“When we say ‘queer,’ we actually mean ‘rich white gay,’” says performance artist and activist Alok Vaid-Menon. “People of color, working class people, transgender people are completely sidelined and marginalized, and just don’t have their own spaces.”
To fight this universal LGBTQ imbalance, Vaid-Menon joined forces in December with South African trans and non-binary artists to infiltrate Cape Town’s public white cis spaces. Together they celebrated femininity—specifically on brown bodies—and staged a fashionable, peaceful protest, called “Femme in Public.”
“Being femme in public, for me, means taking back my power [and] owning what is truly my birthright—to be and be able to express myself however I choose,” says Sandiso Ngubani, one of the Cape Town protestors. “I've gone from thinking of the abuse I face on the streets as a result of how I look, to looking at it as testimony to the light I have in me. Being 'Femme in Public' is as much to me an expression of who I am, as it is a political act.”
Fellow protestor Joshua Allen echoed Ngubani’s sentiments, adding that being “Femme in Public” is about “finally bringing right to childhood wrongs.” The queer artist remembers changing their clothes in bathrooms after school before returning home or wearing big jackets home after parties to hide their outfit. “Being 'Femme in Public' is about finally being able to hold my head high and be confident as exactly who I am,” says Allen.
Learn more about Vaid-Menon’s collaborative “Femme in Public” protest, below, and keep clicking for a sample of the artists’ celebratory fashion.
Photography: Alex Hopkins