On Clifton Third Beach, muscular male bodies of all hues, from deep ebony to blinding white, from chemically bronzed to natural beige lie side by side. This is Cape Town’s ‘gay beach’. At the height of summer, the vast majority of sun worshippers here are male, though scattered between them are always a few umbrellas with families and children, who seem quite unperturbed by the occasional kiss, body rubs and other demonstrative physical affection between the men. It’s a postcard for the country’s human rights based Constitution; black and white, straight and gay, male and female, all peacefully luxuriating in natural beauty.
Yet this represents only a privileged minority of broader society, and the homosexual men within it are a tiny subset of queer men in South Africa. Many of the Clifton clique share the same circuit; the beach, the Virgin Active gym, the sauna, clubs and bars of Green Point’s world famous ‘gay village’. They either have good incomes or at the very least access to money. They are the visible gay set; the gays you find in television soap operas; the gays that car advertisers and so-called ‘lifestyle’ marketers target; the gays who magnetize the city’s booming rainbow tourist industry.
The cover boy flaunted for gay culture is found dancing on floats in gay pride marches the Western world over. Across racial divides, nationality and even class differences, this is one shared identity, one particular expression of masculinity where gay men can be publicly comfortable, confident, aspirant if not actually competitive in our late capitalist phallocracy. It is an aesthetic choice that is a major departure from (perhaps a reaction against) the mollycoddled, artistic and epicene ‘moffie’, the limp-wristed cartoon figure as pictured in the apartheid government’s propaganda against the End Conscription Campaign, a stereotype that still to this day resides with many South Africans.
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