Born this way: A pursuit towards understanding gender identity


“Coming out of the closet” is often perceived as a choice that a person takes because they want to. Glitter, flowers, fur, runway fashion and stars shine on the stage. Light meets glitter, creating mirrors of lights like a disco ball. Wear your skin comfortably today. Wigs are about to be snatched. It is about to go down!

Crowns of beauty and makeup products decorate the stage. Red lips and glittered eyelids. Bald heads, contoured faces and two long-legged ladies lead the show. A contagious ambiance flows from the stage to the audience like a Grahamstown breeze hitting your face cold. The audience walks in lively. Their voices call out in excitement. “This is everything!” whispers an audience member in anticipation.

Diana Ross bursts the speakers with liberating lyrics:
I’m coming out / I want the world to know / Got to let it show!

“Yesss!” screams the crowd. It is amazing how the performance of society’s caricatures of what it is to be gay enamour and entertain audiences; while in real life gay men and lesbian women are battered and scarred in tongue and hand.

Rainbow disco lights shine bright like the rainbow of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and pansexual (LGBTQP) community. The music sets the mood like music ought to. The lyrics are like the engine of a car propelling the plot.

Dumelang bo moghyel le bo moboy! And all our convertibles in the room. Our trans people”.

Hijinks Theatre & ZikkaZimba Productions collaborate to create a truth-telling story, Born Naked. Satire and loads of drama; songs and smooth, fluid dance moves depict a hilarious story of two gay men on a journey of self-discovery. Drag queens, high heels, bling-bling and beauty competitions aid in driving this narrative.

Blaq Widow (Jake Nathane) and Queen Bling (Lethabo Bereng) unfold the struggles gay men undergo. Patriarchs turn into policemen and homes become restriction orders, where you are prohibited to go because you are “a confused young boy”. Songs like Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman strengthen this awakening performance, reminding society that drag queen simply translates to “gender-bending illusionist”.

Bling Queen reminds the crowd that a limited number of designers (including Gert-Johan Coetzee and David Tlale) can dress up black women. Gay pride is enlaced into the script – a perfect way of closing off Pride Month in truth and colour.

Affirmatory Brenda Fassie lyrics, “I’m no weekend special!” remind all women that they are not booty calls. The script comes to grips with questions society usually asks the LGBT community: “Are you a woman?”

Bereng plays the character of a transgender woman who takes her first step into womanhood in her early twenties. She sacrifices all her savings for her surgery. The misconceptions around transitioning are grappled with. The challenges transgender women face in South Africa (such as Steve Biko Academic Hospital being one of the few medical institutions that provide gender reassignment therapy) are highlighted. The lack of testosterone in state hospitals is shown through how birth control is used instead.

Born Naked tells a story of how finding solace and uniformity becomes a pursuit. It tells of how liberating it is to not be beaten up for your sexuality. It recounts how amazing it is to find someone who appreciates you for who you are.

“Two men approached her asking her about her gender. Something was wrong… She always says goodbye… her tongue and genitalia were cut and placed in her mouth.”

By Thandolwethu Gulwa