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Boene Ntshilo says she always knew she wasn’t like the other children.

“I always liked different things from the other boys. By the age of nine I had three Barbie dolls and I fought to be the mother when playing house.”

Born in Schweizer-Reneke in the North-West, Boene began sporting her sister’s clothes at an early age and went to primary school one day wearing her sibling’s bright blue eyeshadow. It ended with a hiding from her teacher, but her mother promptly went to the school and gave them an earful.

“For me that was such a great affirming experience which made me feel embraced, loved and cared for,” she recalls.

At home she never had to ‘come out’ as a transgender woman because her family simply accepted her for who she is.

But this changed when she decided to put down roots in Gauteng.

“When I moved to Johannesburg I had to constantly explain myself, because people want to label things.”

She describes her father as a ‘hard core’ Xhosa man who worked in Johannesburg, returning home during the holidays. His boss had a gay son and she believes their relationship helped her father relate to her.

Her parents are still happily married and to her they are the greatest example of what love is.

Boene now works at a bank, but dreams of being a professional singer. While it’s a tough industry for anyone to break in to, she says as a transgender woman you have to work ten times harder.

Boene is a firm believer in the power of self-love.

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” she explains. “I don’t feel like I am in the wrong body.”

In 2017 Boene was crowned Miss Gay Jozi and embraced the platform to advocate for human rights and to tackle stigma within the gay community.

She says much still needs to be done in South Africa to address violence against women, corrective rape and gender inequality.