Kim’s Story: Growin Up Gay in South Africa
Article published on Save the Children website, June 22, 2020
Meet Kim, a 17-year-old girl living in the township Alexandra, known as Alex, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Alex is one of the oldest townships in the country and faces many challenges: it’s overcrowded, unemployment is high and health services are scarce. Sexual violence and abuse are a daily threat for girls and women living in Alex.
For the LGBTQ community, and young gay people like Kim, there are extra risks. Despite the fact that South Africa has some of the world´s most progressive legislation protecting LGBTQ rights, homophobia and homophobic violence is rampant. Threats and discrimination are part of their daily reality.
We spoke to Kim about her life as a young, gay woman living in the area.
“For a girl to grow up in Alex, it’s not a good thing. Girls get mugged and raped in the parks. You have to think about the threats when you’re going and coming back from school.
I cannot be who I am in Alex because a lot of people don’t have knowledge about gay people. They think that if you’re a girl and a lesbian you’re just trying to be a boy. And if you’re a boy being gay you’re just trying to be a girl.
Society thinks of boys and girls in a certain way. It thinks that a boy should behave in a certain way and that a girl should behave in a certain way. And when a girl does not behave in that way they tend to criticise and judge.
A girl is supposed to be feminine. You have to dress up, wear make-up, do nice hair styles. Gender roles have a real impact when it comes to girls and boys.”
For many years, Kim has been part of Save the Children’s youth clubs where participants learn about gender roles, harmful gender norms and how to participate and access their rights in society. As an active member, Kim has grown in confidence and today she is leading workshops in schools on gender issues.
Together with one of the Save the Children staff, Kim went to her first Pride Parade in Johannesburg in November 2018. At that time, Kim had just told a few people about her sexuality, but during the year that followed Kim came out to her friends and family.
When she came out to her mum, she started off as if she was joking.
“I told her I that I was joking, I asked her ‘How would you feel if I married a girl, would you come to the wedding?’ She said ‘Instead of asking me about your education you’re asking to me about you and girls.’ And then that was it.
And then I asked my Aunt: ‘Is it a sin to date a girl?’ and she said ‘No it’s just who you love so it’s OK’.
The most important thing in my life is my mum because she is my rockstar. She is my pillar of strength. She is my everything.
I think once I am 18 I will have a serious talk with my mum because now I am still under her care so I have to obey what she says. I can’t wait because I wouldn’t want my mum missing my wedding or not being part of my family when I am grown because she can’t accept my sexuality. So I would really want her to accept who I am because she is the only person I have.
If she doesn’t accept me it it’s going to be hard.
No matter what people say, this is who I am and this is how I will live my life. The rainbow is in my blood so I must embrace it.”
In 2019, Kim marched at Pride again. This time she brought her girlfriend as well as 35 friends from her school and from Save the Children’s youth clubs. She describes Pride: “At Pride there is so much energy and so much excitement. There are a lot of people here, and I brought a lot of people. Last year I had such an amazing experience, so I want them to have the same experience as me. To know that it’s OK to be yourself, it’s OK to be you, and you have a community that will support you.
When you see Pride you think ‘wow, South Africa does this’ but when you go back into deep into the communities like mine you will be shocked around the things they do to queer people.”