TW: molestation/sexual assault
Irene grew up in Namibia, a country that borders South Africa, with a “very weird, very Christian” family dynamic.
“In [my parents’] eyes, being LGBTQ is evil,” she said.
Though religious, Irene’s mother was quite progressive. As a child, she was molested by a relative and her mother “very quickly stopped interactions between me and this family member.”
Whenever her family would visit them, they would make sure Irene went to another relative’s house or had a babysitter to ensure their paths would not cross again. And when she did go over, it would be pre-arranged that he would not be there.
Her mother passed away from cancer when Irene was 17 years old, and she was never very close with her father to begin with.
“In our culture, it’s very revered – daddy’s little girl is a big thing. His boys are supposed to be all manly, and his girls are his little princesses,” Irene explained, noting his lacking effort to support the family during her high school career. Her mother “was working to provide for us even though she was literally dying.”
In high school, Irene hung out with friends who she explained were the “overly sexual type,” and peers wouldn’t believe her when she said she was a virgin.
“Everybody knew what they were doing in the bedroom. One of my friends lost her virginity at 11 [years old].”
As a result, she was very clued in to all things sex.
“I thought this is just how kids are,” she added.
Irene always thought, “This is weird, we’re just kids. Why are you so adamant about the fact that you do have sex? I had that mentality all my life.
Scrolling through Facebook one day last summer, she came across a group called “I’m too ace for this shit” that caught her eye. The page advertised itself as a page for people who believe the world is oversexualized, and she completely agreed with it.
“I didn’t know where the word ‘ace’ fit into that, but I knew these were my people. These people understand me and everything that I’ve been trying to say.
“I quickly figured out that this was a sexuality. And for a long time, I wasn’t quite comfortable using it. Coming from this Christian background, it was hard. It’s hard to accept that you are under this label when you were raised that it’s wrong.”
Since she was 19, she’s been using the label. And at the same time, she began her career in community journalism.
“It can change,” she added. “I believe sexuality and identity are very fluid. We’re allowed to change our mind.”
The first person she went out of her way to tell aside from guys at bars who hit on her was her brother.
One day last summer she jokingly came out to him, to which he replied, “I don’t give a shit,” adding that he still cares about her.
Wanted to come out to her father around his wedding in October but didn’t want to ruin his day. Then she wanted to try around Christmas but held off again. In mid-May, she just decided to call him.
“My father’s first response was ‘As long as you’re not a lesbian’ which is overwhelmingly positive considering his background,” she said.
Irene said she discussed the label and the potentially fluid nature of it with her father to which he was accepting.
Looking back at finding her sexuality, Irene said she doesn’t think having been molested influenced the fact that she’s asexual, “but I’m not discounting the fact it subconsciously might have.”
And for those who aren’t safe or ready to come out, Irene said the only thing that matters is being true to yourself first and foremost.
“You don’t need to be known as LGBT+ to be LGBT+,” she said. “You know the truth in your heart and until you feel safe to come out, that’s enough.
“Odds are you’ve always felt that way. The people who love you, love you, and you know in your heart you’ve always been queer and they loved you then too.
“Nothing actually changes when you come out but the fact you are giving people some further insight into you that they may not have been aware of.”