CHECK ME: 2nd Princess Laylah Raja Novacek, Queen Liberty Banks and 1st Princess Camille von Zuush.

Maggie Follett

IT’S not often that one finds oneself in the ladies’ loo at an Athlone nightclub on a Sunday evening, surrounded by an ebullient gaggle of guys applying makeup, not to mention other essentials on the cross-dressing tick-list – cinching, gaffing, tucking, taping and padding, inter alia.

Then, lavishly bewigged (depending on follicular fecundity, or the constraints of day-jobs) they slink onto the catwalk, to strut on towering heels, in a fetching array of miniscule outfits that leave… well, perhaps too much to the imagination. But then, Miss Body Beautiful is all about suspension of disbelief, and celebrating the ancient and venerable practice of transvestism – both as creative expression and lifestyle choice (regardless of individual sexual proclivity).

Of course, it’s all about winning too. Now in its 7th year, the annual Miss Body Beautiful cross-dressing contest (held on September 26 at Club West End, and sponsored by Renault) is an event that awards the participant boasting the greatest poise, flair and style (not to mention the best ability to ‘pass’ in a revealing micro-cozzie) with the title of Miss Body Beautiful. More importantly, it also represents the prelims at which finalists are selected for the glamorous, glittering Miss Gay Western Cape pageant, which takes place later in the year.

Cape Town is internationally recognised as both hub and haven for a forceful LGBTQI community – a reputation that has unquestion-ably been enhanced by its well-established, dynamic drag subculture, to which the Mother City’s coloured and black communities have in no small way contributed.

Miss Gay Western Cape dates back to its first humble staging in the Temple Hall Israel in Sea Point, in 1996. Subsequently dormant for over seven years, the event was revived by popular demand in 2009 at the Joseph Stone Auditorium, where it was held for two years, thereafter moving to the Sea Point Civic Centre in 2011.

Burgeoning attendance figures and sponsorships enabled the 2013 pageant to be held at the CTICC, and the following year the Baxter Theatre became home to what is now South Africa’s biggest cross-dressing pageant .

Although officially a ‘warm-up’ to the big MGWC gig, the Miss Body Beautiful contest is a significant event in its own right, with this year’s performance line-up featuring funky Cape dance crew, Cocoboiz, sassy drag artiste Maxine Wild, and the undisputed star of the show – gorgeous, spunky, talented, queer hip-hop artist, Catherine St Jude, aka ‘Dope St Jude’.

Between acts, 19 hopefuls vied for the title, and the chance to go through to the Miss Gay Western Cape finals, assessed by a panel of four judges (Octavia Adams, Mark Philander, Ashley Heiden and Daniel Basson). Anastacia Khan replaced Camille von Zuush as this year’s Miss Body Beautiful, while 12 contestants passed muster for Miss Gay Western Cape.

Run each year by the estimable duo of pageant director Mark Donough and assistant director Barry Reid, Miss Gay Western Cape is a fabulously flamboyant, superbly choreographed affair, with participants parading in a dazzling array of outfits, divided into swimwear, themed wear and evening wear, and judged by a celebrity panel.

Having been whittled down to the top five, contestants are assessed on personality and the ability to answer questions articulately and intelligently. Thereafter scores are tallied from all segments, and the winner is announced, to deafening screams of approval – or dramatic wails of disappointment – from an enthusiastic audience, many of whom are, themselves, in full drag regalia.

The 2015 Miss Gay Western Cape pageant, at which the 7th queen and her two princesses will be crowned, takes place at The Baxter on November 7. Performers include divas Karin Kortje (of Idols 2005 fame) and Salome Damon (a regular vocalist at Madame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams), as well as accomplished drag artistes, Manila von Teez and Kat Gilardi. This year’s theme is A Whole New World.

Says Reid: “The pageant has become one of the most sought-after titles by those who practice the art-form of female impersonation. Once selected, the Queen becomes an ambassador for the LGBTQI community at large and is tasked with creating a unique community-building event. All the previous Queens have their own, highly successful events today, which are spread out over the year.”

Despite its tongue-in-cheek, posturing pomp, pizzaz and pageantry, Miss Gay Western Cape is far more than just a huge drag show.

Last year’s popular winner, the petite, charming ‘Liberty Banks’ (Glenton Mathysse) is a powerful and inspiring spokesperson, who has been especially successful in raising the profile, not only of the contest itself, but also that of broader Cape LGBTQI community. Currently completing her Masters Degree in Human Rights Law at UWC, she explains the broader intentions behind the event:

“To me, being Miss Gay Western Cape 2014 has meant being true to who you are and embracing who you are, particularly in the face of the need to conform to what society wants you to be. Miss Gay Western Cape is a space where one is allowed to speak and express one’s truth unapologetically.

“It is a liberating space that transgresses the heteronormative and cisgender ideals of society and gives hope not just to the LGBTQI community but to many ‘others’ who are different, that things will get better. Such hopefulness is especially relevant in context of a society that claims its respect for difference on paper, but dismisses it so easily in the realities of everyday life.

“Winning the event has also afforded me many opportunities. Probably the biggest of all was the fact that I could embark on a journey of getting to know myself better, through the relationships I have been able to foster both within my community, the LGBTQI, as well as externally. It has allowed me to travel and advocate for social transformation in my province, the Western Cape, and also raise awareness around Cape Town drag culture abroad with my visit to London, where I delivered a conference paper around my experiences as Miss Gay Western Cape.

“I have been able to promote the message and act of solidarity by advocating for understanding the different forms of oppression that different groups face within society, via my annual Miss Gay Western Cape event Solidarity’s Night OUT. Through my Facebook page, public appearances and community engagement initiatives, my message has been clear: ‘Be Who You Are’.

Miss Gay Western Cape has respected my belief that one ought to speak one’s mind, even when politically incorrect, and to be critical about the society we live in. It has provided me with a platform to raise awareness about the importance of accepting self and respecting others.”

Liberty concludes: “I encourage the public to come out and support the event if they want to develop their consciousness around difference.

“Cape Town has a big drag community that has been able to use drag pageantry as a mode to raise awareness around difference, advocate for the respect of difference and open up the hearts and minds of people attending to look beyond the narrow constructs of sex and gender as we know it. It promotes the importance of freedom of expression whilst placing human dignity at the centre of self-expression and constructs drag performers and gender non-conforming gay males as valuable, contributing members of society and community building.”

l Book for Miss Gay Western Cape 2015: 0861 915 8000, www.computicket.co.za Information: www.missgay.co.za or Facebook Miss Gay Western Cape.