I was outed as bisexual. Falling in love helped me come out on my own terms

I spent years grappling with my sexuality — until she helped me come out on my own terms

Coming out wasn’t easy. I never even got the chance.

At 23, I was outed to my parents, maliciously, by someone very close to me. At that moment, my whole life shattered into pieces. Seven years before this all happened, I was 16 and getting ready to leave Cape Town, South Africa, to study in England. I took this as an opportunity to get a fresh start away from my semi-conservative family. I also believed this was a way to figure out who I was and to explore what was considered taboo in my family — my sexuality, something I had been grappling with for a very long time.

I knew very early on that I was attracted to both men and women and it was something that terrified me. I didn’t have a word for it and, to some degree, I knew and felt like there was something “wrong” with me. I came out to my best friend at 14, still not sure what to call myself. All I could say was “I like guys and girls . . . everyone, really.” Two years later, I was able to call myself bisexual without cringing every time I said it. By then, I had come out to most of my closest friends and they were all incredibly supportive.

For the next few years, everything seemed to line up, and I met someone in England who I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. Everything was going well until I was outed and my family disowned me. I became severely depressed and my then-girlfriend took over my life. She limited my communication with the friends I called family, watched my every move and tore me down. I had no fight in me to leave. Instead, I married her.

So there I was, stuck in a different country, living with an abusive wife and completely cut off by my family.

My life looked very different two years later.

I left my controlling wife. And I had, for the most part, tackled my depression. One day, my parents called me and asked to talk. They wanted to start rebuilding our relationship. I was about to turn 25 and was getting ready to leave England and move to Japan to teach English. My parents were remorseful and apologetic about what had happened, and emphasized that they didn’t want me to go until we had resolved our issues. They were adamant that they weren’t going to lose me again.

There were a lot of tears shed that day. None were from me. My parents sat, cried, and went on about how they almost lost me as a baby and how they couldn’t live through that again. There was very little time spent addressing how their disownment affected me, how we would move forward or about accepting — if at all — my bisexuality. That conversation made me realize I had regressed back into the closet to comfort those around me — especially my parents. I became a person who denied their bisexuality, their non-binary self, their queer life. Who am I really? I kept asking myself.


“I became a person who denied their bisexuality, their non-binary self, their queer life.”

After a year and a half in Japan, I moved back to Cape Town. Then I met a man. Our meeting was unceremonious — two drunk people dancing in a club and a vague invitation to a birthday party the next day. I agreed to go even though I had the intention of not showing up at all. But there was something about his playful grin, his dark midnight skin and the way he sang out of tune that made me melt.

While I was with him, life in Cape Town fell into place — or so I thought. I was officially the cookie-cutter heterosexual babe I was supposed to be. I didn’t have to worry about being queer or showing that part of my life to anyone anymore. In my favourite childhood book — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — four siblings find their way to a magical land called Narnia after finding a portal through the back of a wardrobe. This is what my new found heterosexuality meant to me: I felt like I had found my own Narnia in the back of my proverbial closet and I had no intention of turning back.

After being with this man for a year, and living in Cape Town for almost as long, I realized I had no friends except for his. My high school friends had moved on — of course they had, I’d been gone for 10 years. Determined to get over this heart-aching realization, I decided to play an active role in my friendship-finding. What better place to look for friends than on Tinder? Yes, I had a boyfriend, but he knew I was on there looking for friends. I even had a disclaimer: “I am happily in a relationship. Just looking for friends.”

Until her.

One day, after aimlessly swiping left, I came across Lu’s profile. She is stunning. She has the happiest half-moon eyed smile I’ve ever seen, and there is so much life and light radiating out of her. My heart sank for a moment. She is so beautiful and, in another lifetime, we might have been together. But right now, “I am happily in a relationship. Just looking for friends.” The truth was, I wasn’t happy in my relationship and I eagerly swiped right to match with Lu. On her profile, she had said she was “bigger in person, taller in person and queerer in person” which made me laugh. I was also a little envious: I wished I had the bravery and pride to be openly queer like her. But I stowed my puppy love feelings for her in a bag labelled girl crush and we started talking platonically.

I remember the first day I met Lu in real life. It was a month after we had started talking on Tinder. I went to visit her at her place. When she met me outside, I remember a sharp pain in my chest. She is so beautiful. We hugged awkwardly and she led me to her apartment. We sat on opposite ends of the room (later, she said she was trying to be on her best behaviour because she wasn’t sure what she’d do if she sat near me) and we drank wine. We spoke for hours, about everything: our life stories, LGBTQ2 issues, protests, pro-Blackness, our hopes and dreams. I was the most honest version of myself that I had ever been. I had spent so much time being hardened by my experiences, but she made me see life in a different light — more deeply and brighter than it had ever been. She reminded me of who I really was and the incredibly large part of me I was missing. I found the way back to my awkward, caring and loving self. Narnia didn’t look so good anymore.

I couldn’t believe 12 hours had passed that day. I left wanting to spend an eternity with her.

Five days shy of my 26th birthday, my ex broke up with me. I was devastated but relieved. It had been a long time coming, but I couldn’t face that reality because it would force me to reevaluate my “heterosexuality.” But Lu was there for emotional support. She somehow knew what to say and when to say it. She comforted me but also gave me tough love when I needed that, too. I was going to be okay and she told me that constantly.

When the end of September came, I decided we should go on a picnic. It was a chilly Monday afternoon — technically early evening, because she was late. We sat, shivering, eating strawberries and drinking chai tea. It was bliss. I knew then that I could do this every day of my life and never get bored. We spent the evening together at a cute little café in my favourite shopping mall, exchanging stories of our best and worst dating experiences.

“I left wanting to spend an eternity with her.”

We walked past a bakery with a rainbow-coloured cake in the display and she cheekily said, “I’m gonna get you this for your second coming-out party.” We laughed for so long. Testing the waters, I grazed my hand against hers. I felt like a teenager, my heart in my chest. We stared at each other for what seemed like forever before she jumped away (later, she would say she didn’t know how to deal with the moment).

After that day, I realized just how much I loved Lu and how in love I am with her. I also realized that she had guided me back to myself. The door to Narnia slammed shut. Yes, we eventually told each other about our feelings, and yes, we are still together. We fall for each other every morning we wake up and every evening we go to sleep. This time, I came out on my own terms. It wasn’t easy, but at least Lu was there, making sure I got my rainbow-coloured cake.

Thokozani Mbwana is a queer Malawian academic and freelance writer residing in Cape Town. Their passion include circus performing and eating pizza.

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