Hi, I’m Neo Sithole. I’m a 16-year old, I’m a female and I am a black South African. Oh and I’m PANSEXUAL *sung gayly*

My story starts a while back… in grade 5 or so when I started to question my sexuality. It was strange and I felt out of place. I was only 11, which was around the time we’d just moved on from playing kissing catches to having crushes on “real life boys”.
However, while the other girls seemed certain they’d stay with their “boyfriends” I was thinking about girls, and liking girls if you were a girl wasn’t something I’d heard of. I struggled to understand what I was feeling and I had no one to help me through the process. So I thought I’d talk to one of my best friends at the time (we are no longer friends because I later found out that she was too problematic to tolerate). I called her outside during one of our lunch breaks to our secret location and I told her, “Hey, I think I like girls. Don’t judge me.” She said nothing.
But the next day, when I got to school, a large group of girls were making lesbian comments directed towards me (which offended me but wouldn’t now because ‘gay’ isn’t an insult) and I knew it had to have been her. I never confronted her and from then I never strayed from acknowledging that aspect of myself until my grade 8 year of school.

High school, the place where you’re said to find yourself and grow. Yeah right, more like a place of confusion. The beginning of high school for me was pretty rough. I spent lots of my time with the wrong people, lonely and conflicted. I wanted to fit in with the crowd and be everyone’s friend. But, that wasn’t making me happy OR more comfortable OR allowing for me to be myself. So I isolated myself, I did my research and I grew more lonely because I couldn’t even be my own friend if I didn’t know who that was. Until I realized “it isn’t about finding yourself – it’s about creating yourself”, a beautiful quote I read by Willow Smith in ‘Teen Vogue’. I began to realize that the Neo I was looking for I’d never find because she didn’t want to be found (and really for my own well-being). I had to create myself from scratch and if that meant resurfacing aspects of me I’d avoided or tried to change or wasn’t comfortable with, so be it.

I had to really look deep into myself. There were tears. There was pain. There were awkward stages. But I regret nothing. And after a while, honestly, I was just not up for denying any part of myself anymore. I came out on instagram of all places *haha*. I was questioned, I was judged but it didn’t faze me because I had also received so much love and acceptance from my friends, my family and myself.

People thought it was easy for me to come out. People thought I didn’t face my own trials and tribulations. People didn’t know my story and some still don’t. For example: Before coming out, I asked people how they’d react to someone close to them being gay and to my disbelief, my own brother said that he’d never touch the person again. As if they’d spread their gayness onto him. People criticized me for not publicizing my experiences, it seemed. They vilified me for being positive and not letting the negative get to me. After holding myself back from myself, I swore to never let myself upset myself because I loved me. It’s easier said than done, I know, but I’ve never been happier.

Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t easy because discrimination is at every corner and sometimes within the community. We’re misunderstood, mistreated and misconstrued but we are more than the boxes we are placed into. We are more than who we do or don’t marry. We are more than gender. You are never alone in this battle for just treatment and respect; the battle to be proud as yourself. Defy the norms if it means you’ll be comfortable in your skin.

Love & peace
Neo Sithole