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Kyle Weeks

South Africa’s genderfluid artist doing it for the kids

Queezy is inspired by your favourite problematic rappers, makes trippy YouTube beauty tutorials and wants to improve queer awareness for the next generation

There’s a term in South Africa, “she’ll make you kak naar.” ‘Naar’ meaning nauseous. It means the girl’s so cool she’ll make you feel sick.

In 2015, Quaid Heneke, a young fashion design student in Cape Town, was selected for an exchange trip to Kingston University in London where an advisor gave him a tip: instead of sketching his garments, he should work on a 3D form. He began by draping fabrics on his own body to see how they would move and fall and made video recordings of this process through the webcam on his laptop. At a point in one of these recordings he had covered his body completely with fabric. He looks back at this moment as his chrysalis.

Quaid (his father was a big fan of the actor Dennis Quaid) defines himself as genderfluid, able to move freely between the two dominant sexes. He began dressing as Queezy this year. “For a long time I’d been trying to dress as straight as possible to emulate straight men in a way but now I’m trying to play with things like cropping my top and showing skin. So when someone looks at me that might challenge them.”

Above Queezy’s chandelier earrings and her signature gloves complete with press on talons, is the main event: the wig. Her crowning glory. One day recently, Quaid decided to acknowledge the longing he’d had all his life for long hair to accentuate his feminine movements. He remembers saying to himself, “You know what? I’m going to buy my hair, and I’m going to buy the longest, brightest red wig I can find.” He walked into a wig shop in downtown Cape Town and asked for the longest wig that they had: “The ‘wigologist’, her name’s Queenie, sat me down in a chair and we tried on different wigs. I knew if I had this wig I could use it like an exclamation mark, or a full stop. That’s how I always viewed hair, as something you could use to end a sentence with, like “Bam!”.”

The name ‘Queezy’ is a nod to Lil Wayne’s ‘Weezy’ and Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy’. “I was always attracted to rappers,” Quaid says, “Even though they’re extremely misogynistic and homophobic and all these things, there was something there I was attracted to so I wanted to play on that.” But there’s another layer to the name, the sensation Quaid imagines some people feel when they see Queezy: uncomfortable, nauseous. “I do get those reactions. So I thought that would be funny to call myself the actual feeling itself.”

The post-apartheid South African constitution outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and the country was the fifth in the world to legalise gay marriage. But beyond the constitution, and cosmopolitan city centres, things are more complicated. South Africa is broadly considered as a conservative society with devastating corrective rape statistics indicative of the stigma placed on the LGBTI community. Self-expression calls for tenacity and has to be fought for.

The first time Queezy appeared in public was an outing to a supermarket in Cape Town’s southern suburbs. She and two filmmakers were there to get footage for her documentary. Quaid gets flustered even talking about it now. “I went to Pick ’n Pay in Plumstead because whenever I go there as Quaid, people will look, I get all kinds of reactions. So I wanted to test that environment to see what would happen if I went as Queezy. I was extremely nervous. I was like, “Shit, people are going to freak out.” All these things were coming into my head and it was sort of filtering into Chad (the director) and Anne (the editor) as well. So I said, “Okay, let’s just go in, I’m all dressed up. Just record.” There’s a lady vendor who sits outside of Pick ’n Pay and as I started walking toward the store she called out to me. She said, “Stunning!”.

“That made me feel so amazing. People came out of their shops to come and see me and were cheering me on. It was so surreal, and it’s something I never imagined. The thing I got out of that experience the most was the warmth people showed me and the support from people I don’t know. I sat outside and had a cigarette and then the workers at Pick ’n Pay came up to me to ask about what I was doing and to tell me I looked really good. They just felt comfortable enough to talk to me which I thought was quite interesting because when would you ever walk up to a random stranger you thought was interesting wanting to spark a conversation with them? I think that’s something extremely powerful; that I could make those connections, because communication is everything. That’s how the world’s going to change: if we start talking to each other and having these discussions. So I think my job was done for that day.”

“If I had seen someone walking down the street looking that fabulous, I would have thought, “Wow! I want to do that” or that I can be as free as that” – Quaid Heneke

I ask if he’d categorise these performances as disruptions but that’s not what Queezy is about for him. “Disruption is a reaction to me being there but visibility is the most important thing. Because if I had seen someone walking down the street looking that fabulous, I would have thought, “Wow! I want to do that” or that I can be as free as that or that I’ll be okay just wearing my pink top outside. It’s very little things that could manifest into something bigger.”

Queezy exists for everyone but perhaps for no one as much as Quaid’s younger self. “Often times growing up, adults’ opinions weren’t in my best favour,” he says. “Society’s adult opinions weren’t reflective of what I should be or who I was going to become. So I want kids to know they should listen to their voice and what they think is valid.”

Looking back, Quaid had drawn Queezy countless times without being quite sure who she was. She features in his sketch books during college as a character to design a fashion line for, as a tattoo for his boyfriend Cameron, and earlier as a meditation. Throughout his childhood, drawing had been an solace for him; a coping skill well-practised, “I’d always create little narratives in my head to escape what was actually happening in my world.”

“I’d sometimes change the way I was to suit this environment. But that didn’t work out so well, so at 14-years-old I was like, “Fuck it, I’m going to come out and that’s what it’s going to be” – Quaid Heneke

There’s a small city on the east coast of South Africa that’s just big enough to make it onto the national weather news. A homesick coloniser named it East London, and it’s where Quaid grew up. McDonald’s opened here for the first time in 2003, cars queued at the drive through to feel a part of the larger world. The one where you can be who you are without judgement. Any kind of visibility of gay, trans or non-binary people in East London then was sorely lacking. Quaid remembers a lot of judgement, “I’d sometimes change the way I was to suit this environment. But that didn’t work out so well, so at 14-years-old I was like, “Fuck it, I’m going to come out and that’s what it’s going to be.” Even though all the reactions were extremely hurtful, I still maintained my truth.”

This experience coupled with a verbally abusive stepfather in the home, meant that at a young age Quaid was already doing a lot of self-assessment that usually comes later for others; working out what it means to live in the world as your true self, what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be neither or both. And ultimately, what would make him happy.

The intention for Queezy is to be a tangible template that people can use to self-discover. Quaid says, “For me the most challenging and gratifying and interesting thing you could ever do is to develop yourself; to look back at what’s happened in your life to make you your best self. Going forward I just want all my performances to channel the feeling that you can be great.”

Queezy has emerged from her fabric chrysalis gyrating fearlessly in mesmerising, webcam-recorded, self-edited videos she puts on her Youtube. While Queezy plays for our gaze, there is an unmistakeable intention behind each upload.

In ‘Hello Moffie’ (‘moffie’ is an Afrikaans word that can be equated to ‘homo’ in English), Queezy is dancing in front of the camera, getting dressed, experimenting with different looks while sinister voices call out ‘hello moffie’, ‘faggot’, ‘jou bunny’ and other verbal harassment Quaid has experienced on the streets. Queezy dances on. She made the video in defiance, as “it’s important to own your gayness.”

Other videos take a critical look at the beauty industry. After watching a lot of make-up tutorials to perfect Queezy’s look, “Bathroom Product Haul” is her reaction to this world of beauty bloggers. Quaid explains, “I figured that a lot of these people are just pushing product. So I thought it would be funny if I just used everyday stuff that was around me and made this product video. I thought about what would be a little outrageous: someone smoking or coughing or wiping their nose. Beauty bloggers always apologise for those things, all those things that come naturally, so I wanted to heighten those things in my video.”

Having featured in fashion shoots locally and presented in gallery shows, Queezy straddles a place between fashion and the performance art world. Quaid is wary about what people’s intentions are for her and wonders whether people want to work with Queezy because she’s aesthetically exciting or because they align with her message. “Not every platform is there for your best interests. Right now, I just change my outfits but I’ve kept the same wig for the whole year as a way to say that this is my look and you’re not going to consume it in the fast-paced way that you consume everything else. I’m not going to let people dictate what I should look like because I’ve had that my whole life. Queezy is on my terms.”

“I’m thinking my next character will be Quake because I want to go into the video game sphere. There’s no real queer representation in the video gaming world” – Quaid Heneke

As for what’s next, Quaid’s ideas are ambitious and abundant. “I’m thinking my next character will be Quake because I want to go into the video game sphere. There’s no real queer representation in the video gaming world.” The Sims was another creative outlet for him growing up, using cheats to buy the most expensive furnishings, killing the family and selling the house. “I know the point of being here has nothing to do with money because that’s something that can own you. What I would use money for is to accelerate awareness, to change shit, but not for myself. I just want to help the kids, man. I want them to think of new ways of interacting and sharing and giving. I want them to start something new, because the system is clearly not working out. This patriarchy thing.”

In a recent video documentary made by Afronautic, the same team who accompanied Queezy to Pick ’n Pay, Quaid speaks over footage of Queezy getting dressed. He says, “Once before, the Earth was destroyed, the rulers vanquished, the feeble exalted. So again shall the Earth be destroyed, the oppressors vanquished, the feeble exalted. Go forth and prepare them for the day of reckoning.”

As she secures her wig in the mirror, the voice over comes in again, “So I put on my heels and went forth girl.”