about three or four months after that. During that period, I would lock myself in my room and wouldn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t go back to school for those months (after the attack). I would watch TV and read. I would draw and listen to music. At first, I don’t think my mom and sister knew how to deal with the situation. They just kept asking me if I was okay and if there was anything that they could do. I would always say, ‘no’. Depression is something that is so sad. It starts chipping away at your very essence as a person and breaks you down bit by bit.”
Alex’s mother intervened and her talk was a turning point for Alex in his darkest hour.
“The conversation started out by her saying, ‘I know you are hurt. But I don’t know to what extent. What I know, is that you need to forgive. Because once you forgive, you take away the power from those who have ‘power’ over you,’ She also reaffirmed that I’m perfect the way I am and that I should never doubt that. She said, ‘God makes no mistakes. And if people have a problem with you, then that’s their problem. In life there are two choices, you can choose fight or flight.’ That sparked my train of thought and made me realise that I’ve been running away instead of fighting. Even though I was there for the physical abuse and I had no choice in the matter, mentally and emotionally I was running away.”
His mother’s words resonated, but it still took some time for Alex to pull himself out of his depression.
“I had suicidal thoughts. I began to question whether or not my presence was a burden. That, if I were gone, it would be easier for everyone, including myself. My mother’s words were what stopped me. I would be running away from all the trauma and not fighting. After that conversation with my mom, I started implementing very basic things, like telling myself, ‘I am perfect.’”
Alex’s newfound confidence also had a positive impact on his relationship with his father.
“I began to challenge authority and to question everything. It became easier to do. It’s like swimming. Initially, it’s kind of scary but you have to keep swimming if you don’t want to drown.
“My father is very conservative but I posed the following question to him, ‘if two people love each other, how does that affect you?’ He was speechless. He couldn’t give an answer because there isn’t an answer. It doesn’t affect you. I asked him this question while we were out together in a public place. There was a gay couple next to us. He pulled his face and that’s when I asked him.”
After those few months at home, Alex was enrolled at a new school. It was a private Christian school and students worked at their own pace. Alex threw himself into his schoolwork and managed to complete Grade 6 and Grade 7 in one year.
“I was feeling determined, focused and more content. At the new school, I was still called names but I was a lot stronger and happier in my own skin and didn’t allow such things to phase me. The new bullies tried to physically hurt me but I physically fought back.”
When Alex entered high school, he still encountered bullies.
“The advice I received going into high school was to keep to yourself, to do your work and to not worry about other people. It worked well actually. I made three good friends, with whom I am still good friends today. There were bullies and I have found bullies everywhere I go. It is like they just know how to find me.
“In high school, I developed another problem – anxiety attacks in Grade 10 and Grade 11. That came from the pressure I put on myself to excel academically. I would start hyperventilating and would feel like I couldn’t breathe. It felt like everything around me was way too much and then I’d go back to wanting to be alone. My mom got me help. I was on mood stabilizers and in therapy for three years. The mood stabilizers never really helped me because it would actually make my condition worse, or do nothing at all. I stopped using them after 10 months. Therapy helped me realise that nothing is 100% perfect and that the imperfections make it perfect. Overall, high school was okay for me.”
Alex’s dad moved back to Cape Town after a while.
“Back in Cape Town, we saw him more often and we bonded a lot more. We are sort-of close nowadays. We started finding common interests, like books and movies. We have similar traits – we are both competitive, for example. We got perspective on each other. He grew up a certain way. That’s why he is the way he is and vice versa.
“Both my parents are managing their drinking habits much better. And even though they are separated, they provide a good support structure for me and my sister.”
After matriculating, Alex studied fashion design but dropped out after a year and a half.
“A lot of things went wrong there. It just did not feel like it was my thing at the time.”
Alex spent three years working in promotions and this year enrolled in a coding academy to study for 12 months.
When asked for his final remarks, Alex says, “We need to accept that we are going to meet unpleasant people in this life sometimes. People who, for whatever reason (their upbringing, their belief system), have very different perspectives on life than you do. I pray to God each day to give these people strength, to mind their own business. I don’t wish them bad things and I have forgiven them. My only wish is that they could do the same for me or any other different person who they come across. I wish we could all know, deep in our hearts, that ‘God makes no mistakes.’”
Alex is a Life Choices Academy student.