In this monthly series, we hand over the blog platform to IAM’s staff to share their own journeys, stories and insights in their own words. Though our journeys are all unique and individual, many of us share common challenges and dilemmas as we simply attempt to lead our lives as people of faith while loving whom we love.
Hanzline R. Davids holds a bachelor’s degree in theology, master’s in divinity, postgraduate diploma in Christian leadership and administration, and a master’s in theology from Stellenbosch University. He is currently enrolled at Stellenbosch University as a doctoral student.
In 1995, a year after South Africa’s first democratic election, I went off to first grade. Internationally, South Africa was lauded for her peaceful political settlement. South Africans were free. We – young and old – were reminded that we have human rights.
It was the same year in which South Africa won the Rugby World Cup. All the boys at school were immersed in rugby fever. They knew the names of the players, national anthems and even the records of each player. At recess some of the boys played rugby and cricket. Sports didn’t really interest me. Toy cars won me friends and I could build sand roads better than the next boy. Our fruit trees at home took care of pocket money. Friends helped me sell the fruit at a fee. I was protected because I didn’t just play with girls. I wasn’t a moffie*. I got away with not being on the bullies’ radar.
High school was different. I had fewer friends and became more withdrawn. Something inside me didn’t feel free despite the democratic government and human rights climate in which I grew up. As a teenager I couldn’t understand my attraction to other teenage boys. It made me depressed. I didn’t know how to talk to my mother or teachers. My mother, unaware of my battle with my sexuality and depression, suggested I do some part-time holiday work to get out of the house. Doing carpentry and construction work helped me out of my unhappiness. I thought that my sexuality would alter my gender expression. For me, being gay meant being feminine. In the meantime, I had become more anti-social and isolated. I turned to books and soon became a nerd. Work and books gave me sense of worth.
At the age of 13 faith became an important part of my life. Faith filled a void and the church became a social community network, despite no one being aware of my battle with my sexuality. I was involved with the local congregation’s youth, Sunday school and catechism. My calling to become a minister was born in fellowship and worship with my faith community.
After school I went to university, to study theology. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make peace with myself and my internalized homophobia intensified. I couldn’t speak to my spiritual mentors. Openly gay students weren’t allowed into ministry. My mother died in the middle of 2010, losing her battle to cancer. I lost the one person I knew would support me. I decided that I would deny myself the space to live my truth.
Publicly, my congregation, friends and family knew I condemned discrimination against LGBTQI people. I thought God made a mistake with me. It turned out that I was wrong. In the ministry, everything started to change. An elder on the church council suggested that the congregation host a workshop on homosexuality to equip our leaders and congregation. This workshop changed my life, guiding me to undertake a second master’s degree to investigate homosexuality theologically. I found life-affirming ways to read and interpret Scripture, tradition, reason and experience that helped me to connect my sexuality and spirituality. I felt comfortable that I could determine my gender expression and walk away from any form of toxic masculinity. I wanted to live my truth publicly. I resigned from my congregation as a reverend. After my resignation and coming out to the church leadership, the church did not offer me any pastoral care. The faith community where I worship and have fellowship exiled me because they were uncertain how I would fit in, although, the church publicly states that LGBTI people are welcome. Losing my status in the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa gave me an opportunity to reimagine ministry.
Today, my work at IAM enables me to co-create spaces that empowers faith communities through embodied experiences and research to recognise and celebrate LGBTI on the African continent.
*Moffie is a derogative term in the Afrikaans community. Some gay people use the term amongst themselves in an embracing way to taunt heteronormativity and toxic masculinity.