LONGING FOR ACCEPTANCE
Shaun Jeffries, 27, originally from Q-Town started his life in his grandmother’s house. ‘I was two years old when my mother married my father and left the house to live with him. They moved together with all my siblings and they left me behind with my “Ma”. Soon after I started forgetting my parents and life continued as normal. My aunt, her husband and their four children also stayed in the house, so I grew up thinking they were my family.’
When Shaun was seven, the youngest son of his aunt got terminally ill, the family decided that they couldn’t care for both children at the same time. ‘One day I arrived from school and my “Ma” told me that I was going to go to my biological parents. I remembered being dropped at their house with my small brown case and be left in a completely strange environment. I did not know my parents, not even my siblings. I felt confused, thinking that I might just be visiting for the weekend and soon my cousin would comeback to pick me up.’
‘When I realized that the move was permanent, I knew my worse nightmare had just begun. I had been raised in a Muslim environment (no pork, no alcohol and high moral standards) and in less than one day, I was forced to eat pork and I was witnessing my father getting drunk in front of me.’
After a few days, when Shaun’s father became violent with him for the first time, Shaun ran away and only stopped when he reached his grandmother’s house. ‘My parents lived in Delft, I remember running non stop through the main roads. I did not know where Athlone was exactly but I knew that it was near the mountain so I kept walking and walking. After a few hours, I asked a lady that was selling fruit on the street where Athlone was, she told me that I was in Bonteheuwel. She was kind enough to pay for a taxi and to direct me to Athlone.’
‘When I arrived at my grandmother’s house, I just lay-down in my bed and cried myself to sleep. After sometime, my granny asked me who dropped me and I responded by pleading to not go back to “those people.” The next day, my mom came to collected me and took me back to Delft.’
‘Abuse started the minute I arrived home. My father shouted and swore at me. Soon after he started physically abusing my siblings and me. He used to slap, kick and knock us against the wall. For years, I lived in fear, I thought my father would kill me if I asked for help.’
At the age of nine, Shaun gained courage and he walked to the nearest police station, ‘I waited for almost an hour before I got anyone to assist me. I told them that my father was abusing us at home. They told me to go back home and that they would send a police patrol to talk to him. I walked home and I sat in the corner of the street and waited for many hours. Finally, the police arrived at 20.30 pm, they called my dad out and told him that it had been reported that he was abusive towards his children. My father answered, “they are my children and I will raise them as I please. I am teaching them how to be strong.” The police warned him and they left.
‘I was left behind once again and the abuse continued. The only peaceful time in my life was when I was at school and visited the library. I remember one occasion when I had just arrived home and I was undressing my school uniform. My father entered the room and started beating me non-stop. I managed to escape in my underwear and my white shirt full of blood. I stopped running when I entered school. This time a teacher assisted me and brought me home.’
At the age of 15, Shaun started experimenting with drugs, friends offered him Crystal Meth (tik). ‘I felt hyperactive, I couldn’t sleep, my heart was beating very fast and I couldn’t taste anything anymore. I couldn’t keep still, I kept myself busy with many things. I now know that what I was really doing was trying to keep myself away from feeling anything. I used tik for the next three years. My schoolwork dropped, I lost interest in studying and I often bunked school. I used to sit with friends, partying and drinking with them. When I finally needed to go home, I would smoke dagga to calm me down.’ Shaun dropped-out of school after repeating his Grade 10, he was 17 years old.
‘When my father found out I had left school, he threw me out of the house onto the streets. But my mom gave me access to the house when he was not around. Between my friends and sneaking into my house I survived for a while.’
‘I had lost a lot of weight and one day my mom asked me if I was using drugs. I felt so embarrassed that the same day I left my house and went to live with my cousin in Mitchells Plain. With the change of environment and with the support of my cousin my addiction for drugs faded away. She gave me some tips and a notebook. She told me to start smoking cigarettes and to write down all the feelings that would emerge. She kept encouraging me and she was the first person that I could openly talk to. I stayed with her, her husband and her child in one bedroom house for the next six months. After that, I decided to go back home.’
At 18, Shaun stopped using drugs, ‘I knew drugs were not good for me. I thought my problems had disappeared but they were there and with time they were getting worse.’
Shaun found a job, became more independent and for the first time was exposed to an environment that allowed him to confront all his past demons. ‘I felt different since the age of six. I did not like the same things as the other boys did. I used to like modeling and not playing with cars or jumping roofs and all the other stuff boys did. I used to spend my time among girls and that was when I felt most comfortable. I was 10 years old when I started noticing that I was attracted to boys.’
‘I initially thought there was something wrong with me. I enquired my cousins about gay people I saw in the community. My cousins told me that to mix with that kind of people was bad luck. So I felt ashamed and I kept my secret for many years.’
‘I only started dealing with this issue when I was 19 and someone at work referred me to an organization where I could freely talk about my feelings. To come out of my lie was difficult but once I got the courage to openly be gay, I felt lighter and joyful.’
‘However, hearing all the negative comments from people on the street, was painful.
‘It took me a long time to learn to stop responding. Every time people hurt me I wanted to hurt them back. But afterwards, I always felt bad. I started to understand that people are afraid of what they don’t understand. I know deep inside I am a good person and that is what matters to me.’
‘My father threw me out of home again. However this time, it was easier to stand on my feet because I was working.’
‘I had always longed for acceptance and my colleagues and my real friends showed genuine respect and cared for me. My relationship with God was very important to me, so the fact that my congregation accepted me was the final boost I needed. I started to heal and I learnt to love myself.’
‘My father stopped abusing me physically when I was 23. I told him that I would no longer tolerate his behaviour and if he would lay a hand on me again, I would make sure he would go to jail. I have learnt to be more assertive and to step back when he is drunk and tension is building up.’
‘I am not sure I will be able to forgive my father soon. Looking back it saddens me that his three sons ended-up using drugs. Two of us stopped, but my younger brother is still using them and living on the streets. I know the forgiveness journey is one I want to embrace in my life, but I am certain it is a journey that will take some time. However I know that one day, I will master it.’
Shaun is a former Salesian Life Choices staff member