We once again attended Slutwalk this year. This was my third walk and they do not get any easier. I find them emotionally charged events and I am often brought to tears as we walk through the streets of Johannesburg’s suburbs. And yet I do find the walk enjoyable. It is so good to feel part of a collective effort trying to do something about the scourge that is rape culture. I am in awe of then people who come forward and share their stories publicly. I am empowered in my daily life when I think of those who have so bravely reported their rapists and fought for justice to be done.
We got up relatively early for a Saturday morning and after a quick breakfast we started getting ready. Preparations were complicated by a series of interruptions including having to make and deliver a last minute breakfast order to our guests staying in Priscilla’s Suite. Not ideal when you are up against the clock, but somehow, we managed… I had been trying to decide what to wear for some time… I remained undecided right up until the morning of the event.
I knew that I wanted to wear my stunning new pink fluffy work/combat boots that my amazing spouse had given me as an early birthday present, but what to wear them with? That was the question. Skinny jeans? Too hot. A skirt? Possibly, but which one? I decided that my blue and pink sundress was ideal. It is cool enough for the hot weather I anticipated and would be the perfect cutesy counterfoil to my pink boots. I accessorised with some floral and pearl bangles, my flower rings and my infinity necklace. As time was so short a very speedy and perhaps less than perfect makeup job was done. I finished the ensemble off with my brand-new beige and pink handbag and of course pink nails.
Unfortunately, we were late so there was no time for the customary pre-outing photo shoot. In fact, we were so late that I had to do my nails in the car. Yes, I am officially one of those women now. Blush… We arrived spot on 10 am which was the advertised ‘start’ time. And this meant that we did have some time to snap some pictures while we waited for proceedings to get under way (the march doesn’t start at the start time) and for our friends to join us.
As you can tell we are only just coming out of our winter and the skin can clearly do with some sun. Sadly, you don’t get a good view of the colour block panelling on the handbag here. It has a solid block of pink in the middle of a triple panel on the front. The back (which I am showing on the first picture) is solid beige. I think it is cute. It is also a very good size and can easily accommodate or the bits and bobs you need. It was a steal from Zando at just R249 (US$17.50).
I was very happy on arrival to see that the motorcycle club that act as marshals on the day and help keep all of us walkers safe had removed their ‘old South African flag’ badges from their club colours for the march. For those of you who do not know, South Africa changed its flag after the demise of apartheid. The old flag is often flown by those who for whatever reason are unhappy with the new South African government and it has thus become something of a symbol of the old racist system. I know many people do fly the old flag for all sorts of reasons, but it is an emotionally charged symbol and one that causes a great deal of distress to most South Africans. I was happy to see it was gone.
Sadly, I was very disappointed in the turn out this year. I had really thought that in the wake of the global #metoo and #whyididntreport movements as well as the local Total Shutdown Women’s March we might have turned something of a corner and that South Africans would start to do something to oppose rape, rape culture, victim blaming and sexual assault. The horrendous rape of a six-year-old in the toilets at a Pretoria Restaurant earlier in the week, and the accompanying outrage was also something that I thought may spur people into action. Sadly, this year’s march was much smaller than last years. I don’t try to keep track of numbers, but the organisers thought there were probably less than half as many people as last year. This saddened me greatly.
On a more uplifting note, I managed to lure a few of my crossdresser/transgender friends out of their comfort zones and got them to join us. So, there were at least a few new faces and I can say that we managed to bring six people to the march.
The march starts and ends at a local sports club. It is a rather old and well-established club with a proud history and excellent facilities, including a bar and restaurant in addition to the usual sports club facilities. When our friends arrived, we had a chat for a while and then some of us decided we needed a drink, so we went into the bar area to get some water for the march and some soft drinks to give us some energy before the march. As we walked in another friend of mine was coming out, so I stopped to chat whilst my two other friends went on to get the drinks. There was a man sitting at a table just ahead of me. He was doing some work with paper and a pen (and possibly a laptop, I cannot be sure). He must have noticed the stunning women that we are walk in, but then when he heard us talking his head was clearly done in. He kept on looking up and you could just see the cogs whirring at high speed as his brain was trying to process the different messages it was receiving. His eyes were clearly saying ‘All hands on deck! Hot babe alert. I repeat hot babe alert!’ Meanwhile, his ears were saying ‘nothing to worry about, juts random dudes talking rubbish, move along people nothing to see here.’ Every time we spoke he glanced up and I could just see the confusion all over his face. But he was polite, respectful and didn’t interfere in any way, so all good.
After a fairly long time the organisers were finally ready, and we started walking. It was hot. It was sunny, and I hadn’t gotten around to getting any water for the march. Silly girl! We chanted. We observed silent protests and as always, I got a little emotional. A number of the guys participating in the walk (and a much smaller number of women) wore stilettos and other high heels. I was impressed. Very impressed. I had chosen my boots with care and was glad for their comfort.
We returned to the club with a sense of accomplishment. I also had a sense of alarm… I was in desperate need of the ladies’ room. And a drink. I was parched. So, I ran off to the ladies before finding my friends again and getting some drinks before the speeches started. I walked into the bar area and started rehearsing what I would say so that I could keep my voice from getting too deep, more for the bartenders’ comfort than mine in truth. Now normally, when en homme, getting served at a busy bar can be hell. You wait and wait to catch the barman’s eye. You get pushed in front of, it is horrible. So, I was prepared for the worst. I came up to the bar and there were a group of bikers to my left sitting on stools. I was not sure if they had ordered or not yet. The barman was busy with another biker to my immediate left and the bikers were all chatting together as old friends do. As soon as the barman finished with the biker the other bikers started shouting their orders to him. Damn… They had not ordered. I was in for a long wait… At this point the barman turned to them and said, ‘do you mind if I help the lady first?’
Achievement level unlocked! The bikers looked at me and said, in unison, ‘of course.’ So, it seems that whilst you do surrender your male privilege, sometimes you are able to assert some female privilege. The only problem was that now I absolutely had to get the voice right. I quietly ordered my cokes and paid before scurrying out with something of a spring in my step.
The speeches and open mic time were emotional as always. The discussion turned to how men typically treat women and I felt the need to speak. Now the complication is that one of the regular marches is also the mother of children who attend my daughter’s school. I always try to avoid her, but she always crops up walking near me. My response is to try and be as incognito as possible and hope she doesn’t recognise me. This may or may not have worked over the last three years, but I decided I need to stop living in fear of being recognised and that I also cannot let my fear dictate how I live my life. So, I stood up and told the people gathered that I was transgender and that I inhabit the world in both male and female forms. I pointed out that men do treat me very differently as a woman and that it can be very scary and that this is a real thing and that what some men consider ‘normal’ is in fact scary and abusive. I had heard a rumour that one of the barmen at the club had asked to feel a women’s breasts while she was ordering a drink. This amazed me. Sure he asked and that is good, but should you be asking that of random strangers (regardless of their gender)? I think not. Things need to change. Not sure that I said anything anybody didn’t already know, and I was probably preaching to the choir, I strongly suspect that nearly all the men who were there ‘get it’. But I felt the need to speak and have my say, so I did. It was terrifying. It was deeply emotional, and I was brought to tears, but I am glad I did it.
My only concern is that if I am now recognised for who I am that it gets back to my child. I hope it does not. I hope that if it does get back to her that it is handled respectfully. I fear that it will not be. I fear that she will be teased. I hope that my fears are unfounded.
After the march the six of us went to Lucio’s Pizzeria in Blackheath for lunch. One of our party works there and he was happy to bring in some business I think. We have been there a few times, but never en femme. The food is good and the service brilliant. The waiter was great and took us in his stride. It was fantastic. I had a wonderful non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri which I can heartily recommend and my ‘Claudio’s Special’ pizza was fantastic. The conversation was good, and I think we all enjoyed ourselves. I particularly appreciated hearing some different and well-presented opinions to my own. It is always a good experience to broaden your mind a little.
The feelings of love, empathy and support can be a little overwhelming at times, but I do recommend you participate in at least one walk in your life. Far more people than you realise have been raped. Many more people than you can ever imagine have been the victims of sexual assault. This affects far more people than most of us realise. And even if you yourself have not been personally affected, it will almost certainly have directly affected at least one person you know and love (yes, it is that prevalent) and of course it affects all of society. We need everyone’s involvement if we are to effect change. This isn’t an issue for the police to solve. This isn’t an issue for the victims to solve. This isn’t an issue for women to solve… This is an issue for us all to solve. Together.