FINDING PEACE BY BEING YOU
Living his truth is something 17-year-old Claude Kinga has fought for most of his teen years. He shares his courageous story of telling the world about his sexuality and how he found the strength to understand who he is.
At five months old, Claude’s parents divorced and an early life of instability followed. His mother from Botswana and his father from DRC decided that Claude should live with his mother in Johannesburg. By the age of nine, Claude had attended four primary schools.
“I think the reason we moved many times was financial, I never felt like we were struggling but we would normally be tenants in other people’s homes and often we will share a room. We were a team, my mom was very caring so I remember always feeling love from her.”
“I could not say that I was unhappy as a child, but I know that moving so much frustrated me. I remember in Grade 3 I was tired of moving and just wanted to stay in the same school, with the same friends.”
Wanting to offer him some stability, Claude’s father arrived in Johannesburg to take him to live with his aunt in Polokwane.
“I was nine and I thought I was meant to spend the June holidays with my aunt in Polokwane, but I found out that my move was permanent when I was seated in the car waiting to leave on holiday. My parents started talking outside the car and my mother got very upset and started crying. She was not aware of the intention of my dad and she panicked. I don’t remember her saying anything to me before I left. I felt tricked by my dad and wished he would have explained to me and my mom why I was being taken to my aunty.”
Claude stayed with his aunt and her husband for three years. They had no kids so Claude says that he felt he had more stability but lacked love.
“My aunt was not bad but I kept comparing her to my mom. My mom used to be very loving and I really missed her.”
In the middle of Grade 6, Claude’s aunt asked him if he wanted to live with his father in Cape Town. Claude’s father had called her and asked if Claude would like to live with him.
“I didn’t really want to move to Cape Town but I didn’t want to hurt my dad’s feelings, so I agreed.“
Moving to the Mother City, Claude needed to adapt again. “My dad was newly married and both were very religious. It was not easy to get to know people that were like strangers to me and adapt to their new ways.”
At 15, Claude saw his mother for the first time in seven years when she came to Cape Town.
“It was strange seeing her, I remember her being affectionate, wanting to hug me and pinch my cheeks, but I would pull away – probably because I wasn’t getting that kind of love at my dad’s home. She lives in Botswana now with her eldest son (26) and we call each other from time to time.”
As Claude was growing up, he started to discover that he was different to the rest of the boys in his grade.
“I was in Grade 6 and my friends are all girls. I found it difficult to connect with the boys in my grade, we had different interests and I just felt more comfortable with the girls. That’s when the bullying started. The boys would call me moffie* and push me around. The strange part is that I didn’t know what that word meant. I had to ask one of my friends who told me that it’s a boy that acts like a girl. It was the first time I realised that I was not very masculine.”
Claude says this was a real turning point in his life. “I was really confused, and for a while I forced myself to hang out with the boys, but I felt fake and it was tiring. So, I made the choice to be friends with who I felt comfortable and not with who everyone thought I should be friends with.”
“A moment I remember from those early years was when my dad told me I must “man up” and make my voice deeper. I didn’t really understand what he was saying, but I guess he knew I was gay before I could put it in words.”
Claude says that the name calling continued for the remaining years of primary school, but got better when he started high school.
“In high school I started understanding who I was, I realised I was attracted to boys but I did not tell anyone.”
Grade 10 was the year when Claude began telling those who asked him at school if he was gay the truth.
“That year was when I felt okay with people at school knowing about who I was. I had never had a boyfriend but I was sure I was gay. I wasn’t ready for the world to know yet, just those people I trust at school. I was scared about what my father would say, even though we never had a great relationship I still didn’t want to upset him. I know it’s weird but that was the way I felt. I would be gay at school and straight at home.”
Two years passed and Claude finally disclosed to his family, “My father had been picking about my feminine ways for a while and making nasty comments about gay people. It was hard for me to keep two different personalities all the time. So, he confronted me while we were arguing and I told him I was gay. The first thing he told me, was that if I was gay then he is not my father – he basically disowned me. It really hurt me when he said that, but I was really happy that I could be the real me.”
The following day, Claude says that he didn’t feel welcomed at home.
“It’s not about what he says but the way he looked at me. It’s with a look of disgust. Like he is sickened by who I am. I couldn’t take it and I needed a break from home, so I stayed with my friend’s family for three days.”
When Claude returned home, his dad told him that he was no longer allowed to live in the house.
“My dad told me that it was time to leave and I remember packing my bag slowly, I felt anger towards him and kept thinking, okay I’m being thrown out, what will happen next? I remember him being very angry, swearing and saying ‘you’ll see how far you get now.’ At this point I felt I wanted to die.”
After being kicked out, Claude went back to his friend’s house and his friend’s mom took him immediately to the police station. She explained the situation and asked them to go with her to Claude’s house.
“When we arrived at my house the police explained my rights to my dad and his responsibilities as a father to a minor. My dad replied that he brought me to Cape Town to make me a man and that I had disappointed him. The police stayed at the house for 2 – 3 hours and I remember them telling my dad that he can’t do this and that I must stay there because of my age. My dad ended up agreeing with the police that I could stay but he told them that he was going to make me regret it.”
“The first thing he did was order me to move out of my bedroom that I was sharing with my brothers and told me to sleep in the lounge. He also told me that from now on I am only allowed in the common areas of the house. He set up a curfew and limited my movement. He also kept telling me that he is sure a demon has possessed me and I should be exorcized.”
Claude is now in his final year of high school and regardless of his situation at home, he continues being one of the top students in his grade.
Concluding, Claude says: “Through all of this, I don’t regret anything. It has helped me grow and become comfortable being me. I have discovered that the internal peace I have achieved through being my real self can not be altered by anything people do to me.
Claude Kinga is a Leaders’ Quest Participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.