I came across an amazing charity about a year ago. The charity is called Dignity Dreams and they do amazing work for underprivileged girls and women in South Africa. The charity recently turned three years old and we went to their birthday party. I will tell you all about it, but first a bit about Dignity Dreams.
As you may know South Africa has one of the worst Gini coefficients in the world and we have very real issues with poverty in South Africa. Many girls (and women) simply have no access to sanitary pads and therefore miss days of school and work every month. This ensures that they do not excel at school, fall behind their peers (entrenching inequality) and that women earn less and lack job security. Some people are unable to afford underwear let alone disposable sanitary pads. Here is where Dignity Dreams comes in.
Founded by the amazing Sandra Millar, Dignity Dreams believes that ‘entering womanhood should be a time of joy and celebration – not a time of shame. No Girl should have to use newspaper, socks, rags,or simply miss school during her menstrual cycle.’ Dignity Dreams also believes in empowering women through skills development and economic activity. They have therefore set up an amazing programme whereby women are trained to make washable and reusable pads which are then bought by donors and then distributed to needy children. Each pack comes with a few sets of pads and panties ensuring that there is always one in use, one being laundered and one ready for use. This sets up a wonderful system of training, entrepreneurship and positive results for the beneficiaries. It also ensures that manufacturing resources meet the needs of people in an efficient manner with little wastage, ensuring efficiency through out the value chain.
Each set is actually really cheap at just R150 (less than US$10) per pack so if you want to do some good in the world please feel free to donate to Dignity Dreams. Details can be found on their webpage. Or you can get details from the image below:
I am fortunate enough to know one of the Dignity Dreams board members, Sharon Gordon. She knows that we are always on the lookout for different, safe and accepting places to go and she also knows (I think) that I am a firm believer in what Dignity Dreams stands for. She therefore invited me to Dignity Dreams’ third birthday party. I discussed with my wife and she said that it would be great to attend. She is also a big fan of Dignity Dreams and we were eager to support them. We also thought it would be good to let the rest of the transgender community know that there was a group of people who were very supportive and accepting of us (people do not usually invite you to their events if they do not want you there and I know Sharon is very supportive of our community) so I publicised the event as I could through my social media networks*. Sadly, only one other friend (Jenny Elwood) could make it on the night but we did not let that deter us.
The party was billed as a ‘pub nite’ and was held at a venue called Journeys. we had never been there before so were a little unsure of how to dress. I decided that it would be best to dress down a little and not be too glam so I went with my red butterfly blouse, black skater girl skirt and black platforms. My wife went with a black mini, stilettos and a black blouse. I did wonder exactly who was the tranny in the relationship!
Sadly I only realised the label shining through the skirt when we were already at the venue… Oh well you live and learn.
We set off for the venue a little early as we were unsure of exactly how long it would take to get there. As it turned out we arrived about twenty minutes early. But Sandra and a few of her fellow board members were already there. They were very friendly and welcomed us and invited us to join them straight away. Sandra made sure we had no problems with the reception (we had pre-paid for our tickets) and generally ensured we felt at ease. All the people at the party thus far were women and we were chatting away asking about each other and it felt really good to be accepted as one of the girls. One of the women quickly ascertained that she and my wife had attended the same high school (though not at the same time) and they had a good laugh about some of the teachers they recalled.
I was glad I had gone with the outfit I had chosen. Most of the other guests were casually dressed and the venue was very nice, but a touch on the informal side.
By now, some more guests had arrived but we frankly felt very comfortable sitting and talking to our new acquaintances. I honestly cannot say whether I was ‘passing’ or not, but frankly I did not care. A man came up to our table and asked how we were, if we needed anything etc. He was very charming and helpful. He addressed us as ‘ladies’ and I truly could not fault his behaviour: he did not misgender, he was polite and seemed genuinely concerned for our well being. A real gentleman. I later ascertained that he was the drummer in the band that was performing that night. He also serves on the board of Dignity Dreams.
After some more chatting we decided we should go inside to the main venue as we did not want Jenny to not be able to find us. We found a table as far away from the speakers as possible and we had a few drinks. Jenny arrived and we had some time to catch up on events since we had last seen her. We then ordered some food. Jenny and my wife had the chicken nuggets, I had the chicken schnitzel. It was very good and plentiful (I could not finish mine).
Then the entertainment started. The band is called 60 Shades of Grey and they were rather good. They specialise in doing cover versions of music from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s but they did throw in a few of their own songs as well (I think). The women we met on arrival turned out to be the party animals of the evening. They were on the dance floor very quickly and it wasn’t long before I joined them. The venue was good but it was very hot and dancing made me ‘glow’. We took regular breaks to replenish liquids and we also strolled outside for a bit as well to cool down. Jenny was quite the hit on the dance floor and we seemed to help keep the party going.
After the raffle and lucky dip prizes were dished out (yours truly won a compact disc, yes we still have those down here), we decided to leave as the music was tending towards slow songs and we simply feel unsure about public displays of affection when out we are out and I am dressed. It is actually quite ironic, in gay clubs we feel awkward because well, at our core we are a heterosexual couple and showing affection in a gay club may not go down well with some people who may feel that we are invading their ‘safe’ place. At ‘straight’ or vanilla events we are similarly anxious as the sight of two women slow dancing could be badly received and this may not be alleviated by knowing that one of them is a transgender woman. Please note, I am not saying that we would have been unwelcome dancing together, but this is just not something we want to test. We tend to prefer to err on the side of caution and generally believe that it is better to be more rather than less discrete. It is interesting that a lot of people who are not ‘straight’ feel this way. My good Twitter friend Darren Marples recently polled his followers. He asked ‘as a member of the
#lgbt family do you feel comfortable holding hands in public?’ More than half (52%) of the respondents replied that they in fact do not feel comfortable holding hands in public. It is really quite sad that so many people feel unable to publicly express their affection (in even this very innocuous way) for their loved ones. We are fortunate in that most of the time holding hands, hugging etc in public is no problem for us, but this incident really opened our eyes to this issue. This link provides some interesting insight into this issue if you are interested in reading more. It would be nice if it were possible to just be yourself and people accepted you for who you were regardless of time and place, but we all know that no such Utopia truly exists.
Anyway we had a lovely time and really enjoyed the party. True, we did not win the handbag in the raffle (a travesty of justice if ever there was one), but we had a lovely time meeting new people, catching up with our friend and dancing to some lovely tunes. Please consider supporting Dignity Dreams, they do amazing work keeping girls in school and making a real difference in the fight against inequality in one of the world’s most unequal societies. Also, if you need a band for a function consider 60 Shades of Grey. They are good musicians, entertaining, engaging and funny.
*All Gauteng based transgender people reading this, mark the date for next year. This was a very fun evening out and I firmly believe we need to get out and about in safe environments where we can destigmatise ‘being transgender’. So many people are terribly uneducated about us. They seem to think that we are either all drag queens or the fetishistic crossdresser (not that there is anything wrong with either categorisation), but the truth is more varied and people revert to the stereotype in the absence of information. By getting out, meeting people and actually talking to them we spread the word of who we really are, show the world some truth and make being transgender increasingly ‘normal’. Here endeth the lesson.