This is a personal story shared by Jay Huisamen
I’ve always been bigger. Bigger hands, bigger shoes, bigger pants size, more X’s on the labels of those scratchy t-shirts preceding the “L”, that L I hate with a passion to this day.
Big, large…. Fat. Always fat, thrown as an insult. At the age of seven I was a size 7 shoe, “Act your age, not your shoe size” but I was. This continued until I was fifteen; with each year I got older my shoes would get bigger, my waistline would expand and those dreaded X’s became more and more.
Children make fun of things they don’t understand up until a certain age, pointing, making jokes, ridiculing someone going through something they don’t understand.
Children make fun of things they don’t understand up until a certain age, pointing, making jokes, ridiculing someone going through something they don’t understand. It’s the nature of children in an all-boys environment to pinpoint those who are different, the femininity in my voice, the way my hands swayed when I spoke and the tear that ran down my cheek at the drop of a hat, really didn’t help.
I’ve known I was gay since the age of 6. It felt strange at the time- and extended into the start of my battle with anxiety which grew as I did, the bigger I became, the more anxious I was and mental illness loves to grow bigger when given the chance.
Fat, gay and anxious- if I ever needed to be summed up into three words. The words still ring in my ears, from children around me and my brothers, ridiculing my weight, my appearance and even my shoe size.
The cruelness that goes into making someone self-conscious about how big their feet are is a special kind of ridicule I never expected to experience as a child. Thirteen years old with children screaming at the teacher; “Miss! JJ weighs over 100kgs! Sir JJ’s shoes are bigger than my dad!” broadcasting it to everybody who would and could listen. I think I was called a “faggot” at least once a term until I was out of school, the word I have reclaimed and carry as a badge in the Queer society.
All-boys schools which are predominantly white and Afrikaans in small towns are a special kind of hell if you’re not straight, not white, English or fat. Each gets ridiculed and each suffers alongside the next, a vicious cycle of hell which followed each around through their twelve years of education.
I was by no means an angel, sometimes you have to find your way to shift the focus off yourself and often you make questionable decisions. Sometimes I would lash out at people and that was on me, and for that, I have apologised, made amends and have since become friends with the people who were stuck in the same boat as I am just trying to hold onto the side and not fall over the edge and drown. We were all suffering and we all understood the hurt. Hurt, pain and anxiety make us do regrettable things, but we have to mend what we have damaged ourselves. We are responsible for ourselves. We try to turn it all into love, it’s the only way to not let the pain, anxiety and mistakes eat you from the inside.
As I lost weight I realised how much I still saw myself as the same image I did in school, I didn’t understand. My pants sizes were smaller, the X’s on my shirts became less and even my shoe size dropped by two, but I looked in the mirror and all I saw was that fat little boy in grade 7 leaving the classroom crying after being compared to “The Big Five” by my teacher- something that will sit in my soul till the day I die.
I had manifested all the ridicule and anxiety into body dysmorphia and still to this day, after weight fluctuation, relationships and friendships, I still see myself in that way, but this time I can look in the mirror and say “You are not what your brain thinks you are. You are not what other people say you are.”
As a white gay man who was new in Cape Town I needed to learn to recognise my privilege and it became immediately clear I was back in high school, the ostracization of people of colour, fat individuals and feminine individuals was made evident yet again and the cliques which exist drove me back into that state of high school uncertainty and debilitating anxiety. Many nights spent crying as an ostracised member of my own kind, but with that came the realisation that it’s not my own kind, I would rather not be associated with the clique style hatred going on within the gay community. The “no fats, no fems, no people of colour” crowd triggered every fibre of my being.
Thoughts arose within in me questioning how we can all be together in this yet excluding so many of those who have struggled so much and are still in the metaphorical and physical firing line of society. This is when I found the true community, the queer community within Cape Town of those unashamed to show their femininity, love and accept all sizes, creeds, colours and gender identities.
The label “gay” became to describe my sexual preference- but the term “Queer” became a community I felt safe in, not judged for my skew front tooth, my large body, my mental health status, my stretch marks or the scars all over my legs. It’s filled my heart, dried my tears and opened my mind. Made me realise what I’ve done in life which I regret and has helped me find ways to make amends for the overflow of my pain.
I’m not in that small town anymore, I think I’m home.