He Tasted Like Cheetos: How a Christian Kid Discovered Gayness and Himself

The story of a boy coming to terms with being gay through a sexual relationship with a childhood friend.

Every time we kissed, it tasted like Cheetos. Whether at age 9 or 15, it was always Cheetos.

The first boy I kissed was a family friend. From the ages of 8-16, then again at 19 we were heavily involved. I first met him when I was 8 and he was 7. Our parents were friends so I was at his house quite a bit.

When we were 11 we started going to a sleep-away camp. We were placed in the same tent. Not a full week after our arrival did we really have sex. We had been kissing and using our mouths up to that point and this progression felt natural.

He called me over and started kissing me and I gradually slid into his sleeping bag. It was a bit painful at first, but it felt right. Nothing had ever felt more right in my life up until that point. I’ve had sex with him so many times now that I can’t really recall much more about our “first time.” Every summer would be the same. He’d periodically humiliate me in public, mess with my belongings, join in on jokes about me, and then at night we’d have sex.

I was much younger then than I am now and at that time God was very important in my life. I went to mass everyday during the summer, everyone did, and I felt so bad. I was singing hymns and praises and I wanted to tear myself apart most services.

When it came time for communion we could either receive the bread or a blessing, and I often found myself crossing my chest at the altar and receiving a blessing because I thought then that I was an evil mess. That place was filled with so much love, but I had truly believed that all of the love would recoil from me, that flowers and trees that surrounded us would die in my presence if everyone knew the truth.

Now camp was in session during the summers, and that’s when he and I were together. The school year was a completely different life for me. There was the harassment I received because I was gay, and I couldn’t even admit that to myself. I didn’t know what it meant, but whatever joy it may have entailed was constantly destroyed in front of me.

I refused to tell anyone that I liked boys, and I had suffered for it. Freshman year, gym class, I was sitting on the bleachers, alone, and a classmate had asked me why I was wearing two knee braces and before I could respond her another classmate said “cause he be sucking that dick.” I had hardly uttered two words to him in a week and here he was saying something about me so vile, right in my presence. I had put my head in-between my knees for the rest of the class. Many days were like that over the school year.

Then in the summer I’d always see him. Be with him. I was torn on the inside. I was hurting. I could have fun during the day with other kids but at night, and even during meals I felt so alone. Whenever we had sex, I caught a break. I was eating from the cookie jar, and felt right, not good, but as if I was meant to be doing that. Having sex with him. The relief that sex with had brought me was there for only a moment, and then I went back to being at war with myself.

I had looked to him more than once for comfort, for friendship, but he couldn’t even spell those words. He was “masc,” as the people say, so he never dealt with the homophobia that I did. They couldn’t tell he liked boys, but they could see that on me from a mile away, and I was hated for it. More sex, more hurt, more pain, more rejections, more blessings at the altar—I don’t know how I continued to breathe. I thought I had God, but that was only adding to the pain. But I couldn’t show any of this to anyone. What would they make of a 15/16 year old and these problems?

A small part of me, to this day, wishes somebody did know, and told me that they still loved me, and that it was okay. I was 16 then. I’m 21 now. I’m black and gay and fat. I have ADD and am possibly psychotic. I didn’t accept me—all of me—then. I didn’t know how to. I didn’t love myself. But now I am accepting all of me—loving my full-self. If I could have done so then, I’d probably be in a higher tier of gay. A group of people that I can only glimpse at via social media.

But I’m moving forward now, not back.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

Start Your Week Off Right With This Soulful Kenyan Collaboration

Maia & the Big Sky connect with Blinky Bill for "Pawa."

Maia & the Big Sky's music routinely blends soul and funk influences with the coastal rhythms of Kenya and features singing in both English and Kiswahili.

Maia's recently tapped into the vinyl revival wave as her 11-song Maia & the Big Sky LP is reportedly the first Kenyan album released on vinyl since the 1970s.

The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox