My earliest memories of my mother are of her being a disciplinarian and a quiet force who commanded respect without saying much. She was, and still is, a woman of very few words so when she speaks out one knows that it isn’t for the sake of speaking out. She means every word. I would like to think I am like her in the sense that I rarely say what I don’t mean – except for when I am joking, of course.
Of my two siblings, I am the one who spent most of my growing years with my mother. She had them when she was much younger and had to get help raising them. She had me when she was 34 and was a little more stable work-wise. Naturally, for a long time, I was the closest to her. People in the two townships where I grew up still know her as Mama ka Nozuko (my name). This still warms my near-30 heart. “What does this have to do with being sexually liberated doe??” *Hilton sister voice*
So while walking back from church with my mother one day, a 5/6 year old me urgently had to pee. With no bathroom in site and a little shrub at the far corner of the field we had to cross between the section where the church was and where our house was, she told me to squat there and relieve myself. In what I now know to have been pure curiosity, I peeked underneath me to see where the pee stream was coming from. My vagina! I must have stayed like that for a while, in awe and full of questions about my body and how it worked – entranced. “Yheey, uzijonga ntoni? Nyusa ipanty sihambe” my mother’s stern words broke the spell. I quickly did as told and walked silently next to her, feeling both ashamed and confused. Why was it so wrong to look there? Why was I told to never let a boy touch me there or to tell her if a man touched me there? Was I going to get a hiding when we got home?
I am glad to report that I didn’t get a hiding that day but I believe that experience is one of the reasons I have had a weird relationship with sex and my body. If it wasn’t my mother, it was my primary school teacher who thought she was helping us keep our bodies in shape but was actually fat shaming little girls and then much later it was learning in church that masturbation was a sin punishable with eternity in the lake of fire (This was not good news to a 14 year old who was secretly watching Emmanuelle on e-TV at 23:30 every Saturday. I will one day write about how the Emmanuelle series became trash when they cast Krista Allen as Emmanuelle but asikho lapho!).
So yeah, because I grew up in church and in a community where slut and body shaming were a thing, I started internalizing these ideas. I wanted to be seen as pure, a good girl, desirable… - and this was, of course, related to my sexual behaviour. It vexes me now when I think about the years in church when I tortured myself wondering if I was holy and pure enough to please God or my future husband. I mean, the fuck?! I wasn’t even having this evil sex and I still did not feel adequate. I remember when I finally did have sex , and in chorus, left church ( No! the dick wasn’t that bomb, bbz- I was just done) it took a while to think of sex as something I should enjoy. For a long time, it was a means to solidify weak relationships and a way to prove I was not the boring prude people I grew up with thought I was. And even when I did enjoy it, I was afraid to share those experiences because you are a slut mos if you enjoy sex, akere?
Two weeks ago, I went to a sex talk for queer black girls that I really wanted to give a miss because I thought …1) I am not queer …and 2) How was I, with my lit new-people anxiety problems, going to talk about BDSM??! Thankfully, I went, and of course I was my awkward self for a while before I started taking part. I learned so much on the day (mostly about how freaky some of my friends are) and it was a great thing listening to women who did not have the religious baggage I have. I now appreciate the importance of spaces like that where women can talk about these things. I mean, where else can women talk about taking care of their vaginas? How are we supposed to take care of them when we don’t know what they look like? Imagine! So, you are the one with the vagina but your male partner is the only one who gets to see it? How, Sway??
So ja ke, then came my mid 20’s where I was now surer of myself and had emptied myself of my inherited sexual prejudices against my own damn self, most of my body image issues and religion-induced shame. As we all know one cannot remain empty – unlearning one thing means there needs to be new learning. My journey of unlearning meant I had to interrogate my entire belief system. I had to call myself out every time I low key deemed people who had one night stands hoes. Also, life finds a way of bringing us to our knees and we find ourselves being the girls we used to judge.*insert Michael Jordan crying face* All I’m saying is, when you’re in a different city for a festival and everyone’s melanin is popping…. (I already repent of this line).
I am very fortunate to be alive at a time when women have a little more freedom than when my mother was a young woman – back when vaginas were just womb exits for babies and just there of the pleasure of men. One day I will talk about not being able to deal with how thin the line between plus-size body celebration and the fact that it is just our turn to be reduced to hyper sexualized little (big) things. For now, I am happy to be seeing more women like in the media I consume and knowing there are a lot more body appreciation campaigns that will hopefully lead to less girls being afraid of their own damn vaginas.