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I’ve seen my fair share of the world, good and bad. So I have grown to expect everything and anything. I am not easily surprised. In fact, I have grown to anticipate the patterns in which life unfolds.

You say: “She got into Oxford!”

And I think: “I saw that coming; she’s so smart!”

You say: “Jesus, he was arrested!”

And I think: “Well, he wasn’t that inconspicuous…”

Yet for the first time in a long while, in South Africa, I have felt puzzled by people’s responses to me. The other day, a woman I had just met said “Oh, you’re gay? That’s so cool!” And my mind said “Wait, what?!”

I wouldn’t call home un-LGBTQ+ friendly. But I have always felt uneasy about revealing myself too soon. There is the feeling that since I never know how someone is  going to react to me being gay, it is better keep it to myself.  I’ve grown used to sheltering that part of myself – hiding it behind various facades while simultaneously trying to be a proud advocate of the LGBTQ+ community.

So, imagine the surprised look on my face when someone asked me, “do you like women?” and I honestly said “no.” Instead of being met with a million questions and maybe a look of disgust, I received a different response. The woman who had asked me the question just said, “that’s cool!” and moved on.

Wait, my mind said. You don’t want to probe me about why I’m gay? You don’t want to hear about my non-existent past lovers? I was floored. I was also overjoyed because for so long, I have had to explain myself. Here I was being given a moment to be who I am without having to justify myself.

In fact, that’s the general feeling I’ve been privileged to feel here in South Africa, at least, in terms of sexuality (race is something for another blog post). While in Johannesburg, my cohort and I attended an evening event hosted by young women who identify as queer. When I came in, the host said, “you are loved and welcome here anytime. Thank you for coming.” I felt so honored. Of course her hospitality did not surprise me, given that it was an LGBTQ+ event. Still, it felt good to hear those words spoken aloud. Sometimes you really just need to hear that you’re loved to feel loved.

These experiences have inspired me to bring my PRIDE shirt out. I was honestly afraid to wear it at first, but now, I’m going to put it on without hesitation. If only it were a little warmer so I could wear it without a coat.