Monday, May 29, 2006

The Pink Loerie

The Loerie is a bird found in around the Garden Route of South Africa.

The Pink Loerie is an annual gay pride festival in Knsyna, a small town on the water whose main industry is tourism. Knysna is also the place, if you have been paying attention to details, where I have been filming hero books at MadAboutArt. I came to the Pink Loerie not just for the pride festival, but also to film the high school kids at MadAboutArt march in the pride parade because, as 15 year old Ntombi said, "though we are not gay, we want to show support that gay people also have rights." For me, it is an amazing example that MadAboutArt is successfully fighting to end stigma and discrimination, not just for those living with HIV, but for all people.

It was a great weekend, filled with non-stop dancing, drinking (not too much of course), and meeting people. Since I didn't know anyone before I came, I felt like I was meeting three new people every hour, which was surprisingly fun. As usual, I'd like to share a particular story that feels symbolic of my time at the festival and also of South Africa in general...

It was Friday night at about 12:30 am, the first night of the festival. I had already dancing for about four hours, hopping between bars. (On a side note, one of the best bars (because it played hip hop and dance and had a racially mixed crowd) -Zanzibar- hosted one of SA's hottest dj's, Roger Goode. When I went to tell him what a great set he played, he said, "Yeah, I noticed you rocking out to the Colplay mix- you were my muse!" ). Anyway, but at this time I was already at the all women's club and - as we kids call it these days- the party was bumping. It was one of those moments at a clubwhen the dj seems so on, everyone in the club is on the dance floor, and you just can't help but dance and have fun. Also, whereas the other club was more racially mixed, this place was predominantly white women, with a few exceptions, dancing to classic techno songs.

During one of the songs, I looked out the window to see a group of non-white guys sitting outside the club, looking in at the women dancing and laughing. I was angry at how in a moment I could be reminded that this safe space was an exception for one weekend, and that in reality society is not very accepting.

What I hadn't noticed, however, were two girls amongst the group who were not gawking, but sitting and talking, dancing a little bit. Then, when a Black Eye Peas song came on, they got up to come into the club to dance. But when they got to the door, they were rejected admittance, and I saw them walk back to the benches angry and hurt. You have to understand that they were probably denied because of the boys they were sitting with who were looking on inappropriately, but that also the scene looked like two black women who were denied access into a white club. I'm sure they were only coming in to dance.

I was watching this scene unfold before me. The fact that they were denied entrance did not feel right to me, but I wasn't sure what to do. It was like a "choose your own adventure" story before me. And, as in most cases, there were complicating factors, like the fact that the three white women at the door who were hosting the party were also the women that I was staying with, since I knew no one else at the festival and they offered me accommodation when I met them last week in Cape Town. In some ways, I felt torn- I didn't want to piss off my new friends and I understood why they didn't' let the girls in, but I also was did not feel like dancing with all white people when the only women who were not allowed in were those two non-white women.

So I decided to walk out of the club, walk over to the two girls, say I didn't think it was right that they were not allowed in, and danced with them outside. We started talking and as it turns out, they are from Nekkies- the township where I stayed for two nights and have been filming- and that they knew my friend Beatty.

I couldn't help but think about the irony that this gay party refused admission to two women of color (not bc they were black per se, but it's certainly a big factor in that situation), while the township kids were going to march to support gays in the next day's pride parade.
The women left after a couple of songs and I went back into the club to dance, of course with no trouble. I didn't say anything to the women at the door, perhaps if I had had more courage...

And another quick story: The next day was the pride parade, which I was mostly excited for because the kids at MadAboutArt were marching and I had not seen them for a month. They marched near the front of the parade and danced and were beautiful- great filming time. As they marched, they also had cups for donations for the madAboutArt Center. I watched as my friend Ntombi when to get donations from people. When she was unsuccessful, I gave her advice to not just shake the cup but to also say "Excuse me would you like to support the MadAboutArt center?" (yes, I was giving tips on how to ask for money)...I watched as she tried to do this, still no one giving money. My heart sank at one point as I saw a woman walk away quickly from her, holding her purse with a scared look as she refused to make eye contact. I wanted to go up and comfort Ntombi at the way the woman brushed by her, but then noticed that Ntombi had gone on smiling, not horrified like I was, almost as if she hadn't noticed or cared. It was only then that I realized it was probably not the first time she got that look from a white person, scared and quickly brushing by, and that it was in fact part of her reality. No, it was not her first time nor would it be my last, but it was my first time witnessing someone disregard and be scared of my friend.

So those are two memories that stuck out from the festival. It reminded me again that the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic is a complicated one. Despite these moments when racism stared me in the face, when I felt ashamed to be in the same grouping as the white women, it was still a great weekend and I still had such a great time. At one point, while sipping a beer on a porch I looked up and saw the wooden shacks of Nekkies at the top of the hill. They almost looked picturesque and i'm sure most people did not even think twice about them or what goes on inside. Still, for me, my time in South Africa, my time in Knysna and at this pride festival have been amazing because I am now feeling that I'm looking at situations with new eyes, with new experiences, with a new perspective.

Okay, so that for me was my pride festival. I am staying in Kynsna for another week , the purpose of which I will explain in my next email.

Miss you all!
Maital

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