'Face beat for the gods’ loosely translates to ’your make-up is flawless and worthy of heavenly praise’. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
'Face beat for the gods’ loosely translates to ’your make-up is flawless and worthy of heavenly praise’. Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Hey queen, it’s time to take up space

By Chad Williams Time of article published Mar 2, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - In the words of the world’s most famous drag queen, RuPaul Charles, “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag”.

With that said, drag, which may seem to many conservatives as grown men wearing dresses and heels accompanied by a face beat for the gods (which loosely translates to “your make-up is flawless and worthy of heavenly praise”), the artistry of drag is the ultimate form of self-expression.

Although drag is predominantly performed by gay men, it is not restricted to a particular sexuality.

South Africa has a rich drag history, particularly Cape Town, which is known as the drag capital of South Africa.

Dating back decades, the annual Miss Gay Western Cape pageant is one of the oldest and most popular drag queen contests in South Africa and celebrates the art form in all its majestic glory.

The art of drag allows one to transform oneself into absolutely anything. It is over the top, unapologetic and commands attention. Drag is bold.

I remember attending my first drag show many years ago in Cape Town. It was both a visual and sensory explosion. I implore everyone to see a drag show at least once in their lives. Don’t forget to tip the girls.

So what’s the tea (the best kind of gossip, typically shared between friends)?

Recently, a South African entertainer made headlines after posting a picture of himself in drag.

Actor and comedian Siv Ngesi, who is no stranger to controversy, introduced the world to “Sivanna” on January 25 in all her drag glory via an Instagram post that left South Africans gagging (when someone’s look is so good, you’re left speechless).

Ngesi continued to tease social media users with pictures of his alter ego Sivanna until one post left a sour taste in the mouth of some.

On February 23, Ngesi posted another photo with the caption, “Sivanna is a month and 2 days old and she’s already shooting with @adidasZA, @weareivypark, #icypark, #adidasxivypark.”

Social media’s reaction was pretty divided, with some praising the entertainer for “putting drag on the map”, while others called out Ngesi for stealing opportunities out of the mouths of other hard-working drag queens who have been at it for much longer.

Ngesi took to Twitter to explain that no one had been paid for the adidas shoot.

Speaking to IOL Entertainment, Ngesi, as a brand ambassador for adidas, said he was sent two outfits, one for himself and another for Sivanna.

“I do understand the issue that people have, but give me the benefit of the doubt. I am a drag queen and I hope that we can get to a point where different rules don’t apply to me because I am straight,” he told IOL Entertainment.

Meanwhile, the person who put Ngesi in drag was none other than drag artist and designer, the incomparable Manila Von Teez, who blew audiences away when reaching the finale of “SA’s Got Talent” in 2016.

Von Teez, who is Sivanna’s drag mother (someone who takes a young drag queen under their wing) released a statement saying she doesn’t think everyone is unaware of the bigger picture.

“I've been doing this for just over 10 years, and some drag queens, even longer. Reality is that no matter how hard we worked, South Africa as a whole never really accepted the art form.

“We have sent hundreds of proposals for sponsorship, brand support, etc. over the years, and not had positive response or support.”

Von Teez said they even brought RuPaul’s “Drag Race” contestants to South Africa at their own expense, and loss, with no support, but added that it definitely helped uplift local drag.

“Many of my fellow drag sisters know the struggle for corporate support and general support.

“We met Siv Ngesi a few years ago, and he has been a huge supporter of drag and especially the LGBTIQ+A community. We had the above discussion with him, he listened, he saw the bigger picture, and through his following and connections is helping.

“He pays me for all the looks, he pays for my time as well, all to support drag and the art form it is. We find ourselves now having discussions with TV networks and huge brands for really exciting projects for the drag community as a whole.

“Yes, it’s taking a heterosexual cishet man to get drag noticed, but we are grateful someone is listening, and finally people are talking about drag. Watch this space for what is coming! As Shea Couleé said: If one succeeds, we all succeed! Tons of love to you all.”

Following the outrage on social media, Ngesi said during a radio interview with 5FM’s Rob Forbes that he would be lying if he said the backlash didn’t sting.

Ngesi told Forbes that there were big plans that were going to put money back into the drag industry.

Ngesi further said in the interview with 5FM that he knew the trouble would come and that Von Teez had been preparing him for it.

Ngesi said that the entertainment industry was not like sport: it doesn’t mean that you’ve been doing sport for a long time, you deserve a spot in the Springboks.

The entertainer did, however, say that he understood the backlash and called on people to give him the benefit of the doubt, once again saying that his intentions and heart were pure.

So how do we move forward?

The African News Agency spoke to Dr Nyx McLean, who offered some valuable insights on this issue.

“Obviously there is a historical cultural significance to drag in South Africa. I’m not denying this at all.

“But it is limiting of such an incredible and essential expression from the gay, and overall the LGBTIAQ+, community to criticise someone for expressing themselves this way,” said Dr McLean.

“Sometimes we direct our hurt at those who succeed instead of the overall structure of, for instance, capitalism and the commodification of identity. We shouldn’t be targeting another member of the drag culture, but rather celebrating them, and also considering the courage of someone who is cishet to expose themselves to the inevitable ridicule from cisgender and heterosexual society that so many of us experience daily – and now, also the upset of the LGBTIAQ+ community,” said Dr McLean.

Dr McLean added that it was not on Siv but rather on big corporate sponsors and society in general; they should be held accountable.

“However, that being said, the real test is if Siv is in it for the long haul and can contribute and work to enhance the position of the drag community as well as the LGBTIAQ+ community.”

Dr MacLean added that it would be unfair for the LGBTQ+ community to drag someone who is an ally of the community, especially since they’re putting the spotlight on drag.

Ngesi and Von Teez have both teased that this is the beginning of something bigger, claiming that people are not seeing the bigger picture.

“Give Siv the time to find his feet, and also people must enjoy the persona.

“For many, drag is an expression of self, it’s unfair to put so much pressure on someone at such an early stage. Hold them accountable if they don’t come through for the community, or if they don’t show an intention to support the community.

“I think the lesson here is to start asking questions as to why drag queens don’t get this much attention, such as what is it about this moment in time that this person is getting the attention?”

We need to look at the bigger questions and not turn on somebody who appears to be one with the community or an ally, said Dr McLean.

– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher

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