Broken wings and puppet strings

VANESSA SMEETS

women abuse

QUIET PAIN: Domestic violence comes in three forms, emotional, physical and sexual. PIC: online

MEETING THE MONSTER

Jane* doesn’t really remember the first time she was struck by a man. She must have just been three years old when her dad hit her for the first time, for having her elbows on the table while eating.

As she grew up, she was attracted to men with short tempers. They fascinated her. At first, watching them shout at car-guards or beggars was entertaining. But then, it became frightening.
When she and her first love, Dylan, went clubbing one night, she realized she was in love with a monster. She told Dylan about the cleaner who had taken cash out of her bag while they were dancing. His piercing blue eyes turned red with anger. He almost beat the cleaner to a pulp, when he was pulled off by a bouncer.

Jane can’t talk at first when I ask her how it ended. She fidgets with the rims of her skirt.

“I told him I was pregnant. That’s when I saw hatred in his eyes. He stuffed the morning-after pill into my mouth. No water. Just his dry fingers reaching as far as possible into my throat. I bit him then and he slapped me across the face.”

That night, Dylan took her out for dinner. He was completely different. He treated her perfectly, paid her compliments and placed a beautiful necklace around her neck.

DECEPTION

It wasn’t the first time he had struck her for “inappropriate behaviour.” Four months into their dating, she went through his computer and found a list of girls he had slept with. There was a name after hers.

“I tried to hide it for two weeks, but the pain ate me up. I confronted him. At first, he pretended not to know what I was talking about. But then, I asked about each one, one by one. His voice changed. He became like a little boy filled with guilt. He hit me for invading his privacy. Then he apologised and even shed a few tears. I fell deeper for him then.”

The pattern of falling deeper for him the more he failed her continued for two and a half years. She stopped seeing her friends and stopped going to church.

PUPPET MASTER

She became his puppet. He told her how to dress, speak and act and she listened diligently.
“In a sick way, by losing my identity, I thought I was growing closer to him. He was untouchable. He was the most popular guy in our group and I, suddenly, was good enough to be his queen.”

alone

SOLE SOUL: Many abused women feel completely alone and embarrassed to talk about what they are going through. PIC: online

Her hands tremble now as I ask her about the night that changed her life.
“His mother was visiting from overseas. She prepared him and his brother supper, but they never thanked her or showed any affection. I caught her crying quietly and told her: ‘Don’t worry. They love you.’
He was furious: ‘Those are forbidden words in my family! Don’t you ever intervene! You have no business telling her that!’

It was so absurd. He had never spoken to me in that way. He locked me outside on his balcony for two hours. I cried. I screamed. To no avail. After two hours in the cold, he opened the door and yelled: ‘Are you sorry yet?’

‘Sorry for what?’ I whimpered back. His hands tightened around my wrists, which he now placed behind my back. ‘Why don’t you jump?’ he said, while laughing. His hands caressed my neck and back, slowly pushing me to the edge. Believe me, I was tempted to do it. I looked at my life and realized I had nothing left to give.

Rihanna abuse

RIRI: Domestic violence was brought to light again in 2009, when Pop singer Rihanna was assaulted by her boyfriend Chris Brown. PIC: online

A few months later, Jane was in a mental institution, diagnosed with Psychosis. Her brain couldn’t take any more abuse. Dylan came to visit her regularly with chocolates or flowers.
“You’re not very strong are you?” he hissed one night, as she lay sobbing on his chest. “I can’t be with someone who can’t get up again. Get up! I dare you!”

Jane was on so much medication that she couldn’t tell what was real or not anymore. She saw worms coming out of her veins. She saw animal faces upon everyone that visited her. She called Dylan to share her fears, but he stopped picking up. At times, he would just breathe into the phone.

suicide pills

TEMPTATION: Jane swallowed a cocktail mix of 22 pills on her 22nd birthday, for every year of what her boyfriend called her of "being a burden." PIC: Online

THE FINAL BLOW

Jane became more and more lost in her despair. She finally decided to commit suicide. She swallowed 22 pills on her 22nd birthday, for every year that she thought she was a burden.
Just in time, the doctors pumped her stomach. The white froth dried up around her lips was the only evidence she had gone to such desperate measures.
She never heard from Dylan again, until Valentine’s Day four months later.

“I’m sorry. I need you. I want you back.”

Instead of falling for the voice she had become so accustomed to, she heard him as the conniving man her soul had once feared, but was now ready to fight. She was finally free. Detectives tried to find him, but he had already left the country. After doing various investigations, they found out that a few of Dylan’s ex-girlfriends were in mental institutions and one had already committed suicide.

Jane stutters as she continues:

“I was lucky enough to make it out in time. Somehow, I got my life back on track. He haunted my dreams for a while, but I refuse to give him any more power. I hope he reads this some day. But, people like that don’t have a heart or conscience. I refuse to ever sacrifice mine again.”

*name has been changed

Signs you’re dealing with a Player Signs you’ve got a Keeper
– he checks your friends out all the time- he calls to say he misses the action- he makes you feel small and inadequate

– he buys you expensive gifts

– his phone is on voicemail when you call

– he talks about himself 24/7

– he speaks about his exes in derogatory terms

– he spends time getting to know your body, saying you’re his favourite

– he checks you out all the time- he calls to say he misses your voice- he makes you feel magical and special

– he makes you sentimental gifts

– he picks up even when he’s busy

– he talks about you 24/7

– he speaks about his exes briefly, with respect

– he spends time getting to know your favourite things


Stalked by HIV: The Human Indifference Virus

domestic violence

ABUSE: At the Gay Pride Parade in March, the gay community recognised the strong link between domestic violence at home because of oppressive parents. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

VANESSA SMEETS

Maybe it’s his red shoes or blond curls that make Andy stand out. When he sits down, I realize it’s rather the subtle scar slashed across his ice-blue eyes.

“Anything but gay?” he says with a smile.

His voice is soothing and pleasant to the ear. It can’t be described as feminine or masculine, but rather as something in between. He peers across my notes.

“I haven’t said anything yet and you’re writing away!” he says with an attractive grin that has one hooked immediately.

Family tides

The awkward silence between us is short-lived. He takes out his phone and proudly shows his photos. He continues to chat as though we’ve been life-long friends.

“That’s my mom, Dawn. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? She’s so proud of me. I’ve never pretended to be someone else. That’s my dad – he disowned me for a while. Called me a faggot, moffie, man-whore – you name it. He doesn’t treat me in the same way as my two brothers. Probably blames himself; he wasn’t around when I grew up.”

He’s silent while looking for a few moments at the blurred photo of a man in kaki attire, rifle in hand. He’s a hunter, perhaps. He quickly moves on to the next one.

“That’s my ouma, she’s the only one who doesn’t know I prefer guys. It’ll kill her.”

I ask him about the scar but he’d rather speak of something else – like joining Tuks’ (the University of Pretoria) first gay society. Surprisingly, they don’t get hate mail or threatening smses. Instead, they get messages like “Jesus loves you. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t change. Give Jesus a chance.”

 

pink revolution

PINK REVOLUTION: The University of Pretoria went through some extreme changes in 2006, when its first gay society was born. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Varsity blues

The only people who hassled them were a couple of guys in the SRC (Student Representative Council), which caused some controversy in 2006. They declared the society ‘non-existent’ even after more than 100 members joined. They painted twice over the freedom of speech wall, trying to stop what Andy calls the ‘Pink Revolution’ from going anywhere. But they didn’t succeed – the society keeps on growing, embracing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people with their funky ideas and late-night parties.

After three hours of coffee, muffins and laughing, Andy decides to tell about his scar.

“My brothers did it to me when I was thirteen. They caught me cutting up pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and pinning them against my wall. They forced me to tear them down. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It felt right.”

He pauses for a few moments then continues, his hands shaking, “The night of my Standard 5 Valediction, they spotted the pictures under my bed and threw me against the wall. My parents were waiting in the car. After that, I blacked out. I woke up in hospital bruised, in pain and alone.

The nurse said my family would come by later. They didn’t. My mom came by two days later. I pretended to be asleep. She kissed my cheek and sobbed her eyes out. When I looked up at her, I saw her sunglasses hiding a horrible blue eye. Dad had beaten her up for protecting me. We moved away together; the rest of them couldn’t accept my sexuality. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, so I brought girlfriends home. She knew I was faking. Now, we laugh together – ‘he’s cute and him.’ It’s liberating.”

What makes people “gay”?

Andy found out he was different when he enjoyed playing excessively with his cousin’s Barbie dolls and fell in love with his tennis coach in Standard 3. Today, the mystery into what makes people gay is still being researched. Swidey (2006: 40) explains that some scientists believe it to be half the amount of neurons found in the anterior hypothalamus of homosexuals compared to heterosexuals. After Dean Hamer’s discovery in 1993, some believe it could be a ‘gay gene’: the X chromosome, Xq28, is more frequent in gay men. Some still believe it to be biological causes, such as the increase of hormones in certain foods.  In 2005, Swedish researchers claimed the cause could be the different pheromones that gay men are attracted to. Like straight women, they are found to be attracted to male sweat rather than female urine. Whatever the case, Andy explains he never chose his sexual orientation.

Apart from the red shoes and strange voice, he looks like an ordinary guy. With a cigarette dangling from his manicured hands, he explains how he’s been labelled with stereotypes all his life.

“Yeah, so pink isn’t my favourite colour and I don’t wear two litres of after-shave. I’ve had my share of heart-breaks, just like any other guy. I’ve been sent for therapy. I’ve experimented with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been tested for AIDS, I’m negative. Basically, I’m just like any other student. People have stopped looking at me as that not-so-gay-guy.”

Andy removes his jersey. More scars are visible now – tiny red marks swim around on the inside of his wrist. I cannot help but stare.

great divide

GREAT DIVIDE: In South Africa, there is still a strong divide between the gay community and Christians, as the Pride Parade demonstrated. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

“People are too busy to notice,” he says, “It’s not for attention though, it’s for myself. To remind me what I’ve been through. Each scar marks a closure of some sort. That’s the day my dad told me to go to hell. That’s the day my so-called friends from school locked me in a closet and yelled ‘stay there, you freak!’ This one’s the deepest – it was the last one – the night I decided to die. I woke up, luckily. I realized then I was born for something incredible. This gay society (UP and Out) has given me a purpose. It’s not HIV but the Human Indifference Virus that almost killed me.”

After shaking my hand firmly, he smiles and begins to walk away. A ray of light laps up his blond curls while he finishes speaking.

He reaches for a gold chain in his pocket and says:

“God has taught me to love myself beyond what this world thinks. They may say I’ll burn in hell for being gay, but I’ll burn forever in this hell by trying to be someone else.”

*based on a true person, some facts have been edited to suit the article’s purpose

Sources:

Swidey, N. 2006. What makes people gay? In Fairlady, March 2006, Issue 830. Cape Town: Media 24.

Just another girl…

VANESSA SMEETS

I keep on hearing Rihanna‘s “Only Girl” on the radio…

“Want you to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world
Like I’m the only one that you’ll ever love
Like I’m the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world
Like I’m the only one that’s in command…”

Still inclined to believe in fairytales and living happily ever after, this is a dream for most girls. We dream about meeting someone on a plane with the same hopes and aspirations, who’ll set our soul aflight. We fantasize about being the most beautiful girl at the party. We cherish compliments and over-analyze situations in which we didn’t get any.

little lady

DESIRE: Our youngest dreams help built our greatest expectations. PIC: online

Little Lady

As little girls, our self-esteem depended on the words and actions of our parents. If your parents had a very passionate relationship and showed public affection, you tend to have a more outgoing personality and tend to be a die-hard hopeless romantic. You may, however, feel very frustrated if you don’t find someone as passionate as you.

If your parents were more reserved and hardly paid you compliments, you may make up for it by being overly flirtatious and in need of constant attention.

If your father was absent for most of your youth, you may have had more intense or abusive relationships, often with older men.

If you were Daddy’s little girl, you tend to comfortable with being single or will end up marrying your childhood sweetheart, for he reflects the inner child you still embrace.

fling

FALLING FAST: Do flings really end up into things? PIC: online

Fling into thing

In high school, our Guidance teacher preached:

“Girls give sex for love, boys give love for sex.”

I was only 15, so it didn’t mean much at the time. But the words stuck…

Take Jessica. Looking back on her past relationships, she realized most of them were flings that had turned into things. This may have come from her parents’ painful and unexpected divorce, where she attached herself to unrealistic and heart-wrenching relationships. The guys she dated often had a lot of baggage, which made her want to help them. But the heavier the baggage, the more draining it was on her soul and the emptier she felt after each break-up.

The biggest problem with turning a fling into a thing is that your partner may only view you in a physical way, and not yet emotionally. This often leads to a rollercoaster impression of fears, questions and little peace of mind.

You are often thrown into the deep end of giving a lot, with receiving very little in return. Also, if you break up, you have very little chance of remaining friends, as you keep asking yourself: “Did he ever really know me?” The question is: do you even know yourself? Are you the flirtatious vixen that can move on through one-night stands or are you still the vulnerable teen that yearned for the world to accept, let alone understand, her?

girl in command

CHASING DREAMS: Girls dream of being chased... but often end up chasing the dream. PIC: online

How not to be just another girl:

APPRECIATE YOURSELF: Take time to do the things you enjoy. Take up a new hobbie and meet a diverse group of people. This will break down the wall you’ve built up through distrust and heartache.

SOCIALIZE: Throw the best party in town. Invite your friends and their friends. Have a theme to make it even more memorable. Who doesn’t want to go to a masked ball or dress outrageously for one night? Also, it makes for great Facebook pics.

REPUTATION: You may like the thrill of a one-night stand, but wouldn’t it be awkward to bump into that guy at your regular supermarket or at your niece’s pre-school?

CLOSE THE DOOR: Often women tend to deal with their past by contacting the characters that featured. Weird thing is, the guy you dated then is not the one he is today. You may yearn for that familiar touch or his nickname for you, but he’s probably had a number of women ever since. Have enough dignity to walk away from your past for good and clean up your state of mind…
…Because, in the end, the only girl that knows your heart is the one looking at you from the mirror. She’s in command 😉

Dispatch from Japan: James Nachtwey’s Impressions in Words and Pictures (via LightBox)

My favourite photojournalist, James Nachtwey, was one of the first on the scene in Japan…

TIME photographer James Nachtwey was one of the first photographers on the ground in northern Japan covering the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami. Here is an essay, in his words, accompanied by additional images from his coverage. First there is shock — disbelief at what you are witnessing with your own eyes. The surface of reality is unimaginable. Huge man-made structures were swept away like toys tossed about by a furious child … Read More

via LightBox

Behind the mask of xenophobia (via Chica Papillon)

If only more people read this…

Behind the mask of xenophobia VANESSA SMEETS At the abandoned babies’ home, there are five newborns neatly placed in a row. One is a white baby, Luke, with tiny pink lips, whose parents are originally German. Two generations ago, the war played a part in his family moving … Read More

via Chica Papillon

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen

VANESSA SMEETS

Rhino times

SAVE US: "Save the rhinos" with the motto 'Let me be horny' had the most colourful float. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Lady Gaga’s new song “Born this Way” hit South Africa just in time for its 16th Gay Pride Parade in Cape Town on March 5, which celebrated ‘Love our Diversity ‘ and became an anthem in the scorching heat, blazing loudly from several floats.

Spectators could also hear the chanting of “We’re queer and we’re here” as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) pride flag adorned the city in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Stellenbosch University’s Lesbigay opted for fairies and mythical creatures with the slogan “We exist,” blowing bubbles into the crowd. They shared the float with a few Cape Townian friends and decorated it in plastic ivy, sunflowers and pink and green balloons.

Lesbigay float

LET'S BE GAY: Lesbigay's colourful attire as mythical creatures made their second Pride Parade unforgettable. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“Next year, we hope to have our own float. Thirty members supported us this year, compared to the handful last year. It was absolutely magical,” said Ellen Wang, Lesbigay’s marketer and treasurer.

Other floats included a “Save the Rhinos” float with the slogan Let me be horny, a Beefcakes float decorated by pink flamingos, a bubble bath party, Cape Town Lesbians float decorated by women in lingerie, Crew’s float adorned with men in army briefs and the public dressed in colourful and original gear on foot.

Pride Parade CT

OUT AND ABOUT: The Pride Parade in Cape Town took a new route this year, leaving some members a little worried about their safety. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Pride started this year at the end of February with the Pride Film Premiere, the Red Party (to promote HIV awareness), a massive pool party and finally the parade which made its way up Beach Road, along the Cape Town stadium, through Sea Point’s Main Road and ended with an anti-climax afterparty at the stadium. Lack of music and ambiance influenced the majority to hit Clifton’s Third Beach and later end up at the Pink Strip’s clubs.

Fallen queen

FALLEN QUEEN: DJuze Nipples before her tragic fall. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

“Lots of people were also bothered by this year’s new route, which made us more visible than last year. They felt more at ease in the old route,” said Roberto Millan, Lesbigay’s ex-chair. Dylan van Vuuren, Rainbow UCT’s former chair agrees: “The route could have been better organised and the R30 entrance at the afterparty was far too much. There wasn’t even a proper MC.”

Amongst the sea of rainbow flags, feather boas, fishnet stockings and men in drag, people holding placards shouted into the crowd: “Jesus can save you from homosexuality!” and “Jesus can save you from the lake of fire!” They blasted sirens into the crowd, which were dumbed down by the floats hooting to a maximum as they passed by.

Muslim pride

THE GREAT DIVIDE: Religion was a strong topic in this year's Gay Pride Parade. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Ironically, in the song Gaga sings, “It doesn’t matter if you love him or Him,” a direct reference to God, which permeated the entire parade, as a few floats opted to include religion as part of their theme. A group of Muslims were dressed in Middle-Eastern gear of silk saris and kaftans on their float, with a huge banner that read : “Created in the image of Allah. Muslim. Lesbian. Do you see the resemblance?”

The Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church decorated their float with a huge cross covered in the colours of the Pride flag, with two children holding up the official South African rainbow flag above the banner: “Would Jesus discriminate?” The ‘official’ South African Gay Flag was launched at last year’s MCQP party.

Beefcakes float

BEEF IT UP: The Beefcakes float claimed to have 'the best buns in town' and were a stern crowd favourite. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

The parade was interrupted half way when a drag queen “DJuze Nipples,” who was part of the Beefcakes float, fell off from the top of the truck as she moved to sing. Suffering from concussion, bruises and a cut leg, she was rushed to hospital in a brace and stretcher.

The Pride flag has been listed as the world’s largest flag by The Guinness Book of World Records. It was created in 1978 by American artist Gilbert Baker, who claimed to be influenced by Judy Garland singing ‘Over the rainbow.’

What the Pride flag colours mean :

Red : life
Orange : Healing
Yellow : sunlight
Green : nature
Turquoise : magic/ art
Blue : serenity/ harmony
Violet : spirit

Some flags have re-adopted the hot pink above the red, which represents sexuality.

EXTRA SOURCES : Eyewitness News, IOL, wikipedia.org, official Pride website

Auf wiedersehen, meine Liebe: Das ist Berlin

VANESSA SMEETS

Berlin cabaret1

VERLORENE LIEBE: husband and wife realise they must separate during World War 2. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

 

If you struggle to understand German, you may not understand this beautifully written cabaret Das ist Berlin to full effect.

It was on show the 9th of March at the Sanlam nagKAT, as part of Stellenbosch University’s Woordfees. Directed by Niel Rademan, it stars Chris van Niekerk and Elizabeth Frandsen as husband and wife forced to separate during World War 2. The hidden talent is Rika Vermeulen, playing passionately on piano in the background.

Berlin was the centre of cabaret during Nazi rule in the Third Reich, inspiring movies like Cabaret (1972), starring Liza Minnelli. Frandsen’s voice, even when her mic failed her, had incredible power, bringing some audience members to tears. Both van Niekerk and Frandsen slipped from Afrikaans to English to German songs with ease.

berlin cabaret2

WAHRHEIT: the wife foreshadows her husband's role in the Reich. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Van Niekerk plays the torn soldier who must leave his wife to serve in Hitler’s regime. Even when they are alone, Hitler’s voice screams to them from the radio, foreshadowing the husband’s inevitable future. At first, their love seems unbreakable. In several scenes, they look lovingly into each other’s eyes for alternatives. There are none.
Instead, they are haunted by the words:

“Two moths around a flame,
If their wings burn,
I’m not to blame…”


Berlin cabaret3

MEIN KAMPF: The couple struggle to see eye-to-eye when the husband is sent to war. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

 

They separate and the wife sings in the cabaret, dreaming of her husband’s return. He sends her a luggage case filled with gifts from cities the Nazis have invaded: lace from Brussels, a dress from Paris, new shoes from Prague and a black shawl from Bucharest, anticipating her role from wife to widow. She now sings about the children they never had, more soldiers that have gone to war and the graveyards being built in masses.

The cabaret features the works of Aucamp, Blumer, Hollaender, Weill and Brecht.