Written by Rudolph Bessit
Warm greetings and welcome to my column.
This is my first contribution to the family and I would like to thank the Exit family for the opportunity and privileged association, I’m truly grateful. I’m very excited to share this space with you all and I hope you would enjoy my content… Having said that, allow me to introduce myself.
I grew up in Polokwane where my siblings and I lived with my grandparents. Like many of you I was always aware of the fact that I was “different”, I hated the difference I saw in me. I tried breathing under water and swimming through fire to not be what those around me said I was, needless to say it was all in vain. I thought minimal knowledge regarding the LGBTQIA+ community would somehow prevent me from becoming a “full-blown gay”. I cut myself loose from anything gay, including human beings. In high school I had at least one “gay” friend, but we never spoke about it until a few years ago, but at the time I was again in an aggressive attempt to try and change one more time…
During January 2002, just weeks after I matriculated, I ended up in Durban with a *fwennn… We departed from Polokwane on Wednesday evening, if I’m not mistaken. I told my mom I was going on a youth camp for the weekend, mind you, I had already started working and was actually granted leave. At around lunch time on the Saturday while at the Pavilion, my *fwennn wanted to know what I would like to do that evening, if I knew then what I know now. Anyway, because we could only see each other secretly in Polokwane and couldn’t go places other *fwennns go. We were extremely deep in the closet and it was not to be chanced. I really wanted to go out on a movie date with him. He then questioned if I don’t rather want to go to a gay club, since we were out of town. Little did he know that I had no idea that gay clubs existed in South Africa. He asked me if I knew a particular club in Polokwane, which I knew and told him that I’ve been there a few times… and he confirmed that it is indeed a gay club.
Look, I loved that club and I’ve had some magical moments there, but I didn’t know it was a gay club, I saw many gays there, but I mean… I’m trying to be honest with myself, but also sensitive. I’m not sure to think that I was innocent, ignorant or just stupid, worst of all, those traits still live in me. Having these dilly traits has saved me a lot of trouble though, there’s a mountain of things I’m grateful for not knowing when others knew.
I got back to Polokwane with new visions and ideas and a whole new bucket list. A few months thereafter I visited Johannesburg for a weekend with my brother and a friend, just after I bought a car and we accidently discovered the gay Heartland in Braamfontein. That was such a bittersweet moment for me. I didn’t have to drive to Durban to dance and be merry around people like myself, however my friend and brother, my friend and brother… I managed to ask the necessary questions to get confirmation on that which I needed to know without causing any suspicion. That was the moment my life changed, across the road from club Purple Fly. I just knew right at that instant that my next trip to Johannesburg was going to be a beautiful trip all by myself. Yes, I was afraid, but the freedom I experienced in Durban at X’s I had to have it again. For three months I did not come to Johannesburg and when I did, I could not find parking anywhere at the Heartland, mind you, I got there at around 4pm, I wanted to check things out in the daylight. It was packed, noisy; busy at times it felt like I was in a heaven of gays.
After numerous times of circling around the block, I got a parking spot on the side by Purple Fly and sat in the car. Afraid and excited, I wished my *fwennn was with me, but he had left the country earlier that year. I was approached by a gentleman who was watching me get in and out of the car, “Are you waiting for somebody?” After some conversation I learned that it was Gay Pride weekend, never heard of it before. Shame, the gentleman could see I was a little concerned for my safety also, he offered to pay my cover charge and show me around after we’ve been having drinks over the cute little picked fence. I ended up inside the club and my life was never the same again. I didn’t mind driving up and down from Polokwane to Johannesburg every other weekend just to experience the kind of freedom I felt when I was around my people, and not worrying about who sees me talking to whom. I somehow gained courage to go to the club in Polokwane, Monty’s, I just always had my guard up to not get too comfortable when I got tipsy.
In 2004, I relocated to Johannesburg, but only ended up staying for four months and moved back to Polokwane. The pressures of gay relationships and drama accompanied by a better offer from my previous employer motivated my move back home. Two years later during the 2006 Easter weekend on Sunday morning, I was involved in a serious motorcar accident which left me with a fractured spine. While recovering and learning to use my body again, my doctor advised me to change jobs as I was an automation field technician at the time, which included long distance driving and carrying of heavy equipment.
This came at a time when I was extremely grateful for the gift of life and I was counting all my blessings. I had every reason in the world to try those things I was previously too afraid to try and experience as much of my heart’s desires as I possibly could. August of 2006 I was in Johannesburg for the funeral of my uncle, and ended up going for a job interview as a sales consultant. I knew I could not sell to save my life, but I was ready and eager for change and a challenge, and it was challenging. The job was mine, basic and commission. Basic was less than my car allowance from my previous employer, the rest was up to me. End of November I decided I was taking the job. My wellbeing was more important than the money, and the inquisitiveness over life was just too attractive. There was a whole new world waiting for me and at the time I had already been kicked out of the closet, during my four month stay in Johannesburg in 2004. I was hungry to find my freedom, to find me… and my life was never the same again.
Never did anyone have to question my sexuality again. From introduction or soon thereafter I made sure people knew I was gay. I was never going to pretend again. A month after I started working at absolutely no surprise, I was demoted to telesales and after three months of not reaching even close to target, I was kindly and respectfully asked to pack and leave. It was very relieving that I was not alone, a whole bunch of us. I had some of the staff travel with me, including my sister and had to wait for them. I used the time to job hunt and to my surprise, I got a call back for an interview for a position at a bank on that same day. I went through the selection process and got the job. Those few weeks without a job were terrifying though. And my life was never the same again.
Every time I entered a new environment, I discovered a bit more about myself and learnt there was more I wanted to experience. I decided to stay clear of relationships as I had no idea what was happening to me. After years of being suicidal about my sexuality and fear that I would never be able to be myself, though I’ve come to somehow accept my fate, part of me still hoped there was that last try to change. I didn’t know if I was going to end up with a man or a woman. I could not decide in fact – I didn’t even know if I was gay or bisexual, at times it felt like it was harder to be me than at other times. I stayed away from women for many years though. I made it clear to the men who found interest in me, that I wasn’t looking for anything serious and I’d leave in a flash as soon as they try to overstep boundaries with their “clinginess”. I didn’t want a relationship interfering and slowing down the process of finding myself. I didn’t want to neglect a lover as I was going to invest my time and energy into finding that something I knew was somewhere within.
Let’s fast-forward to December 2020. By then I’ve had six years of suppressed memory from my childhood revisit me. Amongst these were memories of molesting, rape, rejection and so much more, but it was different then. The flashbacks I got were regarding my own feelings, wishes and dreams. See, I had heard terms like gender-fluidity, non-binary, pansexuality, etc., but never paid attention to it, it was just people justifying abnormal behaviours I thought. My flashbacks prompted me to read up on all these sexualities and finally I felt normal, like there are others like me, like I too belong to a group/gender of people. Can you believe it, there’s more than just gay, bi and lesbian under the LGBTQIA+ community… and I once again realise that I blocked information regarding our community to penetrate, as I didn’t want to allow or feel like external factors are shaping me as they did when I allowed external factors to dictate who and what I should be and how I’m done, how I should be portrayed. I’ve also had glimpses of who I may be, you know those moments when you let your hair loose. Those carefree moments I loved too much. Jumping into a little dress and doing my thing. I guess I was afraid I may just love it too much. And my life was never the same again.
I have since December of 2020 decided to be everything I was always afraid to be, myself. Growing up, everyone knew me as Rudy until recently, because according to me my birth name didn’t suit me. I’ve decided to own who I am. I am Rudolph or if you wish, Rudeybah-LeeAnn, a 39 year old gender fluid/non-binary being. I’m not too fussy with pronouns, or at least not yet. And my life was never the same…
As I continue to become more of me and less of whom I learned to be, I’ve now told you a tiny bit about myself, I hope you and I could enjoy this space.
From your Purple-Fly within the Rainbow