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Disguised as Myself

Let’s be honest, even we queers struggle to think outside the proverbial boxes of gender, sex and sexuality. We too are highly conditioned to see identities delineated by the confining spaces that constitute who one is meant to be within our society and culture. It’s a struggle for me, in this way, to understand myself, to be able to perceive myself without resigning to the simplest explanations of what makes me me. If I must describe myself, in terms of gender, sex, and sexuality, I would say I am: semi-butch (…but not really), female (…but not really), and bisexual (…but not really). So which boxes would I fit in? I am effeminate, but I wear men’s clothes. I am biologically female, but I bind and pack because I consider myself more male than female. I am technically bisexual, but I don’t use that term for myself; I use ‘queer’, so ‘bisexual’ isn’t applicable at all because… well, because I said so, I suppose. Moreover, I have relationships mostly with women and sleep mostly with men. I am, undoubtedly, a nightmare for anyone who adheres to the simplifying constructions of identity. I, like multitudes of others, undo so much of what we assume about how individuals can be regarded and socially located. But it is our right as individuals to challenge and subvert the limiting constructions of our existence, isn’t it? So, to anyone who tries to reduce my identity to her/his own ignorance-inducing system of labelling, I say, “Good luck, and f*** you.”

The beauty of life experiences, besides the obvious character-building qualities they proffer, is that they carry us into an adulthood that – for most people anyway – is characterised by thicker skin and greater objectivity. Personally, I am giving decreasing amounts of crap about what others think of me, the older I get, and consequently I am granted increasing space to know just who it is I am. The more I scrape away the dust and residue that builds on my skin from the constant efforts to conform in mama- and society-pleasing ways, the more of myself I am able to see. It’s refreshing… and relieving.

Certain life experiences carry greater weight than others in regards to unravelling yourself, and as of recently, I’ve had the honour of embracing several remarkable additions to my life that have contributed in immeasurable ways. Three things in particular stand out in my mind, but due to respecting the privacy of not only myself but another person in my life who’s contributed in such a way, I will only share one of these events. Earlier this year, Catherine St. Jude Pretorius, better known to some as St. Dude, began what would prove to be a revolutionary project. She initiated the development of South Africa’s – and arguably Africa’s, if you believe Google – first Drag King Troupe. Her call for interested persons on Facebook could not have arrived at a better time for me. I had been pondering this possibility for myself for quite a while now and had not grown the ‘balls’, so to speak, to instigate such an endeavour on my own. With a built-in leader and support group, I jumped to the opportunity with no second thoughts. It was a chance that I knew would be nothing short of pure awesomeness.

Two months and six (then five, then six again) members later, Bro’s B4 Ho’s was born. By this point, each of the brothers has done at least a debut performance, putting us boldly on the queer map of not only Cape Town, but I suspect greater urban South Africa as well. Ask any of us why we’re doing these male-impersonating performances, and you’re likely to get a handful of similar reasons coupled with reasons that differ entirely brother to brother. We agree that the dragging is a uniquely satisfying outlet for experiencing our masculine side as well as an opportunity to subvert the masculinity that often goes unquestioned in a patriarchal, highly hegemonic society. Beyond these reasons, however, I apply my own personal ones: It’s as if there has always been a part of myself – a rather large part, mind you – that has lay dormant, untapped due to both the conscious fear of disobeying the social rules instilled in me from young and the unconscious unawareness of what I could be. It’s much like exercising for me, funny enough. Getting my ass in gear to go to the gym is a struggle if I’ve not been in a while, but once I go and I feel my muscles awaken, the strength my body begins to feel becomes addictive; I don’t want to give it up no matter how exhausting it becomes, because in the end, it makes me feel alive. And I’ll be damned if I give that up.


By france rose, first published on allthingsqueer.com, 7. June 2012.

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Helle is an artist, curator and academic. They have a Bachelor in Fine Arts from The Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, NTNU and are currently studying a Master’s in Gender Studies at The Centre for Gender Research, University of Oslo. In their work Helle uses appropriations, copies and reproductions to comment on, reveal and deconstruct the ideas of identity, gender and sex.

Website: http://www.hellegrondahl.com/

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