Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

What’s behind sashaying for the sash

Cinderella stories come with happy endings unless they are directed by novelist Lauren Beukes — in which case the end is only the beginning, the soundtrack features Barbie Girl and the traditionally ugly stepsisters are the real belles of the ball.

Glitterboys and Ganglands is an hour-long documentary about a group of men competing in the annual Miss Gay Western Cape competition.

Unlike Mr Gay South Africa (men dressed as men) the Miss Gay ­pageants are open to cross-dressing men — drag queens or, as many of the contestants prefer, women impersonators. There are feathers and sequins, swimsuit and evening wear categories, a Miss Personality (voted for by the contestants), and tears and tiaras, much like traditional female beauty pageants.

Except, of course, the politics of standing up and being counted are a little bit different when, like most of the entrants in Miss Gay Western Cape, you come from communities that continue to be marginalised by a complex interplay of income, identity, gender and status.

The premise of Glitterboys is ­essentially an exploration of these margins through the caterpillar-chrysalis-­butterfly transformation that occurs on the exposed sands of the Cape Flats, from where many of the finalists come (the finals take place in an auditorium in Athlone).

It follows the stories of three of the 2010 semifinalists: Kat Gilardi, one half of the so-called “Posh and Becks” couple of the gay community (Gilardi’s partner, Errol Stroebel, competed in Mr Gay South Africa and makes all Kat’s competition clothes); Kayden van Eerden, a pageant veteran with 59 titles under her sash who is on hormone treatment, about to undergo an operation to become a woman; and newcomer Eva Torez, a slight and pretty mechanic with a lovely smile that hides a number of sad stories.

Finding herself
Each has her own reasons for competing: Kat, in an attempt to be more involved in the gay community; Kayden, perhaps because it affirms the beautiful woman she is becoming; and Eva as a dare — a challenge, one suspects, that has more to do with finding herself than simply learning how to sashay in heels.

The narrative that emerges through the eyes and lives of Kat, Kayden and Eva gives the viewer a glimpse of the world in which they live — the mundane (Kayden works at McDonald’s and has trouble getting time off on the night of the pageant), the amusing (Eva’s co-workers admit to having watched gay porn but add, with a smile, that it was “fucked up”) and the tragic (Kat’s father passed away weeks before the event) — but never really seems to go into the “ganglands” of the title. The harshness of the Flats is alluded to mostly through visual montage and occasional comments about problems with drugs and crime.

It is, perhaps, the one shortcoming of an otherwise brilliant documentary — one that already assumes an audience of outsiders in its consistent use of subtitles, even though it’s all spoken in English, and yet elides the consonants of location. This is certainly a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers: in editing, much of the bitchiness associated with beauty pageants — gay, straight — has also been removed; this is more effective and successfully shifts the tone of Glitterboys from the realm of conventional gay stereotype to something other than “other”.

Delicate message
It is possible that Beukes and her producer, real-life husband Matthew Brown, did not want to lose their message in the medium.

And it’s a delicate message, to be sure. Glitterboys is possibly one of the most striking commentaries, not on beauty, as you would expect, or even on gay rights, but rather on femininity, identity and vulnerability in South Africa right now.

This is captured in poignant opposites: Kayden, celebrating the fact that her identity book is going to be changed, that she will become female in the eyes of the law. And earlier, a moment of watching one of the contestants — Janet Jackson — light a candle in St George’s Cathedral for a lesbian friend who had been raped and murdered because of her sexual identity.

“If someone wants to rape me,” she says, “that day I will be a man.”

They are warrior queens, too, these beautiful girls.

Read more about life behind the glitter and tiaras here.


Glitterboys and Ganglands screens as part of the 13 Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival from June 9 to 26 in Cape Town and Johannesburg

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Nechama Brodie
Dr Nechama Brodie has worked as a multi-media journalist, editor, producer and publisher for nearly twenty-five years. During this time she has dodged the secret police in Burma, explored tunnels underneath Johannesburg, gotten dusty at rock festivals, and reported on the myth of ‘white genocide’ in South Africa.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket

A blunt Mantashe makes no promises during election campaigning

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe told people in Daveyton to stop expecting handouts from the government

Mbeki: Social compact the answer to promises made in ANC...

Former president Thabo Mbeki urged business and government and society to work together to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment and poor services and infrastructure
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×