They Called Me Queer is a collection written by Africans who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA+).
South Africa has become known for its tolerance towards us, the LGBTQIA+ community.
However, even if being who we are is legal, we live in a devastatingly segregated and unequal society, where the combination of race, class, gender and sexual identities still heavily impacts every part of our lives.
This collection of stories is a testimony to who we are. It is an assertion of our struggles, but also our triumphs.
These are our stories of acceptance and rejection, of young love and old lovers, of the agonising thrills of coming out and coming into ourselves, of our sex lives, of our families and communities.
Trigger warning: suicide
This is an update of an open letter I posted to social media at the start of 2016. I had been deeply unhappy for such a long time. I hit rock bottom on January 15, 2016. I was at work thinking about how I’d nearly flung myself out the train that morning. I’d been thinking about suicide a lot. It scared me.
Suicide and mental illness run in my family, especially amongst the men. My dad committed suicide when I was three. A number of other close family members tried too - some succeeded, some didn’t.
I hadn’t felt alive in a very long time. Is this what they’d felt like before they decided to put a gun to their head? The death of my father planted seeds in my mind.
Those seeds had sprouted like flowers over a grave. I spent many years denying a big part of myself. I carried my shame and my self-hatred around like a rotting limb.
The rot was spreading and it was killing me. I didn’t want to die. I swore I would never be like my father. I would never put my mother through that again.
Thank God for rock bottom. Everything became clear and I knew that I needed to let go of all the shame and all the pain I’d been harbouring. And I did, and I was free. Two years later though, I found myself back there. I’ll explain.
Let me start a couple years back - December 2011 to be exact.
I remember coming home late one night. I’d been out drinking.
My mother messaged me to say that they weren’t home and that she had hidden the key in the usual spot. It took every ounce of strength in me to keep my body from caving in on the way home.
I managed to make it just past the kitchen before falling to the floor. I prayed. I screamed. I cursed. I prayed some more.
I should probably backtrack a little more. You see, I’d spent that day out drinking with a friend - someone I met during my first year at UCT.
We had most of our philosophy lectures together. We became very good friends over a very short period of time. We were extremely close - best friends even.
We’d go out to drink often. We’d get drunk and talk about anything and everything. It was his birthday that day. It wasn’t supposed to be any different to the other times, except for the fact that we’d probably just get a little more drunk than usual. But that day wasn’t like all the other times.
There was a pervading energy at our little corner table that I hadn’t felt before. I felt slightly tense. I could tell that he did too.
Our conversations started to get deeper with every drink. Stares lingered just a bit longer than normal, our seats moved closer, and time seemed to slow down with every shot of whisky. I found myself fixated on his eyes, his nose and on his lips - the way his top lip curved like the ebb and flow of the ocean, how the creases danced over the skin like folds on a rose.
His lips parted and met with every word he said like the wings of an eagle in flight - virile but tender, crude but graceful.
I was so enamoured that often I didn’t even hear what he was saying, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered in that moment was that he was there and that I was there with him. That was the moment it hit me - I was in love. I was unequivocally, profoundly, violently in love. I was unequivocally, profoundly, violently in love with a man.
My head started spinning and I felt like I wanted to throw up. I made up an excuse to get home. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
You see, the problem was that I had dated girls before and I was sure that I loved them. I’d had sex with girls before and I knew that I’d enjoyed it. What I was feeling didn’t make any sense.
I’d never been more terrified in my life. I cut all contact with him. I spent the subsequent three years in a perpetual state of war with myself. It took me four years to accept what happened that day.
On January 15, 2016, I shared my story with my friends and family. I was free. I found love for myself again, and love found me. Then came The Voice South Africa. People started telling me to keep the fact that I was in a relationship with a man a secret.
“The audience is conservative,” they said, and “no one will vote for you.”
So I did, and I won.
“I’m glad I listened to them,” I thought.
People then said, “No one will buy your music if they think you’re gay”, and “girls are your biggest market, you will alienate them”.
Before I knew it, I was right back in the closet again. It’s been one year since I won The Voice South Africa. My dreams had come true.
I was in a relationship with an amazing man. My career was flourishing. I was wholly depressed. Suicidal thoughts plagued my mind. I’d become a very angry man.
Hurt people really do hurt people. I hated myself. I was wasted every other day. There were even drugs. I’d forgotten myself. I’d forgotten that I was smart, talented, funny and kind. I’d forgotten that I was loved.
It took me hitting rock bottom once more to realise that I’d been living a lie. Now, more than ever, I have so much to live for, and I want to live.
My skies have been grey and cloudy for way too long; a cloud is only allowed to become so heavy before it bursts and rain comes falling from the sky.
I’m ready for that rain to come and wash away the sadness that has been tainting my mind and my heart for the last two years. I’m ready for the rain to water my gardens and give life to the seeds of joy that I know lie very deep within my soul.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I expect to lose a couple of friends and fans, and I expect a couple of familial relationships to become strained as a result of this letter, but it’s okay.
I sing about Hearts Exposed but hid mine. So here I am pulling my best Frank Ocean. I welcome whatever is coming my way with an open heart and an open mind. Until then, I have some making up to do with the people who stuck by my side, even when I was at my worst, and some amazing fucking songs to write.
Craig Lucas, from Elsies River in Cape Town, is a graduate in Economics and Politics from the University of Cape Town.
But despite a promising career ahead of him in the corporate world, Craig secretly loved singing.
He was the winner of the second season of The Voice South Africa in 2017 and signed a record deal with Universal Music immediately afterwards.
His debut single, I Said This, reached number one on iTunes within a matter of days, and his debut album, Restless, was nominated for a South African Music Award.
They Called Me Queer is published by Kwela Books, an imprint of NB Publishers. It costs R250.
About the Editors
Kim Windvogel is a human rights defender, graduate from UCT, and co-founder and advocacy officer of FemmeProjects, an organisation that focuses on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Kelly-Eve Koopman is a storyteller and activist. With her partner, Sarah Summers, she has developed the webseries Coloured Mentality. She is a delegate on the Atlantic Fellowship for Racial Equity and codirector and one third of Femmeprojects.
In 2018 they were part of the first cohort of fellows for OutRight Action International’s UN programme.