“So have you experimented sexually?”
I’m in South Africa sitting cross-legged on the floor of my uncle’s tennis court with my 19-year-old cousin as our other cousins, oblivious to the nature of our conversation, play a game of ball around us.
I pray silently that my cousin understands this isn’t a question about handcuffs and role-playing, and that I’m asking if he’s ever been with another man.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” a friend asks earlier that day. “What if he’s not gay? He could be really offended.”
I bristle at the insult. “I understand that but if there’s even a one per cent chance that I’m right, than I think knowing he has someone to turn to is more important than a bruised ego.”
“I dunno.” Nat frowns. “Even if he is gay, he might not be ready to have that conversation in which case you could be doing more harm than good.”
I recall vaguely the day my brother suggested I might be gay and the distress this caused me. “I’m not gay,” I’d insisted, tears streaming down my face. “I’m not gay.”
I remember the boyfriend who came afterwards, who would half-jokingly call me a lesbian.
“I’m not a lesbian,” I would snap, annoyed at the implication that I didn’t know my own sexual orientation which, it turned out, I didn’t.
“I hear what you’re saying, Nat, but we’re talking about a young person whose family, religion, and community believe homosexuality is a sin. If he is gay, then don’t you think that’ll do far more damage than one conversation with me?”
“I guess,” Nat says but I can see she’s unconvinced. “Do you know how you’re going to word it?” I shake my head. “No, because it’s not meant to be a big deal. It’s just supposed to be a casual conversation like, ‘Hey, if you’re gay, I’m here for you.’ ”
“Well, good luck with it,” Nat says, smiling warily.
Three hours later, I’m sitting on the tennis court with my cousin chatting about life in South Africa. I’m only half-listening as I wonder just how I’m going to broach a subject that now feels like a Very Big Deal.
“You know, I see a lot of myself in you,” I start awkwardly. “And I guess I just worry…” I trail off.
I worry you might be gay and have no one to talk to? No, I can’t say that.
“I worry…” My cousin looks at me.
Fuck, where am I going with this? I stare out into the court.
Maybe I was wrong to try have this conversation. Maybe it’s not a good idea. But if he is gay…
“You know I’m bisexual?” I announce suddenly. My cousin nods. I nod. More silence.
I should’ve rehearsed this, I tell myself. I should’ve thought this through. I should’ve also turned down that glass of champagne earlier. It isn’t helping.
Eventually I ask, “So have you experimented sexually?” and my cousin responds.
He understands what I’m asking and is not at all offended. I’m able to ditch the subtleties and speak openly and honestly about my experiences and concerns for him.
With a grin, my cousin assures me that if he ever experiences same-sex attraction, he will come to me.
Satisfied with that, we continue chatting and though it becomes increasingly clear who this conversation was really for, I feel good.
Zo Watt is a work-in-progress. She studied Professional Writing and Editing at university and was a selection panellist for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival for five years. Zo hopes to one day sit fourth row centre at the Oscars and publish the novel she has yet to write. Be one of the exclusive few to follow her on Instagram @zo.watt.