Michael, 38, grew up in a small town in Mpumalanga. His homosexuality was never accepted there; neither by his family nor his church. So, after he came out, he left for Pretoria, and was finally able to start life as an openly gay man.
That all changed when he was forced to return back home after an accident in 2012 that left him unable to work. Now vulnerable and incapable of fending for himself, he was effectively held hostage by his homophobic father. With the local church’s support, Michael was pressured to reject his sexuality.
He was threatened with being thrown out, verbally abused, denied money and restricted from living his life freely. He told us his story in the hope that by sharing what happened, he can show others that there is a way out.
I was very into the church [when I was younger]. I didn’t really know anything else. An officer of the church told me I that I have the soul of an animal; that while God accepts me he doesn’t condone me. So unless I stop acting on my instincts, my gay instincts, I will be going to hell.
When I came out to my parents at 23, I could see my dad wasn’t happy about it. He is old-school military and very hectic in the church. My mom, when I came out, told me that she knew all along. There was grudging acceptance but they would try manipulate me out of it, which is why I never really went home much after I moved to Pretoria.
Ever since I came out they gave me anti-gay propaganda; like all of the letters of people who struggled and committed suicide from being gay and treated badly for being gay. You know, to convince me to try and not go that route; to change my mind.
I was working for a mining contractor [in Pretoria] right before the accident. My accident happened in about 2012. I was misdiagnosed for two years ago. Eventually it became exceptionally serious and became an autoimmune disorder. And I couldn’t do anything anymore. I was passing out and I was told by doctors I’d died twice.
Because of his inability to work and support himself, Michael had to return home to his parents and small town life. Completely reliant on his father and under his grip, Michael was constantly pushed to change his sexuality or he would have nowhere to live or food to eat.
When I went back home, the same treatment escalated. I had nowhere else to go, I had no other option but to rely on my family. So my father felt he could now come clean with how he really felt. It’s his house, his money, he’s got all the funds… If did get a job interview, then there was week’s fight just to get data to reply.
It escalates and escalates and they find reasons to accuse everything that goes wrong on you being gay, or because I’m not going to church and being religious, and that this is their punishment because I turned out gay.
I don’t really hold anything against my mom. She tried to support me and hid the fact that she was using money for me. And then my dad started checking the bank account every night and then it was a big fight. My mom has been a big buffer between my dad and I but she is now also paying for that, psychologically and health-wise.
There’s a lot of subtle manipulation. To the point that I sat there every day thinking, ‘did I exaggerate this, am I thinking about it wrong’, but then I thought to myself, ‘it did happen, it did happen.’ I was told by them that as long as I’m there and I don’t have children they don’t need to support me.
The town is one of the most repressed places I’ve ever experienced. Basically, everyone on Grindr is either married or just can’t meet. I wrote off being gay there. You just can’t act on it. In the town you still can’t meet in public, you can’t go to the Wimpy and have a coffee and just chat like normal people. You can feel the judgment; you can feel the accusations from people around you. You can actually feel the exorcisms happening in their heads.
I was expected to live like this until I [agreed] to tell [my father] that I had been lying about [my sexuality] for the last twenty years and that I will do what they wanted me to do. If I’m not going to give my father children, he’s not going to support me in any way.
You can’t separate religion from this kind of homophobia. My church believes that you must be obedient to the laws of the country that you find yourself in. When same-sex marriage became legal I had the expectation that the church would now allow me to marry. But they’ve been debating the topic forever and they still haven’t come to a conclusion. When Apartheid ended it took just weeks for black people to be allowed into the church. Why is it taking this long for homosexuality?
In a toxic environment and without support, Michael struggled to manage his medical condition. After a doctor suggested that he use cannabis to alleviate his symptoms, which he did, Michael’s parents and the local church ramped up the pressure against him.
These people see a dark triangle between Satanism, cannabis and homosexuality. If you start the one, the other two are inevitable. A police lady from the church told me they’d be following me everywhere I’d go from now on, and that they’d be checking up on me.
My sister is convinced my sexuality is a virus and that I’m going to spread it to the children. She hasn’t spoken to me in two years. My sister decided that my niece and nephew can’t visit there, which was a hard blow to my mom.
I’ve never stolen anything, I’ve never raped, I’ve never murdered anyone, but they treated me as if I had, just because I’m gay. I was going to kill myself being there because my dad told me straight to my face that he wishes I was dead and I should never have been born, that I must have been molested and that I deserved it.
After three and a half years, and believing that there was no way out for him, Michael was close to suicide. Then a concerned friend shared his story with attorney Coenie Kukkuk in December. Kukkuk called on the LGBTQ community on social media to raise funds to help Michael leave his parent’s home and to help pay for living expenses. A total of R17,000 was raised and Michael finally left and moved into his friend’s house in Pretoria. He is now trying to manage his condition and get his life back on track.
Look, if it wasn’t for my friend I would have in all honestly been dead. I would have killed myself. Now everything has changed. I still stress for my mom. I’d like to get my mom out of that situation because she is practically a hostage, just like I was.
I feel so sad about all of this, for my parents also. I pity them. They can’t even imagine what they are losing out on. What kind of damage must you have to write your child off just because they are gay? Or keep them around to try and change them with every kind of psychological torture. I can fully understand why so many stories like mine end in tragedy.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to say [to the people who contributed money or supported his cause]. How do you thank someone for saving your life other than just living it as best you can? How do I thank these people? How do I tell them that they saved a life? There’s nothing I can do other than to do the same for anyone else that is in the same position as me.
I think that’s the biggest value we can get out of this, you know; telling other people that it is possible to get out, to not to give up. It’s not you; it’s your surroundings and the people around you. Don’t do anything drastic. I want people to know that you just need to hold out long enough – do whatever you have to.
Michael asked that we not use his real name nor identify the town and church included in his account, primarily to protect his mother.