This Pride Month, we are speaking to seafarers from the LGBT+ community around the world to hear their experiences of working at sea and their words of support for other LGBT+ crew. Thobani, a 3rd Officer from South Africa, shared his story with us.
I grew up in a very traditional and stereotypic environment where being soft spoken and quiet was seen as weakness. I used to get bullied a lot in primary school, so I grew up at war with myself because I believed there was something wrong with me. I started accepting and embracing myself after gaining exposure to other brilliant and proud kids like me, during my varsity era. However, I also believe it became easier when my parents passed on. I felt no pressure to keep up with how my parents and village expected me to behave. I still remember the lecture from my late father, as he would casually name all the green signs I need to look for in a wife.
My first contract was on board a South African training vessel with thirty other South African cadets, crews and officers. I was still reserved and not completely acceptive of my true self. Things became easier on my second ship, I felt no need to be in disguise around the international crew, especially the friendly and welcoming Filipino crew members. They are open-minded and very warm to be around and as a cadet at that time, I could only be myself with them.
My confidence grew over the years of sailing and I opened up to my long-time friend and a sister while on board a ship last year, 2021. We have been more close and supportive of each other ever since. I have had really supportive crew members in my experience. However, I also feel like they have been lucky to have me onboard! However, I have always prioritized work than relations onboard, hence I haven't had issues with my previous captain but great experience and memories.
I have just signed off from my first contract as a Third Officer with great contentment. I remember for several times during those lovely night bridge watches, I would actually pause and pinch myself…‘Is this all real?’. It is always great when you work with people who appreciate you as you are, support you and recognize your hard work. My previous captain was everything you could ask for in a mentor and I started seeing him as a father figure other than just being a captain.
Even though I am a natural hard worker, I have always felt the need to prove myself on every contract especially in the beginning. I have a YouTube channel where I document my journey, ‘African Seafarer Diary’, which entails to give a glimpse to the maritime pupils of what to expect at sea and responding to their burning questions.
I will be a student for life – I am currently furthering my studies and I recently obtained my second qualification, 'Advance Diploma in Nautical Studies', where I graduated cum laude (for the second time). This year (2022) I'm studying a Postgraduate Diploma in International Shipping which will give me the key to enrol for 'MSc in Maritime Affairs' at the WMU in Sweden.