From a young age she knew she was different. While all the other boys in her neighbourhood played with toy cars, she loved dressing up and wearing doeks.
Seeing the little boy dressed as a girl raised eyebrows in Daveyton township in Gauteng where she grew up but Kgositsile Modisane (30) has always been comfortable in her skin.
She’s transgender but prefers to identify as non-gender.
“I’m a non-conformist,” she tells YOU. “I don’t see the world in black or white. It’s sad that people think you’ve got to be this or that – just be you, however that looks.”
It’s this body confidence that’s seen her become the first non-gender ambassador for Lux, a huge achievement for someone who’s faced such discrimination.
Joining the ranks of singer and TV presenter Nandi Madida and former Miss SA and businesswoman Basetsana Kumalo – who’ve both been the face of the popular beauty brand – is a dream come true for Kgositsile.
“There was a time when I was fascinated by the Miss South Africa beauty pageant,” she says. “Just before the pageant aired they’d play a Lux commercial that featured [TV presenter] Gerry Rantseli taking a bath – it just looked glorious.
“After seeing that advert I was determined to work for or with Lux one day.”
She’d built a relationship with representatives of the brand through her work as a stylist for a monthly women’s magazine in Joburg and often joked they should hire her as their ambassador.
When they reached out to her late last year saying they wanted to partner with her, she was over the moon. But her joy soon turned to sadness.
A day after her fruitful meeting with Lux, Kgositsile lost her grandmother Helen Fenyane. Just a few months earlier her mother, Linzy Modisane, had also passed away.
Both women died of natural causes.
“It was my worst nightmare,” she says. “Those two women were my family, they were my pillars, they meant everything to me.
“From day one my grandmother was my biggest cheerleader. She was the one I drew strength from. When I lost them I almost broke down but when Lux called I knew God was letting me know I was going to be okay. Those were my mother’s and grandmother’s answered prayers.”
We meet the model at Unilever’s offices in Randburg, Johannesburg, and find her reclining on a grey couch nursing a pink gin.
She looks perfectly put together in a stylish green floral ensemble. Kgositsile describes herself as “an extroverted introvert because as loud and as open as I am, I keep private matters to myself and know how to have a balance”.
“I come from a loud family so I’m loud and outspoken,” she says. “Watching my mother, grandmother and aunts living boldly in their skins gave me confidence.” Her road to loving herself hasn’t been easy, though.
“Every day I was ridiculed and mocked by kids at school or in my neighbourhood. I spent most of my childhood trapped indoors watching TV instead of running around in the street like the other boys.
“When I did go outside it was never to kick a ball. I played games with girls and braided their hair. It was my thing and I enjoyed it,” she says, removing a strand of hair from her eyelash with a pink manicured nail.
Even something as simple as using the bathroom made her feel like an outcast.
“I never used the bathroom at school because it was such a traumatic experience. I was never comfortable being in there with the boys, and I wasn’t allowed in the girls’ bathroom, so I always waited until I got home.”
Despite being bullied, Kgositsile was a sociable teenager. “I was smart and eager to do everything. I led the debating team and organised some of the best theatre shows my school has seen.”
As a student at Wordsworth High School in Benoni, she loved accounting and thought she’d work with numbers one day.
“But my teachers would always say, ‘Kgosi, what are you doing? Your strength is in the arts, you’re a creative being – embrace it and see how far you’ll go’. ”
She took their advice after a detour into psychology studies. Having always wanted to help people, Kgositsile enrolled at the University of Johannesburg. It was here she found herself.
“I had a boyfriend and a girlfriend but neither was fulfilling so I chose to work on myself and my career.”
To pay for her studies she took a job at a luxury fashion boutique. Her bosses liked her work as a stylist at the store and promoted her to store manager. It wasn’t long before she landed a job as a stylist for True Love magazine.
“That was one of my greatest achievements. I prayed about it and decided that if I want to reach my lifelong goal of being the editor of a fashion magazine I needed to start at True Love.
“They’re doing amazing things and have done so for years, and I wanted to learn as much as possible there because if there’s ever a Vogue Africa I want to be the first editor – like Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada,” she says, laughing.
For now, Kgositsile is content to be changing the face of modelling in South Africa.
“I haven’t done any surgical work on my body yet, but I’m planning to do gender reassignment surgery and maybe a breast augmentation so I can be myself fully,” she says.
She hopes to find love with someone who’ll accept her as she is, but until then she’s happily single.
“My relationship with God is the most important thing to me,” she says. “I have conversations with Him and tell Him all my secrets and heart’s desires. He never ever disappoints me.”
She’s doing things on her terms and is fiercely unapologetic about living her truth.
“Despite what religious people might say, judgment is for the Lord.”