Young people are re-establishing societal norms and showcasing what it means to be authentic to oneself despite bigotry and struggle.
Nhlanhla Mokoena, 27, is one such individual who rose from a bleak and tumultuous upbringing to become a doctor and accept who they are.
Dr Mokoena was raised in Middelburg, a farming and industrial town in Mpumalanga. The health-care worker described themselves as naturally having empathy and caring for others, sometimes to his cost.
‘’I grew up with a single mother. She would be out of work at times and struggled to make ends meet but did the best she could to provide us with the best education and resources to make us better and resourceful humans in society,’’ said Dr Mokeona.
They pointed out that growing up in a restrained environment where people were not educated or well informed about homosexuality forced them to hide aspects of themselves for a long time out of fear of rejection and humiliation, which was the most difficult part of their upbringing.
The doctor’s family fortune turned when their mother pursued a diploma in nursing at the age of 37.
‘’As a child I knew that I wanted to become a medical professional as I have always been interested in knowing the human anatomy and how the body works.’’
Mokoena, who dubbed themselves as Dr Fabulous began working as a medical intern at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in 2019 and obtained two years of invaluable experience.
They then went on to undertake community work at Bernice Hospital in Delmas, a rural town. Currently, they now work at Witbank General Hospital.
Mokoena said patients experience a bit of a shock when they see and interact with them, as they are not used to a doctor that dresses and presents themselves like they do.
However, they added that as soon as they see how good they are at their job, people usually ease up and warm up to the ‘’fabulousity'.
Despite this, Dr Mokoena still experiences homophobia on an almost daily basis. ‘’I have learned from many years of training that it’s very difficult to be good at what you do if you cannot show up as the fullest and highest expression of yourself.’’
Their ultimate goal is to work in public health as a gender and sexual orientation specialist. One reason for this is that they have seen how the health system has completely shut out people that look like them.
‘’This contributes to the delay of the treatments and progression of disease in queer people but all of this is not visible in society because it is window dressed in policies, so my dream is to influence policies and make them more queer friendly,’’ they said.