News / Africa

'Beefy' Men Strut Across South Africa’s Social Boundaries

  • “I’d say seven out of ten clients now are women,” said one of the Beefcakes boys introduced onstage. The club serves Pink Tea cocktails and Greek God hamburgers in a venue modeled after a 1950s Miami burger bar. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Herman Botha mimes a song at Beefcakes, a fashionable restaurant-bar in Johannesburg where this “middle-class Afrikaans boy” performs as Alley Hoop. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • A new clientele of heterosexual women come to see Alley Hoop and Cadenza (Alain Fleischman) perform in a club the manager says used to be the center of the city’s gay universe. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Laughter erupts from the tables as Cadenza sways through the audience. The manager believes the club’s success demonstrates a new Johannesburg tolerance. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Beefcakes now caters to an increasingly diverse mix of South Africans out to have fun in a safe, happy environment. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Cadenza receives a kiss on the cheek as he and Alley Hoop greet their fans after the show. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
Darren Taylor

On a crisp winter’s night, a beautiful, lithe woman emerges from the glutinous darkness that saturates the stage of a bar and restaurant in upmarket Illovo, Johannesburg.

‘Strike a pose! Strike a pose!’ breathes Madonna, as her hit song ‘Vogue’ begins to ooze from an overhead speaker. 

The audience below is dappled in diamonds of light that dance over them from a massive mirror ball.

Flashes from a strobe light herald dawn at midnight, bouncing violet light off the gyrating woman’s platinum blonde hair, which is streaked with pink. Lips caked with shocking pink lipstick shape a pout, the woman wears a tight and knotted ruffled pink blouse and a powder blue satin dress that accentuates her thighs.

When she winks they erupt, whooping and shouting.

But the object of their manic cheers, as attractive a package as it is, is no woman at all … It’s Herman Botha, a “middle class, Afrikaans boy,” fashion designer by day, one of South Africa’s top drag artists – Alley Hoop - by night.

Listen to Taylor report on remarkable South African club
Listen to Taylor report on remarkable South African clubi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

 

His “partner in heinous assorted crimes of passion” is the bigger-boned and tattooed Cadenza, aka Alain Fleischmann, a Jewish hair stylist in a crimson wig, thick scarlet lipstick, skin-tight black and turquoise striped spandex leotard and black gloves sporting sharp silver talons. 

Women are taking over

While Alley Hoop and Cadenza entertain the crowd, muscular young men in pink and black tank tops prowl the premises of Beefcakes, a night spot modeled on a burger bar circa 1950’s Miami Beach, serving Pink Tea cocktails and Greek God hamburgers.  

“All of our staff are gorgeous, with six packs; all young,” says manager Jono Lawson.

One of these “beefcakes” is Daniel Critchfield. 

“When I started here about a year ago, most clients were gay men. Then suddenly huge amounts of straight women of all ages started coming in. I’d say seven out of every ten clients now are women,” says the 18-year-old.

“On Saturdays we’re fully booked three months in advance and it’s just women. There are just women everywhere and they go wild and start screaming…”

This, says Critchfield, is “heaven” for a “straight boy” like him. 

“It’s a good feeling when you’re on stage and you take your shirt off and almost a hundred women start screaming for you… Once they get started you never know what’s going to happen.

“One night I was walking around; I had no top on… with two plates in my hand with burgers on them…. then this woman just jumps at me out of nowhere, just grabs me … The women go crazy; they actually lose their minds…”

‘Safe and sexy’

According to Lawson, Beefcakes used to be the center of Johannesburg’s gay universe.

“It was started as a gay bar, with the idea of it catering to gay men and their friends, and having something (for them) a little bit more fun than a dark, dingy, dodgy club to go to.”

But now, he says, the venue’s become “a happy, safe, sexy place for girls to go to, a place where they don’t feel threatened. So they don’t have to be harassed by drunken men at a bar and if they want to get a bit drunk and throw (their) name (away), it’s just with the gays and some girls.”

 Lawson says the bar’s become so popular with women that he’s had to reserve Thursday and Saturday evenings for bachelorette parties.

“So there’s moms and grand-moms sometimes coming to those so you’ve got to cater for those people too, whilst maintaining the fabulousness of drag,” he insists. 

Everybody blending in, with pina coladas

Tonight, as with most nights, Beefcakes is thronged by a diverse, multiracial cross-section of South African society: A group of well-to-do black ladies, dressed elegantly, tucks into Pina Coladas. Some Muslim men sit at one table, wearing pink hard hats and whistling at another of Alley Hoop’s risqué antics.

“We’ve had a 75-year-old woman doing a body shot off one our boys… We’ve had big, butch, scary men walking in here petrified, who end up dancing on the tables with feather boas and glitter hats,” says Lawson. 

He acknowledges that just a few years ago this open celebration of gay culture -“and all things pink” - would never have happened, not even in one of South Africa’s notably liberal corners.  

“The way that this mix has happened over the years has got something to do with South Africa’s past,” Lawson reasons. “For so long during apartheid, it was against the law for different races and religions and sexual orientations to mix. Now that we’re free of this oppression, we mix with whoever we damn well like, even drag queens. I think it’s just a sign of the times, that people don’t need to be boxed anymore.”   

Lawson believes that Beefcakes offers further proof that South Africa is a remarkably tolerant country.

“I’m not saying we’re perfect; we still have our problems, but here you have mosques next to Christian churches, black people living next to white people and gay nightclubs next to straight nightclubs.

“As society becomes more accepting of homosexuals, homosexuals become more accepting of society and everybody starts blending in.”

No more freaks

Fleischmann, fresh off the stage and sweating profusely, his makeup running in rivulets down his cheeks, says drag shows were until recently an “almost exclusively gay thing” in South Africa.

He points to a table of bearded men, some wearing plaid shirts and jeans, and comments: “That’s a bachelor’s party, totally straight men coming to watch my drag show; it’s unbelievable; wonderful!”   

Fleischmann says South Africans are finally embracing drag artists as “genuine” entertainers and not just as “novelties” and “freaks” … Although he says he appreciates that his Beefcakes gigs allow him to express his “freakishness.”  

Beefcake body shots

In another boisterous corner of the bar, a woman in her 40s, eyes gleaming with mischief, is working up the courage to consume a shot of tequila… from the ripped torso of a beefy waiter.

“This is something unique that we offer our customers: the chance to do a body shot off any one of our waiters or bar staff,” says a beaming Lawson. 

That’s Beefcakes - a place where lunacy often rules, but emerges as a sanctuary free from prejudice, and offers a reflection of a rapidly changing South Africa.  

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid