Thabo Mthombeni

Body PoliticsJohannesburgSex & Gender

the body as protest: a night at joburg’s le grand ball

October 30, 2019
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I am fighting for the abolition of apartheid and I am fighting for the rights of freedom of sexual orientation. These are inextricably linked with each other. I cannot be free as a black man, if I cannot be free as a gay man. – Simon Nkoli 


From its conception in 1993, Johannesburg Pride, founded by GLOW (the Gay and Lesbian Organization of the Witwatersrand), worked to prioritize both the gay rights struggle and the anti-apartheid struggle into a single movement. In the years following the movement’s birth, Pride has transformed into an organization that is primarily apolitical. 2019 has led to controversy for the movement, as they have been criticized for “…keeping up appearances amongst straight society and being exclusionary to a large number of queer people in Joburg.” 

However, what we cannot deny as the LGBTQIA+ community, is the political demands that Pride has. In our celebration of Pride, we must remember the foundation created by those who have come before us and given us this movement to not only educate, but to support one another in a collective, even holistic fight for equality. A space that has been made available to us all, a space where “no haters” are tolerated, opened its doors to the community this past Friday as a means of bringing us all together within a single space free of discrimination. A space in which love abounds in all forms, shapes and sizes. This past Friday we congregated in our collective support of one another at Le Grand Ball: The Fetish Ball (the alternative Pride) hosted at The Tennis Club in New Doornfontein. As per dress code requirements, outfits were “gag worthy.” 

Latex, spandex, sheer materials, one-pieces, butts out, titties out, ball gag. Themes of BDSM, skin and sexual freedom ran through the sweaty night. With sultry sounds dominating the dance floor. The line-up for this alternative Pride included Lelo Whats Good, DJ Black, Mr. Allofit and DJ Olwee with a gold rush of glitter adding that twinkle to the night courtesy of Golden Dean. They performed in the nude to “comment on how assigned bodies do not correlate with gender,” according to Treyvone Moo, MC of the ball. Johannesburg’s most expressive took to the stage in a walk-off “designed to highlight the wealth of creative juice that flows through the city and the LGBTQIA+ communities,” as each house partook for a chance to win a cash prize. Participating houses included Rêve (with house mother Tarryn Alberts), House of Pose (with house mother Shannon Kivido), House of Diamonds (with house mother Llewellyn Mnguni) and House of Dirty 87s (with house mother Gyre). The categories to which each participant had to match themselves up were Bottoms Revenge, Femme Dom, Leather and Lace, Fuckboi Realness, Karmasutra and Best Dressed Spectator

“The houses are really set up to create a space for communities, or individuals within our communities, to find like-minded individuals who they can relate with, set up a family, and create an energy and space where they can feel comfortable in their various gender expressions,” said Moo. 

House of Rêve is one of the country’s longest running Vogue houses. Comprised of a rich catalogue of dancers, they have been prevalent in the Vogue scene for many years — though Voguing is, in itself, relatively new in South Africa. House of Diamonds had recruited new members to walk in Le Grand Ball, including Percy Bakane who was the winner of the cash prize (and the title of Femme Dom) and Anita Makgetla, one of the finalists for Leather and Lace. Other winners of the night included: House of Rêve, taking home the titles of Bottoms Revenge and Femme Dom. Shannon Kivido with Leather and Lace, House of Diamonds also with Femme Dom, and Gyre from House of Dirty 87s and Shannon Kivido from House of Pose with Bottoms Revenge

At its inception, Pride was founded with a politics in mind, one that is intersectional and spans wider than issues solely within the LGBTQIA+ community. Sadly today, the focus has drifted and the ties that bind us together have slowly started tearing us apart. Therefore, a space such as The Grand Ball becomes a beacon of hope in its embodiment of “alternative Pride.” Le Grand ball is a space where politics matter – which was the objective inextricably linked to queer rights in ’93 for the Pride movement. This ball is a space where “black, GNC, queer and femme bodies have a space to come out and party while being safe. Safe to be photographed, safe to be as naked or in whatever dress form they want to be in,” states Moo. Alternative Pride (Le Grand Ball) is where we use our bodies as canvases, as a political movement, and in my opinion, there is no politics more powerful than body politics. Or as Treyvone Moo added, “This space is created to become a space of activism where the body literally becomes a protest.”