The road to acceptance


When I was 14 years old, I stumbled into a bar.

There is no other way to enter a bar, when you’re 14, than by stumbling. I was drunk, mostly on my own self-importance and hormonal surges, but also intoxicated by this new city, the BIG city, the lights, the feverish bustle, the fashion, the buzz. I was buzzed, too.

I had never felt at home, at home. As a white Afrikaner born into pre-rainbow-nation poverty, my life experience was very limited. I had been subjected to one way of thinking and being, and I knew it didn’t suit me, but who would ever understand? I had also been subjected to forms of abuse that were shrouded in disguises of normality. Sexually, physically and emotionally degraded, but still with enough rebellion left in me to leave, I packed my precious belongings and traversed the golden highway to eGoli, the City of Gold.

Although the bright lights of the Ponte Towers do not quite compare to New York’s Times Square, as a young boy coming from a back-water town (beyond the boerewors curtain) to Johannesburg, I was star-struck. I felt like Dorothy in her ruby slippers traveling the yellow brick road… embarking on a adventure of a lifetime. And much like Dorothy I met a group of miscreants and social outcasts that accepted me for who I truly was, and I finally felt like I belonged.

Fuelled by drugs and liquor I fell in love with my new family. But the party lifestyle started to become more important than the people I had bonded with, and I started smoking and schnarfing the yellow brick road, believing that this is what life is all about. I remember feeling like a debutant at the ball, waving from my ivory tower to those who I once called my valued click.

The DJ boxes became my throne and the toilet my powdering room. Eat your heart out Kate Moss, that is, if she ever did eat.

Little did I realize that the connections I had made and reveled in became less important to me than the glittering glamour and long list of dealers on speed dial.

This is about the time when I stumbled into a bar. It was not by accident, that night. Little did I know it, but that fumbling drunken stumble was the defining moment of my life.

I got cornered by an old disheveled drag queen, who had once been a ‘big thing’ but now garnered no respect from my puffed up persona.

She must have seen something in me, though, maybe a spark of her younger self, because she singled me out that night. She had wisdom to impart. Back then, I wasn’t in the business of taking advice though.

I still smell her whiskey breath whispering to me. She said, “Darling just make sure that when that day comes, the day you fall hard, and find yourself in the gutter,

that you’re lying facing the stars”.

At the time I thought she was mad. I admittedly still do. But the greatest wisdom of our age has come from the most societally condemned. It became almost like a prophecy over my life as 16 years later I traded the yellow brick road for grey pavements, the ruby slippers long sold and forgotten. I began trading the only thing I had left: my dignity. And for what? For a fix. I lived on the streets as a rent boy to fuel my habit.

My feeling of belonging now replaced by ownership, as hour per hour I sold my wares. Whatever you desire, sire. In this hour you’ve paid for I am your slave, that is or as long as it takes to use me for your pleasure.

The debutant became a junkie feeling pretty fucked up lying in piss with a needle for solace and a pipe to keep me warm.

The boy with big dreams from the small town, who had once felt like he owned the City Of Gold, now had nothing but dead-pan eyes and a massive addiction. I lived on the streets for two years. Those streets, taught me everything.

When I had enough of literally being shat on and living in the cracks of society, keeping crack dealers for company, the brunt of the indifference of others wasn’t so exciting anymore with the reflection staring back at me skeletal and not so chic…


I don’t know how, but I remembered those ominous words of my past. And I started looking for the stars.

What I found was a galaxy of acceptance, in the strangest of places. I found Lady Gaga, and her music spoke to me in a way no one else’s empty manipulative words had done before. I found MYSELF in her music, and then I found myself in circles of people just like me. Not pretending to be me, nor pretending to be OK with themselves and taking their disdain out on me, NO. I found people who, like me, were BORN THIS WAY.

My very isolated life started filling up. A few close friends always there to help me when I fell, and I was falling less and less often these days. The big shift came when someone started loving me, for me, even with this “gay demon” running through my veins.

Flashback to years later and I know who I am. I make no apologies or excuses, nor do I search for acceptance (that comes anyway, from my being myself).

Hi I am Johan. I am a man. I am gay. I am a son and a brother, and father. I am a great friend, and a coach and counselor. I am a proud man. I am also a recovering addict who lives positively HIV+, but the words ‘addict’ do not define me and my status does not burden me.