Same sex, different cultures come full circle
The thing that hurt the most wasn’t the infidelity itself, or the aftermath of the act of infidelity, the sorting of possessions, the back and forth conversations trying to understand how or why. It wasn’t even the wariness at having to tiptoe across a floor made of trust, now so damaged that, if I didn’t tread lightly, I would fall right through and lose myself forever.
The thing that hurt the most was that the other woman looked just like her. They shared the same complexion, the same yellow hair cut in the same style, and they spoke the same language. Even the sounds of their names made it clear that they were tied to the same heritage. I felt like I was completely on the outside. Othered at the hands of the person who had faced all the adversities head-on with me, fought all the battles ±—— who had often ignored it with me, or laughed in the face of it — for over two years? I had lost.
I don’t have enough hands to enumerate, finger by finger, the amount of times people had pointed out the discrepancies between us, to us. “So… you’re both women, in a relationship, from different races and religions, plus you have completely contrasting cultures… In South Africa?” they’d say.
Sometimes, they were trying to make sense of it to themselves out loud. Most times they said it in a way that made me feel like they felt they thought it was the responsible thing to do. To just make us aware, in case we didn’t already know those things. They would always finish with: “You have your work cut out for you.” We did.
And all our coy smiles, indifferent shrugs of shoulders, or even the odd you’d-think-we-would-pick-just-one-battle joke would serve as confirmation.
We never dissected any of it. Not publicly, anyway, and not with the observers who highlighted it. We engaged with it vaguely, laced with hope: “It’s hard but it’s good. We have a great understanding for each other’s cultures, and when we don’t, we want to learn. And that’s okay. It won’t stop us being together.”
We gazed at its face, but we never stared into its guts. Maybe because picking the differences apart seemed so archaic, so old South Africa, and so irrelevant when contrasted with love, that it seemed unnecessary.
But the barriers reared their ugly heads in mini battles that pockmarked our entire relationship. Like how language became a sword that sliced right through me when I was the only non-white, non-Afrikaans speaking person at a social event of her choosing. Where no one engaged with me because they spoke only Afrikaans. And only to each other. Or the countless times I interjected those conversations with an English response and got the predictable “oh, you understand Afrikaans?” (Yes, I had to take the subject for 12 years at school. I understand it.)
Or how I would just give up and sit quietly and becomingly and wish that I were not the only person of colour there. And how the fact that I was so angry that there are still people who make conscious decisions to just hang out with people who are exactly like them.
“It’s not true,” she would say, “I mean you’re not white or Afrikaans and I’m at least dating you.” Token.
We didn’t want to be the two people who were trying to do the impossible. But we were. We didn’t want it to be an issue — the fact that one of us was Afrikaans and from a very homogenised society, and the other Muslim and from a very conservative society to be an issue.
We wanted to be bigger than that. We wanted love to overcome hate. We wanted to believe that everyone else would eventually come to our side of the fence, but they wouldn’t. And maybe in our own ways, we played a big part in that.
I knew it in the way she constantly kept me away from socials with her white Afrikaans male bosses, afraid of being judged or not fitting in to the status quo of predetermined roles — The “poppie” image had to be maintained and I would taint that.
She knew it in the way I could not tell my family about her. My siblings knew, but my parents didn’t; they would not accept it, they would disown me. There was no space in their religion or culture for it, for me to be that way. It plagues me still. The more things change (the more I changed), the more they stayed the same. They are the same still.
You think you make your peace with being a lonely person. You think you learn to live outside of things and with them at the same time, to maintain all sorts of relationships.
You still end up very much alone. You manage being with everyone – lovers, friends, family, in different ways, in the ways that are necessary, but you’re still alone in being you. I was. I am.
And those tiny battles between us, and the personal skeletons that haunted us, they started to bleed into everything. They started to bleed into us. Until it just became easier for her to be with someone who was more the same. Full circle.
Isfahan is writing under a pseudonym because she is culturally forced to do so when she writes on topics of this nature.