Author: Transformation Office
The Stellenbosch University Transformation Office recently put out a call to members of the university community to write about their experiences at Cape Town Pride. The brief was simple: Write about whatever you want and submit it by Monday morning so that we have enough time to edit it! Read the personal reflections below…
The before and after of Pride
Excitement and restlessness fill the hours before Pride. Last-minute preparations are underway as the shops of Stellenbosch are left bare of any rainbow pattern item they might have had before. We wait rather impatiently for the buses to arrive and are met by many strange looks and the wondering stares of newcomers and their parents, as Pride happened to fall on Open Day. It was almost empowering having a presence at Open Day, even for a short time. Friends were met with much enthusiasm that morning as we all introduced each other to our various circles as make-up and glitter were shared between strangers. This sense of community was a common thread that was sewn throughout the whole day.
On the bus we told our coming-out stories, gave our best advice to people we had just met and shared our expectations for the day, as it was the first Pride many of us had ever been to. During the parade, we helped strangers on and off the float and shared sunscreen in the blazing heat. At the festival, people shared food and drink and accompanied new friends on their missions to find their way around the busy field. We danced together as covers of our favourite queer songs were performed. We took photos with each other and of ourselves, hoping to let the day live on forever in photos. People were counted and recounted and checked upon constantly. We had all donned a 'No man left behind' mentality without any prior commitment to these people. I can easily say I've never felt a stronger sense of community with a group of people before.
On the bus ride home, under the thousands of stars in the sky, stories of the day's happenings were shared. Soft songs were sung, while many slept after a day of festivities was behind us. As I stared at the stars, I felt as if my whole life had led up to that day; that all the trials and triumphs of existing as a queer body had led me up to that day – a day that was filled with nothing but community, love and, most of all, pride.
How to spell love without labels
For far too many people, unconditional love is a foreign concept. For them, love has always been that unattainable sunset at the end of the road meant to make you forget yourself.
It saddens me to think of the lost souls walking a path designed to erase them. The fact that most of those roads are paved by their supposed 'loved ones' makes the pain that much more visceral.
It takes being introduced to the real face of love for one to recognise its faux lookalikes for what they truly are: doppelgängers without essence to back up their claim. Pride, for me, is that catalyst for the true face of love. It exposed the posers from the genuine oracle.
For some, Pride can be an overwhelming experience. It is not a gentle moment in the lives of any former love-blind. It can empty your lungs of phobic contaminants if you let it. It can open your eyes to your true reflection and dissolve the world if you're brave enough to trust it.
There are few moments in anyone's life that celebrate walking away from a path drowned in gold. Pride is such a moment. It praises you for walking in your truth and leaving the lies of the world to bask in itself alone. It can be a violent realisation for some, but the consequences are glorious.
The year 2016 was my time experiencing the freedom of myself. It exposed me to a lightness I never knew was possible for a human being to feel. I remember floating down the main road with this overwhelming feeling of breathless solidarity. I was surrounded by a sea of strangers, all marching away from a sunset and towards a rainbow as one. I felt more loved and seen by unknown eyes than I had ever felt around people who had watched me grow up. I finally belonged!
Four years later, Pride has easily become the highlight of my year. The sheer volume of love that emanates from the parade and colourful individuals is enough to melt even the most metallic hearts. I was privileged enough to attend this year's festival of love with someone who was experiencing Pride for the first time. To watch their walls melt before my eyes due to the overwhelming degree of love pouring over them reminded me of the power true, unconditional love can have for those who have never experienced it. It was like I was feeling Pride for the first time, and I could have asked for no better gift!
Cape Town Pride 2020
In 2020 I attended the Cape Town Pride for the first time in a decade. My first parade back then was very liberating, as I grew up in a small town where people tend to be conservative and oftentimes disapproving of queerness. The journey hasn't always been a breeze, but I managed to navigate through the conservatism, find myself, express myself and become the proudly queer man I am today publicly. This year I strutted through the Cape Town streets in a gender-bending outfit without feeling judged or ridiculed for the way I look or act, even though Capetonian queers don't always seem to be the friendliest bunch.
While cisgender and/or heterosexual people get to be proud and safe to express themselves in any type of space on any given day, Pride only presents this opportunity to the queer community once a year. What I loved most about the parade and the mardi gras is the amount of people in attendance from all walks of life, representing the full spectrum of gender and/or sexuality. At this year's Pride, the only negative reaction I noticed was a man confronting people in the parade to run to the Lord and save ourselves, but for that one person encountered, there were tenfold more people accepting of everyone in the parade. Among the many people displaying affection and acceptance toward the queer community, there was a woman celebrating her odd, goth, gay children as well as some homosexual parents celebrating the fact that two mothers are better than one. Some friends opined that this year's Pride was not political enough and dubbed it as exclusively a party. They are not wrong, but at least two political parties campaigned their inclusivity and acceptance.
We live in a world in which terrible things occur constantly. There are countries where people are not legally allowed to be queer, some of which currently still enforce the death penalty. We should absolutely acknowledge the number of queer bodies that we have lost to violence and hate in the past year, or were hurt or damaged by the heteropatriarchal, capitalist world in some or other way.
While we acknowledge communities' hardships, we should also be able to celebrate the unity of coming together for Pride. We should celebrate that we are still alive in a country where we can express ourselves legally, even though a lot of us are still confronted with homophobia and other forms of oppression daily.
I got to Pride a bit late…
I travelled through to Cape Town from Stellenbosch on my own. This Pride would be the first time in my life that I had specifically planned to go to actual Pride events, rather than just the after-parties or pre-parties.
For years, I had no special feelings about the day's programme, other than the belief that it would cause traffic chaos, or even worse, I used to embarrassingly, as conditioned by my self-loathing 'masc' environment, think to myself: “Why do they have to shove it in people's faces like that?" The first sign that Pride might bring some change into my usual queer Cape Town experience was on the Friday night itself, when at a club in town, there was for about the first time in years a different DJ in the booth, playing music from different genres, even the Gaga song that was released that morning. I was living.
This set the stage for my Saturday Pride experience... Okay fine, I overslept completely and only woke up at 16:00. I got myself ready, and went to grab my morning coffee at other people's afternoon beer-grabbing time. I then started the trek to the park. I was shocked that at a temperature of mid-20s the weather was rather hot; in Stellies we don't even break a sweat at 30 °C ... Perhaps I was nervous.
Arriving at the park, I saw lots of smiles, lots of families, and groups of people who looked like they have known each other for years. The security check upon entry was nearly non-existent, and rather than thinking that this was a danger, it gave me a warm embrace of some sort; I felt safe.
Once inside, I bought a drink and started looking for friends. During that time, I ran into one Stellenbosch acquaintance after the other, everyone looked so relaxed, the opposite of how I would generally describe them when I see them on campus. I felt the same way. The evening went on and different performers came on stage – most also had a narrative of beating the odds, or they spoke of how grateful of other's support they were in their journeys.
What struck me was that I did not over-drink – I spent most of my night chatting, laughing and dancing. I am of course embarrassed to have my prejudices about Pride exposed like they were, but I am glad it happened; I learnt from it. Through watching the many very young people in attendance, I realised that they have grown up in a different and more open South Africa than I did, and that is a good thing. The kids are alright.
I will be back in 2021 and urge everyone to join in.
Photo: Matthys Carstens