"TO GAY TO MALELVE?"
We aren't much older than 8, yet my classmates' collective gaze latches onto my lips as if what's to fall out of them next is to be as serious as adult talk. And looking back, it might as well have been...
Anna was the one to ask me the question, visibly encouraged by Yann. Put on the spot, I cannot quite understand what she means, though I know from her grin that there's a right answer and a terribly wrong one. So, am I a "gay", or am I a "malelve" (pervert)? Well... "Gay" means happy, right? At least, that's what I know the word is supposed to mean in and out of my good, overly protective Christian home. But "pervert" can't be a good word. I don't know everything that it entails exactly, but something at the back of my mind whispers to me that, whatever it is, mother wouldn't approve.
'I am gay.'
My friends' eyes widen as if to explode, and their mouths fire a crescendo of mocking laughter at me. I immediately feel stupid. I thought I had been smart enough, but somehow, I had fallen right into the trap. How can it be wrong to be happy?
'Do you know what "gay" means?,' Anna cackles.
'No,' I utter through increasing embarrassment.
'It means that you kiss boys,' she replies. 'It means that you are in love with boys.'
A second wave of hysterical laughter is fueled by her explanation. Apparently, I have just come out... Though I don't fully understand any of it yet. What is certain, however, is that, along with many other queer-phobic incidents, this is going to forge my perception of gayness for the many years to come.
Just from that one question, I learnt, in between two multiplication tables, that loving a boy is regarded as more shameful than being a pervert. From other experiences, I'll learn that loving boys IS perversion. And in high school, though not fully out, I'll even have a teacher look at me and call me "enn erer de la natir" (a freak) to my face, and in front of my entire class.
Young Mauritians constantly face subtle and less subtle signs that queerness is not a desired trait. They are made to believe that it is the worst thing they can ever be in contact with without ever being educated on what being queer actually is.
When I look back and think of how 8 year old me dealt with that god awful question... I wish, quite in vain, that I had known enough to have stuck with my original answer instead of recoiling in shame and screaming that I was a pervert in an attempt to cease my friends' "teasing". I wish I could have told them that it is gay to love a boy because being able to be with the human that one truly loves makes one happy.
Thanks for reading,