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Dear 15 Year Old Me…

Dear 15 Year Old Me…

What would advice would I give myself if I could step back in time…

This year, I celebrated my 20(something) birthday. As a young adult and as I grow older, I often reflect on the decisions I made as a teenager; particularly decisions that have affected my life to this day. I wonder to myself how I was able to navigate in the ‘normal’ world as a young black gay man who went to an all boys’ high school in a homophobic and hyper masculine province.

Having watched MTV Shuga from the start, and seeing what the characters go through in each episode, it got me thinking and reflecting a lot on my experiences as a 15 year old.

Watching MTV Shuga has helped me get a deeper understanding of my decisions along the way and how things are for other gay teenagers.

The character I related to most in MTV Shuga: Down South was Reggie. Just like him, I battled for a long time with my sexuality and finding myself in a world that did not accept people like me for who they are. I am much older and wiser now thanks to all the information that I was exposed to as I grew up, and from the conversations I had with people both young and old.

Despite the knowledge that has been shared with me by those around me over time, I wish I had looked for advice earlier.

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DEAR PHUMLANI

You’ve just turned 15 and will start having urges, but these urges are not brought on by the opposite sex but by other boys. What is wrong with you? Why don’t girls excite you like other boys? Something must be wrong.

I just want you to know that NOTHING IS WRONG WITH YOU.

Those feelings you have are perfectly normal and there are millions of people like you in the world. You may feel alone now but as you grow older you will come to see that you’re not alone. Do not give up hope or lose yourself trying to fit in with circles that do not understand you.

You will come to learn that there will be boys who like you as well.

For advice and support, you should know that there’s information on the internet for you to read, there are spaces for people like you ONLY and people who work to make this world a better place. I want you to be comfortable with yourself, and one way of realising that is by getting the information you need.

DO YOU

That’s the motto I wish I grew up hearing more than anything else.

A lot of my decisions around that age were heavily influenced by my surroundings (I was in grade 9 in an all boys’ boarding school) and by my peers as well. I wish someone would have told me that it may not be easy to stand up and speak up for yourself, but in the long run I will be surprised by how empowering and important it can be.

I wish someone would’ve shown and told me that having sexual urges and wanting to experiment is normal. However, it would have been good to know that there are consequences if I am not clued up on things such as condoms and sex.

LOVE & RELATIONSHIPS

When it comes to love and relationships, I wish someone would have told me that it will come when it does, and when I connect deeply with a partner, I need to be serious about it. If we do decide to go further in our relationship, do we know what we are doing? Have we both been tested?

All these are things I wish I had known when I was 15.

Another thing 15-year-old me should have known was that the stigma with a lot of things may never die down. Yet, you will appreciate over time that it is important to rise above the stigma. Some people will accept you as you are whilst others won’t, and it is important to accept yourself first before you can expect anyone else too.

As you get older and you come across conversations about issues such as HIV, contraception, abortion, and other difficult topics, it will be important for you to be vocal about these subjects and lend your voice to those who need your support.

Most importantly, I must always DO ME no matter what, trust my instinct and if I don’t know something, then feel brave enough to ask for help. It takes more courage to ask for help than a lot of us realise, and rather than a sign of weakness, it really is a sign of strength.

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