Wayne, in his own words: “I came out at the age of 34 while living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Not the most obvious place to do so as it is still illegal there, punishable until recently by the death sentence, and even now by decades in prison.
I was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa, but despite the fact that by the 1990’s South Africa was legislatively one of the most advanced countries in the world (being one of the first to legalise gay marriage), it was still deeply conservative, with deeply entrenched views on gender, sexuality and ethnicity.
I grew up therefore among homophobic sentiments, and had my own prejudices about what homosexuality meant. To be a gay man to me meant flapping your arms around, sashaying your hips and calling everyone ‘dahhhrling’. But I was a straight looking, straight acting guy who got the attention of girls, so HOW could I be gay?
I dated women all through my teens and early twenties, but the romance usually flickered quite quickly into friendship. I did look at men, but if I was attracted to them, I told myself that I just wanted to be like them, not that I actually wanted to be with them. I was, in retrospect, always gay: I just couldn’t accept it then.
At the age of 19 I had my first ‘relationship’ with a man, and not the sort you’d expect, but which lead me to believe even more so that being gay was not for me. I started receiving letters at home and work from an unknown older man confessing his undying love for me. I was flattered at first, but I told myself that it was because I was getting attention, not actually because I was turned on by a man being attracted to me. I also then started getting phone calls where nobody would speak, and in a later letter from this man I found out that it was him who was calling. It became incessant, and eventually, when receiving one of these silent calls, I told him to please leave me alone. The situation unfortunately then turned into a full blown obsession for this mystery man and I was forced to get the police involved and eventually, after some death threats, decided to leave South Africa for a while and spent the next year backpacking around Europe and the Middle East.
I always try to look at the positive side of things, so I will be eternally grateful that this situation lead me to my passion for travel, but I also believe that it was a main reason I didn’t come out earlier and for a long time associated being gay to this negative experience.
In my late twenties, I started experimenting with drugs, and the inhibition which comes with it allowed me to experiment for the first time with men. It often felt good at the time, but afterwards I was filled with confusion and shame: What had I done? Was this really who I was?
By my early thirties, I found myself really depressed, drinking more and binge spending to fill what was missing, and to hide what I then knew: that I was gay. I was haunted by what my friends and family would say; if they’d be repulsed by me; reject me; if they’d still see me for who I was; if they’d still love me.
I decided to take a drastic life change: to move away from South Africa again and to start a ‘new life’. I began work in Tanzania in 2010, and I loved it immediately: the ocean, the people and the animals, of course, but even the power cuts, the contradictions and the complexities. I felt happier than I had been in a very long time.
It was here that I met a couple of guys via Gaydar who finally revealed my ignorance on what it meant to be gay, and showed me that being gay wasn’t only for the camp and the extravagant (who I love and admire for their honesty and openness, by the way). Most of my online chats never led to sex, but to talk honestly with like-minded people was life changing. One of the friends I met through Gaydar fast tracked my journey, for he was good looking and straight acting; furthermore he lived in a remote village in Tanzania training rats to search for landmines!!! WTF! If he could be gay and proud then why the hell couldn’t I?
It was a year until the Rat Trainer and I actually met face to face, and nothing happened between us that night, but it was an evening filled with fun, tequila, dancing, silliness and great conversation. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely happy and 100% myself: I will never to forget that night.
The next day I took action, flew to see my mum, and over a glass of wine, blurted out that I was gay. She was a little taken aback but assured me that she wished me to be happy above all things, and that she loved me unconditionally. She was AMAZING. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to tell her; but getting her unconditional support made my next steps easy.
Over the next year, I began having dinners with my friends and family, and telling them one by one. I was unbelievably lucky for I didn’t receive a single negative comment or reaction. Hearing other people’s coming out stories, I realize how unusual this is, and it’s made me doubly appreciative of all the wonderful people I have in my life.
The thing I probably struggled with the most after coming out was heartbreak. I was now in a position to openly feel something towards someone else and at the age of 34 I fell head over heels in love for the first time which then led to the my heart being completely shattered for the first time. Going through what most people experience in their late teens and early twenties at the age of 34 was not easy for me and took me a while to recover from. But I did, and met another wonderful man who taught me a lot about love and passion, but due to long distance and a fairly significant age difference it was also not meant to be, but I am happy to still call him my friend.
3 years on, after multiple dates, romances and heartbreaks, I have learned that being gay is just like any other ‘normal’ relationship. It’s about feeling a connection to another human being and wanting to share everything you have with them.
So, where am I now? About a year ago I met an amazing Spanish man who I’ve travelled the world with and who has shown me what a really loving relationship is like: nothing is hidden between us. Everything is – as it should be – completely in the open.
With the love of friends and family and a boyfriend I adore, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. For sure, everything got better when I finally kicked down that closet.”