by Nancy Musinguzi
I have always felt like I have been half-congratulated all my life.
Half celebrated and half-mourned for my failure to accomplish the simple things my father vicariously dreamed of me fulfilling as his African princess. I remember my college graduation party. My family and parents’ close friends attended, most of whom were my father’s friends rather than my own, and I knew they were not there to celebrate me. Arriving unfashionably late, neglecting to greet me (something so unorthodox in any ethnic culture), eating up all my favorite foods my mother arranged for the caterers to make while I was rushing back and forth to pick up a dear friend from the train station. These are the simple ways in which they communicated their respect — or lack of — for me. However, amongst the many things that already made me feel inferior, what I remember most were guests who went out of their way not to embrace me. Men half hugged me, maintaining 2 to 3 feet between our bodies from intimate contact, like schoolboys telling their friends in the old fashioned way, “No homo.” Women stared in disgust at my tucked in dress shirt and khaki shorts, constantly asking if I was going to change into “something more decent for the occasion.” From the moment they stepped foot onto my lawn, family members harassed my girlfriend, asking if they could “take a picture of me with ‘my friend’”. For what?? Clearly I was a form of entertainment, a freak of nature they all came near and far to witness and see my sheer hideousness for themselves. I resented their bullshit and I hated their repressive attitudes toward me. After all, wasn’t it my day to be proud of myself? I quickly learned that not only was this not the objective, but the damn party wasn’t even for me.
From the very beginning of that evening, I knew this was not a moment made for me to be proud of my accomplishments, but rather my father’s success of raising me to be a good African daughter. Speech after speech, his sisters and friends came up to speak about what a great man my father was and how lucky I was to have him. That somehow, there was no possible way for me to do the many things that I did during my undergraduate career without my father’s wisdom and guidance. Sure, he was a great resource that all parents are required to be to their children. But by no means was my father ever a source of emotional support to me during my childhood, especially in my transition in accepting my queer identity.
My mother has always been a great source of love and kindness to me, especially during my phases of spiked anger and emotional turmoil. When I came out to her, she was most accepting of me and I am so grateful to have had such a wonderful spirit embrace me, closed tightly around my vulnerability. However, my father responded with half a year of brutal silence tucked neatly between our endpoints, only to acknowledge my presence when I bothered him visually. From “why do you have to wear that” to “what am I supposed to feel when you do this to yourself,” I was slowly reduced to a heap of regret. I knew I deserved better so I began to look for support elsewhere; in external members of society — who eventually became like family — for love and mindfulness.
Without my girlfriend, sisters from Ghana, colleagues-turned-friends, and kind and forgiving souls from my college years, I would be wholly dead. Because I did not have the love and care a child needed to develop into a mature being, these people played an integral part in raising me. Yes, these people were my village, not my actual African village, because those people did not raise me up or extol me. They never sent the message that I deserved to be celebrated. They can keep the missed birthdays, moments of opportunity to mentor and educate me, to defend me, to love me. I don’t need their apologies or half-hearted condolences to validate my worth anymore. I am the strongest person I know and I can owe that all to myself. Scorched and burned, but never destroyed.
I was half a human that day. I was the batch of tea that left too many leaves floating in the water. I was the awkward pause in my graduation speech that was filled with bored chatter and uninterested stares. No one really cared what my dreams were, but wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass my father with silly ventures that could possibly cost him his reputation as a rain man. I was receiving half-diplomacy from my guests, burning me at the stake for going against tradition. But why did I feel like I let down a thousand worlds? A thousand mothers and fathers shedding a thousand tears? It seemed like I always received half the love I was supposed to from people that I expected wholeness to be given. The moment I came out to my parents was when my life got a little easier to live, but harder to survive with my new nakedness of truth.
Nancy Musinguzi is a freelance writer, photographer, and aspiring filmmaker located in Long Island City, NY. A recent graduate from Rutgers University, she hopes to pursue an MFA in Directing and use film as a tool of social commentary and activism in the arts. She enjoys reading, spending time with her girlfriend, watching Seinfeld, meeting new people, and seizing every opportunity to learn more about the world around her.
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