It’s time to celebrate, and complicate, the meaning of Pride Month
Words: Cayleigh Bright | Photographs: Jonathan Kope | Styling: Mavuso Mbutuma
If there’s one party to which everyone should be invited, it’s Pride. Whether as a celebration of how far we’ve come in recognising LGBTQIA+ rights, a protest to raise awareness about what still needs to be achieved, or just a place to be yourself, there’s no doubt that Pride Month is important. As the month draws to a close, we spoke to people looking for, and working towards, safe spaces in which to thrive.
Nash Mariah and Mavuso Mbutuma, founders of monthly party Anything Goes, started the event out of frustration that Cape Town’s social scene hasn’t so far produced much in the way of places where everyone’s welcome. “We didn’t really have a place that we could go that was “gay friendly” that we felt comfortable in,” says Nash. “The scene in Cape Town felt really segregated, and as if it was for one type of gay person, instead of being open. It’s not a space where everyone can be free to be whoever they are. Our friends had the same issue with gay clubs in Cape Town, so we always ended up at ‘straight parties’ where we were in the minority again.” When they’re asked what the party’s about, Mavuso and Nash say that it’s all in the name – that when it comes to what to wear or who’s included, there are no restrictions.
"It's about making spaces for people who do not fit the perceived norm to feel comfortable around people that care about them and accept them," Gia Sivitilli says. "without those parties, I guess there would be nowhere for us to feel accepted. If you go to the typical gay clubs, you sort of have to fit a certain mould as a gay man or gay woman to even be looked at."
A lot of the problems with exclusionary nightlife, in general, are reflected in criticisms of Pride Month. It’s been a time to celebrate steps forward in achieving basic rights, but it also serves as a moment to realise and recognise how far we’ve got to go. Adopted as a flag of LGBT Pride in the 70s, the rainbow design has undergone a few aesthetic changes since then but is widely recognised as a symbol of solidarity. This month it appeared as a react option for Facebook users, and enjoyed the addition of two new colours, brown and black, by campaigners hoping to achieve more recognition for often-marginalised LGBTQIA+ people of colour. But even with a more intersectional approach, the symbol has its problems, and they reflect real-life issues.
Tarryn Naude suggests that the problem begins where, “The flag assumes that we all have the same struggles. I don’t have the same struggles that trans people do, or that asexual people do. Just banding “others” into one big ‘thing’ is problematic.”
For Dee Geyser, it all starts with awareness. “Presence in media, in art and film, is a big thing. It’s only ‘boy-and-girl’. It’s a good step to include anyone who identifies otherwise because it definitely perpetuates a heteronormative culture if that isn’t there. If people see a picture of girls holding hands they’re like, ‘Ah, best friends!'.”
So are we finally coming to understand that there are multiple ways to stay true to your identity – and that each is as valid and useful as the next? "I think that the idea of Pride being something that you’re obligated to show is dated," Yann-Xavier Horowitz tells us. "You can celebrate Pride in your own way, whether that’s in an open forum or with your family and friends. Pride can be anything from being as loud and proud as you want to be, or expressing it in your own subtle ways, in the clothes you wear, the people you associate with, the places you’re interacting in."
“If I think back to my experience of Pride back from the 90s, so much has changed,” says Malibongwe Tyilo. “It’s become such a huge part of mainstream culture, which is a great indicator of how far we’ve come. But it’s mainly those of us who live in cities who can experience the freedoms that come with Pride. There are people who still can’t live their truths, and be free and be unapologetic.” Groups who are marginalised – geographically, racially or economically – quite literally can’t come to the party. But what’s so important about being able to let loose?
“I think that when there are so many spaces that are unsafe, it’s essential for people’s mental health and wellbeing to be with people who they’re close to and just feel okay as a human being, says Lara Evans. "I know that for a lot of people now Pride’s a party, and it’s that feeling of a release from a lot of pain. It’s a party because you need that sometimes."
For Mziyanda, “Safe spaces are most definitely important. At a gay bar, not everyone is necessarily out. There are people who are still closeted, or still not sure, or just want to see what it’s like – and to have a safe space where there’s no judgement really helps a lot. Safe spaces are an essential part to a club – because in most clubs, you don’t find that. You need people cheering you on, not making fun of you or laughing at you.” Or, to put as Qiniso van Damme does, “You should just be able to flourish and go where you need to go, and those spaces should be the places where for once you feel free.”
A choice between party and protest is both besides the point and central to the problem: for one thing, there’s no need to choose between the two. For another, if everyone is entitled to the release of letting loose in good company, then the personal is more political than ever. Part of the problem with Pride is that it struggles to acknowledge this. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not getting anywhere.
After all, “The norm is almost to not be the norm. It’s not shocking to walk into the street and see someone dressed outrageously cos it’s kind of something that’s almost expected." That's what Adam Kent Wiest has to say while expressing his faith in the local scene's ability to evolve and flourish. "There’s all of this diversity and boldness that people have. Obviously, it can keep going further and further – there’s potential there, and that’s amazing. In Cape Town, there’s enough creativity and originality to actually fuel something that’s beyond.”
As the creators of Anything Goes, Mavuso and Nash find themselves in a unique position: instead of being the kind of party promoters who hope that their event remains the only one of its kind, they'd love to see more of what they're doing replicated elsewhere. Nash says, "I think that the sentiment – of all different types of people going to a party and just enjoying themselves – that definitely needs to be copied by everyone."
“South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world," Tarryn points out. "But one of the most traditional ways of living. The legislation is there. We just need to fight for more conversations.”
Makeup: Roxanne Sayers