Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

Craig_friendly

IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

Craig_smile

BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

The end of freedom of speech? The cartoonist’s plight…

VANESSA SMEETS

In light of what has happened to one of South Africa’s most cherished cartoonists, Zapiro (who admitted the SABC tried to influence what he had to say and then canned the interview) it is time to hear the plight of our cartoonists, as the end of freedom of speech in South Africa becomes a daunting reality.

Jerm_pic

FREE SPEECH: Some of South Africa’s best cartoonists, Jerm (second to left) and Zapiro (right), speak to students at Stellenbosch University in 2010. Zapiro’s interview with the SABC was recently canned, while Jerm was fired from The New Age for not agreeing to their terms… Is free speech history in South Africa? PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Here is a one-on-one with one of South Africa’s sharpest minds, JERM:

Jeremy Nell aka Jerm has built his reputation in the last few years as one of South Africa’s most successful cartoonists. Originally from Cape Town, his cartoons range from the hilarious “Biggish Five” about the Big Five as baby animals to his more serious political cartoons.

He was recently in the news after losing his job at The New Age newspaper for “not being aligned to their editorial vision and mission”. He recently published his first cartoons for Eye Witness News, keeping audiences entertained with his brilliant ideas and poking fun at our politicians.

How do you feel about The New Age’s excuse for terminating your contract?

I think that’s a nice way of saying that they don’t like my criticisms and lampooning. EWN approached me after they heard the news, and pioneered a new cartooning direction for South Africa. Never before has there been an online-only political cartoonist (being paid for original content). And it’s a very exciting space because of EWN’s overlap with Primedia’s radio stations. Furthermore, they’re an amazing bunch of people.

Hold on… Tell the readers more about your background…

My whole life has been in Cape Town. I went to Rondebosch Boys Primary School. Then, when I went to Fairmont High School, it was the greatest moment of my life. Not because of the school, but because there were girls. Loads of them. They were everywhere. I was in Heaven.

What are your passions?

I obviously hate drawing cartoons. But I love playing my ukulele; playing a ukulele is the most fun anyone will have for a grand! I enjoy going away to little towns and dorpies and places that are quiet, that make delicious food, and that are welcoming to ukuleles.

Tell us more about your work…

Well, I draw a syndicated comic strip called “The Biggish Five”, but my other work doesn’t really have names. For example, political cartooning and caption cartooning tends to be nameless. And illustrations that I do for magazines are much the same. I suppose it all falls under “Jerm”.

Jerm_biggish5

BIG DREAMS: Jerm’s Biggish Five take the Big Five (leopard, rhino, lion, buffalo and elephant) to create light-hearted yet educational pieces. Courtesy: Jerm

Which publications do you work for?

My work has appeared in a few publications ranging from The Witness, The Star, Pretoria News, Dispatch, Sunday Times, The Times, The New Age, Daily Maverick, EWN, Beeld, Rapport, and more, to magazines such as FHM, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Media, Dekat, and others.

What inspired your love for cartooning? And, from what age?

From as far back as I can remember. I was inspired by TV cartoons, mostly; Daffy Duck and Pink Panther and all those fantastic “Golden Age” cartoons that we all love.

What continues to drive the passion?

I suppose seeing the finished product. I get an idea and I like seeing how it comes out. Oh, and being paid to do that is a wonderful incentive.

What is your cure to writer’s block?

I have no cure and it happens a lot! If you know the cure, then please contact me.

Which is your personal favourite?

I have no personal favourite. In fact, I feel embarrassed by a lot of my earlier work (style, usually) and tend to push my boundaries in an attempt to improve and satisfy my expectations.

Which are you least proud of?

I am proud of pretty much every cartoon that I’ve done. But, as I said, I’m not necessarily satisfied with the quality of drawing. And, of course, there are a bunch of bloopers too.

Jerm_santa

ZUMA CHRISTMAS: South Africa’s cartoonists are some of the most privileged in Africa, allowed to poke fun at even our president. However, that may change soon as our government tightens its grip on media freedom… PIC: Jerm

How would you define “political cartooning”?

Making comments about current affairs and pop culture and the world around us, without attempting to provide solutions.

Jerm also makes short movies depicting South Africa’s current situation. This one gives a wonderful overview of Nkandla, President Zuma’s bustling castle…


Have you ever gotten into trouble for your work (sued/ harassed/ warned)?

No, I’ve not reached Zapiro’s level, in that regard. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of cartoons pulled, and I’ve had a number of irate readers, and the NSPCA once lodged a complaint against me, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately.

Have you ever been rejected by an editor for being too controversial?

Yes. Plenty. I was even fired, not too long ago.

Which other cartoonists (South African or international) are your favourites?

In no order of preference, my list would include cartoonists and non-cartoonists: Zapiro, Rico, Peter Sellers, Bill Cosby, Quentin Blake, and a bunch more.

What is your greatest achievement thus far?

This interview. LOL.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully following Roald Dahl’s footsteps and working from a little Wendy House in my back garden. (Close enough to home, but far away enough from noise.) And, perhaps being able to play a few more songs on my ukulele.

What is your advice to other aspiring cartoonists?

Being a cartoonist is not easy. It took me years just to be able to buy a more comfortable chair, for example. You have to believe in yourself and when you feel like giving up, have a shot of vodka or go for a walk. And rejection is a daily occurrence. Make sure that your skin grows thick very quickly. If you can get through the challenges, then you find that the rewards are great. Like drinking shots of vodka.

Jerm_madiba

RANDELA: Jerm captures the heart of our new notes… No one can replace our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. PIC: Jerm

You can follow Jerm on Twitter: @mynameisjerm
Like his Facebook fan-page: https://www.facebook.com/mynameisjerm
See more of his work on: http://africartoons.com/cartoonist/jerm and www.jerm.co.za


 

 

Save the rhino, ink yourself!

VANESSA SMEETS

The year 2012 has already exceeded all past records in rhino poaching, with 570 rhinos killed this year alone (as of November) in South Africa, compared to 333 in 2010. The population has plummeted by 90% since the 1970s, with a rhino poached about every 16 hours. Poachers have access to vast resources and are technologically advanced, even using helicopters to track and kill them. The investigative piece done by eTV’s 3rd Degree two weeks ago showed how all members of society could be involved, even game rangers themselves.

rhino tattoo

HELP US: The proposed rhino tattoo that will be launched this Saturday in South Africa, to help save the rhino, by funding anti-poaching units and raising awareness amongst the public. PHOTO: provided

The only solution would be to guard each and every rhino individually, which would cost a lot of money in training guards, setting up night vision, purchasing horses, maintaining specialised vehicles and a helicopter.

Project Rhino describes the situation:

“When a country goes into battle they have massive war chests available to them, the war against poachers instead is reliant on an outraged public to get us our funding to take the battle directly to the poachers. We need to get serious and stay serious!”

Skintrade tattoos and “Space for Elephants” who are co-founders of “Project Rhino” have put together an initiative that will display the public’s concern and get people talking, as well as raise the funds necessary for the equipment. “Mark of the Rhino” is a permanent tattoo that will preferably be placed somewhere visible on your body, to get people talking. It will officially be launched this Saturday (1 December).

It is hoped that thousands of people will go through with this initiative, showing that rhino poaching is not an environmental problem but an EPIDEMIC.The Mark of the Rhino  will be around 6-8 centimetres. It is a silhouetted, tribal-style tattoo of a rhino, designed to represent the black, white and even Sumatran rhino, and a unique code beneath it in Roman numerals. The code will be individualised for every donor’s tattoo.

Along with the tattoo, they will also receive a certificate with their name which will also be placed on the website next to their individual number. Their own names, company’s name, or a pseudonym can be used. Companies can also buy multiple “marks” and give them out to suppliers, staff members or customers. Individuals can buy marks for family and friends and it is believed they will make great Christmas gifts: a gift that you can’t lose or break and that will make a difference in the war against poachers.

The mark will cost donors R900 and take around 10 to 15 minutes to get done and will have a lifetime guarantee. It takes around a week to heal and does not require much aftercare.

The “mark” can be purchased at any Skintrade Tattoos’ shop.They are award winning artists and have done plenty of shows and tattoo conventions, including the BMX World Championships, international tattoo conventions in South Africa, and the Sexpo show, to name but a few. They are located in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, but they will also be doing roadshows around South and Southern Africa. They will be appearing at shopping malls, festivals, fairs and markets in many areas.

Addresses for these shops can be found on the website www.skintrade.co.za and details of the roadshows will be posted there too. It will be launched in the three main cities to start with and rolled out nationally, and then internationally. We have a number of celebrities that are already lining up to get their “mark” and a lot of the Project Rhino members will be at the launch getting theirs.

Project Rhino believes the war against rhino poachers can and will be won:

“A militant stance towards the poachers themselves, driven and fuelled by public funding and a trained, armed and adequately equipped crew dedicated to this very difficult task, will see the rhino population rebounding within the next few years, provided we ALL participate in the fight in one way or another.”

South Africa’s people

VANESSA SMEETS

South Africa, a country once cursed and condemned by her racist past, is now flourishing with eleven different tribes and numerous cultures. Here is just a glimpse into the beauty of her rainbow nation

These photos were taken over the span of two years (2010-2012), from posh cities like Cape Town and Stellenbosch to the more desolate Sutherland and the forgotten parts of Stellenbosch.
I avoided captioning the pics, in fear of people stealing them.

Please do not use these pictures for your own use. They are all copyrighted and my testimonies… If you have any questions about any of them, please leave a comment below. I am happy to share the stories behind each one, from 40 years of friendship, to Gay Pride and unique art.
South Africa reawakens in her people’s journeys.

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To the moon and back

The South African music industry is bustling with talent, but what makes one musical artist stand out above the rest? VANESSA SMEETS examines Marcia Moon’s determination to stand ground in a world increasingly plagued by mental disorders.

Marcia Moon pain

SURVIVOR: Marcia Moon suffered a lot to reach a point of stability through her music. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

“Obsession and fear seem to draw near to the place I call home, to the people I owe laughter to. Obsession and fear seem to interfere with my lifeline, my love, with the place I used to rest so. I forgive, I forgive, I forgive… Oh the anger side, visions in my mind…”

– Obsession and Fear, A Gradual Awakening

As a little girl, Marcia Scholtz would sing along to musicals, memorise jingles from television advertisements and fell in love with her parents’ collection of music. It was not a phase or childhood fantasy. Instead, it created a burning desire within her to perform.

Born in 1976 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, she was born at the height of the Apartheid struggle and the birth of Black Consciousness. At the age of ten, her own musical consciousness emerged, when a family friend taught her how to play guitar. “He was blind and inspired me to see beyond; into the spiritual, ever moving world of music. It was magical,” she says, her blue-grey eyes glistening.

The musical artist “Marcia Moon” may have been born during the years she would serenade her friends at their windowsills, perform at shopping malls and in streets. People were attracted to her haunting velvet voice, not realising how a horrible breakdown had unleashed this creative energy.

“One day, like the moon has its phases, I died. It was dark then. But, I was re-born with an incredible sense of self,” she explains.“Moon” came from the symbol of the celestial body’s madness, yet mysticism and its ability to influence tides and moods.

Moon in phases

WAXING AND WANING: Just as the moon goes through phases, Marcia found a burning desire within her to perform.

Judged by her sexual orientation, Marcia suppressed a storm of emotions: “There was pressure to be heterosexual, feminine and ordinary. It eventually led to a nervous breakdown.”

Raised by Afrikaans parents, she describes her childhood as a constant struggle:

“I never felt male or female. I was someone in between: androgynous. My creativity came from a deep, psychological place. It was a very difficult and dark time.”

Although her first passion was music and she spent more time studying it than anything else, she did three years at the University of Pretoria doing her LLB (Bachelor of Law) in the late 1990s. Law has constantly followed her and she still wishes to pursue criminal law.

Law has also brought her a sense of stability: “It has taught me a lot about people, culture and politics. What makes us, us. Law continues to inspire ideas for songs.”

After living in Sunnyside, Pretoria, for a year, she decided to work in London for two years. There, she would keep busy doing odd jobs as a cook, factory worker, photographer, waitress and butter packer.

“There’s humility in working long hours for little pay,” she says, grinning, “You find yourself.”

She reluctantly returned to South Africa, singing in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Her years as a modern-life gypsy allowed her music to be an interesting mix of soul, passion and desire. Her songs vary from ordinary, mundane topics like washing dishes to more complex philosophical subjects like same-sex relationships.

“I’m more interested in friendships, love stories and daily tales that I go through,” she explains, “I’m a gypsy through the boundaries I’ve created. You can be mentally unhealthy or suffer through unhealthy relationships, but you only grow once you stay grounded. Like a tree, you need those deep roots. I’ve learnt to have both: incredible experiences within boundaries.”

gradual awakening

AWAKEN: Her debut album is a symphony of symbolic elements.

Like her first album describes, it was a gradual awakening.

The CD cover is a network of symbols close to her. The butterfly symbolises the metamorphosis of rediscovering herself.
The spider symbolises the darkness she had to go through alone.
The subtle African print is proof of her love for Africa, its diverse cultures and people.
The dice on the corner symbolise luck by not always following the rules.
The pair of birds come from the nostalgia of watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as a teen.

She says, while fidgeting with the tablecloth: “Those birds in the opening of the first season were about mystery, obscurity. It was dream-like yet frightening. Part of who I am.”

Today, she describes herself as someone whose “intense, obsessed, searching, yet balanced.” Her eyes glisten now with tears: “It has been a long journey; one where I have deepened by finding more tools a long the way. These tools have allowed me to bask in spirituality.”

From the depths of despair, as she puts it, she has grown into four successful spheres: singer, performer, guitarist and songwriter.

Her voice is suddenly deeper and confident:

“I want to be one of South Africa’s best songwriters and performers.”

Marcia Moon

PENSIVE: Marcia Moon finds inspiration within the ordinary. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

It shows. Marcia puts a lot of effort into every gig, capturing her audience not only with her voice, but her potent facial expressions. While watching her fans, it is clear the music speaks to them. Some even cry while singing along.

“I’m not just singing. It’s a performance. It’s theatre.It’s interacting with your audience. I want to take them into the mood. My music may not be political, but it is a form of activism.”

Marcia explains her views on the South African music scene: “In the last twenty years, we have been creating culture: cultivating and moulding it. I want to be part of that.”

Experience has taught her to be intrigued with daily experiences. Playing chords on her guitar inspire future ideas and words for songs: “Sometimes, it will take ages. But it often happens quickly. Like soft rain after a dry thunderstorm, everything just falls into place.”

Marcia believes there’s still a gap in the Afrikaans music scene, especially when it comes to song writing: “Most of them sing without much passion about what they say or feel. They are just words or nice tunes. I don’t want my words to make people dance, but help their souls take flight.”

Her debut Album A Gradual Awakening is available at PLUM CD in Rosebank Mall and Revolution Records in Observatory, Cape Town. She is currently recording a bilingual album and working on songs for a third one:

“People take the writing part for granted. If it sounds good, that’s often enough. I write for fans that want to experience and explore. It’s a psychological process. I see music as the other mind: a different, profound dimension.”

FACT BOX

  • Full name: Marcia Scholtz
  • Date of birth: 20 October 1976
  • Favourite colour: Blue
  • Favourite food: Mexican, Indian, exotic salads and comfort food
  • Favourite place to relax: forests, bushveld and mountains
  • Favourite countries: South Africa, Romania and America
  • Inspirations: mystery, awareness, darkness, dreams, spirituality, signs, love and difficulties
  • Hobbies: photography, hiking, travelling, law, psychology and writing
  • Movies: In God’s Hands, The Others, Mulholland Drive, Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Books: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernst Hemingway
  • Passions: my dog, family and friends
  • Favourite quote:

Buddha: “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

  • Likes: animals, nature, politics, sports, culture, stories, history and being African
  • Dislikes: sloth, consumerism, over-indulgence, prejudice, conformity, greed, power and when people wear their sunglasses on their heads.

Dirty, Pretty Things

VANESSA SMEETS

payment

BIG BUSINESS: The sex worker industry is estimated to make over $100 billion per year. PIC: online

Sitting at a table in Long Street, Cape Town, I’m not quite sure who I’m looking for. Her voice was sweet on the phone, yet I found her in one of those ‘call-girl lines’ hidden away in the classifieds.

Cindy (27) finds me straight away.
“I thought that funky colour would match your voice,” she tells me excitedly.
She’s been a sex worker for nine years, but hates the word.
“I’m a call-girl in the week and a real-girl on the weekend.”

Her skin is a beautiful mocha colour and her black wavy hair reaches just over her breasts. It’s hard not to notice them; her red blouse is buttoned much too low, matching the pretty red lace bra underneath.
“Why do you do it?” I ask. Better not waste any time, she seems a little nervous.
“I caught you noticing my broken blouse. Sorry about that… wild client.”
Only then do I notice her blouse is torn and isn’t intentionally buttoned so low. Strange she used the word “broken.”

“Why do I do it?” she continues:

“I ask myself that every birthday, every Easter, every Christmas, every day. I guess it’s fun, you know. I turn guys on by making their wildest fantasies come alive over the phone. It gave me a kick to know I was so powerful. A horny guy is very vulnerable… His heart’s racing. His crotch is throbbing.”

I look down. She notices.
“Does that word make you uncomfortable?”
“No, not at all. I’m surprised you didn’t use something cruder.”
“Oh yeah? I may talk dirty, but here it’s a proper interview, you know.”

She lights up a cigarette. Her hands are well manicured, painted in bright coral.
“When did it become more than just a voice?”
“That high of turning them on soon fell away. I needed to touch them, experience it for myself.”
Her voice quickens:

“I had my first sexual experience at 13. I was swimming in a public pool, minding my own business when I caught a boy about my age staring at me. It didn’t mean much, you know. We kissed and touched under the water. I never asked his name but he was allowed to touch me like no one else had. That’s when the fantasy of reality begins. Nothing beats it.”

silk stalkings

SILK STALKINGS: Prostitution is considered to be the most dangerous female occupation, with a homicide rate of 204 per 100 000. PIC: online

“So, you enjoy having sex with strangers?”
She plays with the ash-tray, avoiding eye-contact.
“It pays my bills, you know. During the World Cup, I made enough to pay off my mortgage and buy a cute car.”
“Don’t you consider itself ‘dirty money’?”

“Listen here, I work hard for what I got! I aim to please!” she says, glaring into my eyes. Her voice then softens again.
“During the World Cup, I experienced businessmen from Germany, family guys from France and sex fanatics from Holland. We played safe.”
“Yeah, but a condom isn’t full-proof,” I tell her quickly.
“I know. I’ve had my scares: six torn condoms and three mistakes.”
“Mistakes?”
“You tell a guy he can tie you up and have fun, but he’ll go bananas and forget to wrap his tool.”
“What then?”

“The guy will always apologise, but he’ll never ask you to call him back and get tested together or offer to pay for the abortion.”

Cindy’s child is three years old.
“Tommy* is the one I didn’t get rid of. I was so close though. It was a bad month. I had taken three morning after-pills in a four-week interval. Stupid. And had an abortion two months before. The gynae told me if I killed it… him… I could never conceive again.”
“Do you know who the father is?”
“No. But, I’m pretty sure it’s one of my regulars. They have the same eyes.”
“A regular?”
“He visits me once a month, when his wife is at her parents. If he wasn’t married, we’d be together.”
“How do you know?”
“We share a bond more than just sex. He’ll talk to me about his job, his in-laws, his stress and then show me a pic of his little boys playing in the garden. I want to show him Tommy, how much they all look alike, but then I freeze. He still asks me about those months I was missing. Those months of freedom to have my child were bliss. I felt real, you know. I was an independent woman, a caring mother, a role-model.”

“Why go back?”

prostitution

PRIVATE PRACTICE: Although prostitution is illegal in countries like South Africa, it is still common practice. Sex workers like Cindy who practise privately are, therefore, not protected by the law. PIC: online.

“Waitressing doesn’t cut it and I hate sitting behind a desk.”
“What about exotic dancing?”
“Teazers? Haha… had a blast there for a while, but my son needs me in the evenings.”

I refuse to ask how much she makes, but she insists in telling me.
“You’re not exploiting me by wanting to know. Business is business. I charge R500 for a blowjob and between R2000 to R3000 for the full deal. Blowjobs are more popular, but my least favourite. There’s something so much more intimate about it… No kissing on the mouth, ever. Regulars give me extras: jewellery, weekends away or a pretty dress. Never lingerie. They don’t want to picture me with someone else while wearing it.”

She lights up another cigarette.
“That turns men off: to know how many, how often and how… I may objectify sex, but I’m never just the object. I don’t want to be seen as a piece of meat. Cindy is my playful name and that’s how it is. When I’m home, I’m Mommy.”
“How much longer? What about your son?”
“I haven’t really figured that out. On Parents’ Day, I’ll be absent. At his Matric Dance, I’ll be absent. At his wedding, I’ll be absent.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve put him up for adoption. I’m HIV positive. The bastard who gave it to me raped me. No condom. No name. No payment. Just a lifetime of guilt. My little boy is young enough to forget me still. I don’t want him to see Mommy dying.”

She starts to cry and fidgets with the napkin:

“These are dirty, pretty things: my body, my memories and my mistakes. Yet, my little boy was the first man to give me real love. I can’t imagine not seeing him grow up, but I have no choice. And now I’m sick, so I’ve stopped the real stuff and gone back to being a call-girl.”

“That’s how we found each other…”
She smiles and lights up one last cigarette.
“’Don’t fall in love’ was the biggest lie I was told. I’m going to die with no one by my side, because I was too afraid to experience it. Sex, any time. Love, never. Those are two of the dirtiest, prettiest things…”

FAST FACTS:

  • Prostitution has been illegal in South Africa since the 1957 Sexual Offences Act (SOA). The purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 amendment. 
  • Fears of increased prostitution during the 2010 FIFA World Cup led to calls for it to be legalised and regulated; in order to help control AIDS and STIs and for the protection of the sex workers. This, however, did not fall through, although businesses like Teazers were highly popular.
  • Prostitution is illegal in most African countries, except for Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Senegal.
  • “Prostitute” comes from the Latin prostituere; which means to set forth in public and to expose, dishonour or use for unworthy use.
  • Prostitution is regulated as a profession in countries like the Netherlands and parts of Germany.
  • Human trafficking is primarily used for prostituting women and children and is now described as “the largest slave trade in history” and is set to out-do drug trafficking.
  • The homicide rate for female prostitutes was estimated to be 204 per 100 000, higher than any other female occupation.


EXTRA SOURCES:
– police documents
– various newspaper articles
– Wikipedia.org

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.