Mihle Toyi


Mihle Toyi (16) did not think much of his parent’s divorce when he was young, but when the reason for their divorce was later revealed, he had to learn to withstand negative comments and perceptions from his peers and others in the community.

Mihle was born in Cape Town and lived in Langa up until the age of six before moving to Gugulethu, which is where he still resides.

“My parents had children from previous relationships. I had two brothers from my dad’s side and one brother from my mom’s side. All of them were older than me. My parents got together when my sister was born, she is two years older than me. Because we were so close in age, my family used to joke that we were twins.

“Growing up, I was living with my ‘twin’ sister, one of my older brothers, my mom and my dad. The rest of my siblings were quite grown-up and were not living with us. We were living in a flat in Langa. We only had one room, which is where my mom and dad slept. My oldest brother slept on the couch and there was a double bunk in the kitchen, which is where my sister and I slept. I couldn’t complain. I was grateful. I didn’t see anything wrong with the world at that time. There was enough food to eat. Both my parents were working. My siblings and I were super close. Whenever they saw me they would grab me and kiss me. My mom was the disciplinarian and my dad was chilled, but he would also discipline us sometimes. Growing up, I think I saw them fight once. My mom cried, so I cried. I didn’t know what it was about. I think I was four years old at the time. It turns out, I wasn’t there to see the rest of the fights. I now know for a fact that that wasn’t the last fight.”

Mihle enjoyed a close bond with his ‘twin’ sister.

“I was in crèche and my sister was in Grade R. She taught me how to draw. She’d come back from school and teach me what she had learned, like how to deal with a stranger, ‘poke him in the eye!’ She taught me math like adding one plus one, right up until 512. Specifically, 512! Those were happy years.”

Unexpectedly and without explanation, Mihle’s family life changed.

“One night we began packing to move to Gugs. I was surprised because my father was not coming with us. I had been to Gugs many times and I had friends there already, so I took it as a visit. Like, we would normally visit my oldest sister who lived in Gugs. I was about five or six years old at the time. Over a couple of nights, we were packing. I was too young to notice any kind of drama happening in my family but I did notice the silence. Normally, every night we would play gospel music and my sister and I would dance with my father. We moved in one night.

“The moment we were leaving my sister screamed, ‘I want my daddy!’ For the first time, I saw my dad looking like he was going to cry. I was wondering why my sister was crying, only to find out later that we were leaving permanently. Emotionally, I was a bit frightened. I asked my mom, ‘why is my sister screaming? Aren’t we coming back? And dad?’ She said, ‘no we’re not coming back.’ That’s when I realised my dad was staying behind.

“Whenever my mom disciplined me, my dad would defend me. He was the one who taught me some English. In the evenings, I would snuggle up to him and he would teach me English. What made me the most afraid was the look on his face when we left, because if my father was fearful then what could I possibly do?

“We left in two cars. We were escorted by two of my father’s friends. There was nothing to talk about. We were just quiet. The only thing you could hear was my sisters crying.”

Mihle, his sister and their mother moved back into his mother’s house in Gugulethu. His brother remained with his dad as he was not his mom’s son.

“I had a room of my own. I was too afraid to sleep on my own for two years, so I would normally sleep with my older sister, which made our bond stronger. My sister had noticed everything in the house and it affected her at school. She cried for a long time, even at school. My mom would ask her what’s wrong and she would say, ‘I miss dad’. In my case, I think I had a stronger bond with my mom. Even though I missed my dad, I still had her next to me.”

Their move and his parent’s separation was a big adjustment for Mihle to experience.

“The house was cold. There was less love. I didn’t like it there. My new friends were playing soccer and I was not good at soccer, so I felt like an outcast. In Langa, I played rugby. At school, I also had a hard time with the language, because it was all in English. But my peers and teachers helped me. It was a positive experience because it taught me good lessons. I once was that ‘stupid’ kid in class, so I don’t judge people.

“I was bullied by three boys in my grade when I just started school. Turns out they failed Grade one. They started picking on me and making fun of me because I was slow. I couldn’t run fast because I was chubby. They would tease me about that. It became a hobby for them to do it on a daily basis. I didn’t respond. It wasn’t physical, so I didn’t feel the need to tell people about it. I just thought they were joking around. This went on for a few months. I didn’t take it seriously until one day when I went to the bathroom at interval and left my bag unattended. They spat in my bread. When I came back, I opened up my lunchbox and took a bite of my bread and wet mucus dropped. They started laughing and I spat out the bread.

“I decided that was it and that I was going to take revenge. The following day, I took drawing pins and put it on one of the boy’s seats. He sat down, screamed and began crying. The second boy came to me and reminded me about eating the saliva sandwich, so I beat him up. The three boys stopped bullying me and I even became friends with one of them at a later stage.”

Even though his parents were now divorced, Mihle still had a relationship with his father.

“We used to visit my dad. Every Friday we would go to spend the weekend with him and he would take us out. For six years after we moved we did that. At a point, I realised that my parents were still fighting, even though they were divorced. The littlest things would trigger my father, like the kind of clothing my mother would let us wear. He would tell us how stupid she was. We were like recorders and we would tell my mom when we got back. She would get angry and they would fight over the phone. I had two lives basically – one life in Gugs and one life in Langa. I grew closer to my dad during that time. Knowing that I would only see him once a week made me appreciate the times that I did see him.”

Mihle became the target of bullies once again in Grade six and seven.

“I was bullied in Grade six and seven, but I worked through that. I am not sure what the thing is of youngsters being mean to each other. The bullying was verbal once again because they perceived me as being different. During those two years, I got a reputation for getting into fights and beating up the bullies. I became known in the school as the ‘bully slayer’ – I did not take any nonsense.”

When Mihle started high school it was a fresh start.

“I was now confident. I could speak in front of people. Some would say I had too much confidence, to the point where people would criticize me. In the past, they would say I wasn’t enough and now they made me feel like I was too much. I didn’t like that. But a friend told me, ‘don’t listen to them, be yourself.’”

Grade eight was also a turning point for Mihle’s family.

“In Grade eight, I found out that my dad was gay. Well, my oldest brother was the one who discovered that. He said that he noticed that my father was always with a younger man. My brother heard rumours from people that there was a possibility that this young man was in a relationship with my dad. He went to investigate. He caught my father’s companion off guard. My brother asked him, ‘what’s going on with you and my father?’ He admitted to being in a relationship with my father. My brother took him to my aunts – my father’s sisters – in Paarl. My brother presented the young man to them and said to him, ‘tell them what you told me.’ And he did.

“My aunts phoned my father and he denied everything. That resulted in my father hating my brother for doing that. They don’t talk anymore. My father felt that it was embarrassing. My brother came to our house in Gugs afterwards and he went into my mom’s room with her. My sister and I were curious but it was a private conversation because they closed the door. That made us think that they were hiding something. They were in the room for about 15 minutes. Then my brother came out and said his goodbyes. He looked like he had been crying. He had red eyes.

“After he left, my mom sat me and my sister down. She asked us, ‘do you remember why we moved?’ So my sister said, ‘yes, because dad cheated’. My mom said, ‘yes, but not with who you think. Your father has been doing this for a long time. I don’t know if he’s ashamed. But he’s gay.’ So that’s when we knew that our dad is gay. That’s when things started making sense. We had met the young man. He was usually around my father and my father would introduce him as his friend.”

Mihle explains that the revelation did not change his relationship with his father.

“We didn’t fuss about it. It was just putting two and two together. I was actually laughing at that time because I’m the type of person who hides being nervous behind humour. I was mainly worried about what people would think when I got to Langa. Being gay in the black community is not easy, because gay people are seen as weak.

“It wasn’t easy. My own friends would talk about this behind my back. My cousin told me about it since he was also close to them. It made me feel betrayed, so I unfriended them. I stopped hanging out with young people in Langa.

“Nothing has changed for me, he’s my father. It’s just how it is. It’s not like his sexual orientation determines how good he is as a father or how I feel about him. I actually felt no negative emotion towards him whatsoever. I love him.

“I was just afraid of how people would treat my dad, and what they would say about him and our family. But I had to come to terms with my fears. People will always have something to say, no matter what. I’ve learned to listen to people’s opinions but I don’t necessarily apply them to my life. That’s how I learned to be myself and not care about what people think of me.

“My dad has never looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m gay.’ It’s something I never chose to ask him about. When he is ready, we will have that conversation. But he knows that I know.”

“We don’t act as if it’s not true. Acceptance is key. My mom and sister joke about it, and that makes it easier. So, when people say ‘your dad is gay’, I just say, ‘so?’

“I taught myself to be quiet and calm. My mom taught me that if someone speaks nonsense to me, I should not answer because I would be wasting my breath. She also said, ‘don’t argue with a fool. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with nonsense.’”

When asked for his last remarks, Mihle concluded, “criticism is something that will always be there. No matter what, people will always have negative remarks towards each other. To be wise means to not waste your time arguing with fools. We need to be the bigger person and just walk away. After all, we all live in glass houses, so we should stop throwing stones.”

Mihle is a Leaders’ Quest student.

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