Fold up your washing, sisters

Wilhelm Stegmann was a participant in the colourful Cobern Pansexual Street Fair in Cape Town. (David Lee)

Wilhelm Stegmann was a participant in the colourful Cobern Pansexual Street Fair in Cape Town. (David Lee)

Spreadeagled on a wooden cross and held in position by an intricate net of rope and two leather wrist restraints is a lean, muscled man. He is wearing jeans, a black sports cap, a black masquerade mask over his eyes and a broad, unflinching grin.

He is smiling despite the clothes pegs being pegged along the soft flesh inside his biceps and armpit, across his breast, just next to his nipple and down to his hip bone. The other side is all pegged up already.
A thin rope is being led through the pegs and every now and then the pegger playfully tugs on it.

Everyone is reaching for a cellphone camera, which indicates a climax is approaching. I am not sure what, but my camera is out … The pegger is holding both ropes, smiling and toying with his subject. Then – zip! – and he has ripped both strings of pegs off in a single movement. I fumble and miss the shot.

It is called a clothes-peg zipper, which is what a person next to me tells me when I ask him what I should google. Mental bookmark. I also bookmark, which is printed across the jocks adorning a crew of delectable asses circulating in the crowd.

Scanning the crowd, leather and kilts seem to be the most popular attire. There are many variations, including feather boas and metal studs. A handful of spectacularly hyperrealistic cross-dressers are standing in premeditated poses, eyeing each other and everyone else. Dapper men in uniforms are also turning heads. A crew of energetic-looking dykes, all wearing "mind the gender gap" T-shirts, help to redress the male-female ratio only minimally.

Calvin Klein jocks, leather accessories, disturbingly juvenile paintings of clowns and sexual icons, black-and-white ceramics with naughty engravings and the usual gay pride memorabilia are on sale. A lone latex fetishist wanders around in a gas mask. A woman wearing a dog chain is being led around by a man.

As if this is not surreal enough, it is happening on a pavement in broad daylight against an urban soundscape of humming traffic and tinny house music. It is a Saturday afternoon, just an hour or so before the rugby kicks off. It is the first Cobern Pansexual Street Fair in De Waterkant, Cape Town, in what is left of the somewhat decimated "gay village".

Pansexual describes not a sexual affinity to skillets and woks, but an attraction to people of all genders, identities, biological sexes and sexual activities. For the fair, it means a sexual celebration of all persuasions.

"It's a festival celebrating who you are and what fetish you have – fetish being anything. You come and express yourself," said organiser Jaco Lourens, who added that Cape Town was only the fifth city to host a pansexual street fair.

San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair is the original. It started in 1984 as a bondage, discipline, sadomasochism and leather-subculture fair, but has become one of California's largest events and is a registered charity. Including stalls, performances, parties, demonstrations and games, it is loosely described as being something between gay pride and Sexpo.

Fetishes and fantasies
With bravado, Lourens told me three days before the event that "it's going to be just like that, but we're not allowed nudity ... yet".  

As the chairperson of SA Leatherman, he viewed the fair as a long-term investment and, he hoped, the first of many. Proceeds will go to charities looking after older members of the community and to fund the next SA Leatherman pageant. Lourens was Mr Leatherman 2010 and finished in the top 10 of the global finals.

"The world is moving towards us opening up to our fetishes and fantasies," he said. "Twenty years ago we couldn't talk about leather or fetishes – or even gay marriage. Sexpo helped a lot because you see normal couples who should be in church walking around there on Saturday. People's mindsets are changing."

One would hope so. The small but positive turnout could have predicted future growth. But it was difficult to ignore how the gay "district" had become a pokey two blocks with a hole (literally) in the ground where the Bronx Bar used to be. With all the talk going on about enlivening and making Cape Town's public spaces more inclusive, we should remember not to "design out" safe spaces for marginalised communities.

Talking about deeper marginalisation, I hope next year there will be more women – straight, lesbian, heteroflexible, homoflexible, transgender, whatever – at the fair. There are better ways to use clothes pegs than for the laundry.

Nadine Botha is an editor, writer, observer, designer and poet. Follow her on Twitter @nadinebotha

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