by Max Fuchs, 11/09/21
The first weekend of September in 2021 offered two queer events in Windhoek at once; volume five “Disco Divas” of Drag Night Namibia on Friday and Saturday evening and the Pride Pop Up Spring Pool Party on Saturday from ten to ten. Just two days before this super queer weekend started in Windhoek, I met with Chaulken and Rodelio from Drag Night Namibia and Zindri from Pride Pop Up for a little chat at Café Prestige on Wednesday, 1st September.
Content Note: The following article also includes topics such as queer hostile incidences, structural queer hostility and names homophobic terms. Continue reading if you feel ready and safe and/or ask a friend to read together.
Drag is a political statement
When I arrive at Café Prestige, a place where I have been several times since I am back in Namibia for both interviews and dates, I just can suspect that two of my interview partners for this day are already there. A short moment after I took a seat and ordered a hot chocolate my idea gets verified when Rodelio and Chaulken come over to my table and warmly welcome me. Our interview has to start without Zindri who already told us before that he might be late due to the preparations he is involved as stage manager at the National Theatre for an event of Namibia’s First Lady the next day.
Chaulken, a 27 years old Namibian professional dancer, choreographer, creative director and LGBTQIA+ activist is also known as the drag queen Mo “Nick” Critique. Queer activist Rodelio aka Miss Mavis is 26 years old, Namibian born as well and an entertainer, radio presenter and commercial model by profession. Both are part of the triad behind Drag Night Namibia and usually perform together with their fellow drag queen Gigi has arrived.
“The drag nights are organized by the triad, three individuals or queens that come from total different backgrounds. One from singing, one from dancing, one from acting. We saw a true potential in the power of three, basically the three most known formats of arts combined as huge masterpiece.” – Chaulken
Rodelio explains that the drag nights initially started because the queer community of Namibia would still be “in its infant stage”, meaning that there is a lack of safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ in the country. Drag culture itself would not have been evolved yet. The idea of the drag night events came after the online theatre production Boet en Sus together with Namibia’s famous singer, entertainer and director as well as writer of the play Lize Ehlers. The “part drag, part talk show” touches queer and especially drag culture and was streamed in February 2021.
“Drag culture is a direct fight against heteronormative society and what the patriarchy has decided this is what’s right, this is what’s wrong […]. Drag is a political statement every single time you do it.” – Rodelio
They have seen a niche in the market and wanted “to create a safe space where queer people can be celebrated and queer allies can come together. Where we can just rest a moment from the activism”, Rodelio says further. Namibia would be a quite conservative country, permissive but conservative. Therefore, there would have been the need to bring drag culture to Namibia to let people grow together and to allow people an insight into queer life realities.
“Drag Night is our safe haven to celebrate ourselves, to celebrate our allies and just bring the whole community together for a night of celebration.” – Rodelio
The drag nights and their effect on the queer community
Before Drag Night Namibia officially started in March 2021, the inception took already place as part of The Love Yourself Campaign under the title “The Love Yourself Campaign: Drag Edition” at Café Prestige in February. The event was a collaboration between the campaign’s founder Priscilla – the Desert Namibian Queen – and the drag queen triad. Rodelio refers to Priscilla as “true ally to the queer community” who would be called “Mama of the gays” because of her big support like with songs such as “Coming Out”. With her campaign Love Yourself she has been promoting body positivity and self-love in Namibia for several years. Another person on stage on this evening was Oc Ebs, “one of the biggest comedians as drag artist in the country” who talked about what she went through after she experienced a gay bashing by a security guard just at the place of her residence. Thus, the drag nights shall also “educate people on normalising what is our realities”, Rodelio adds. For more information about this event check out the article of Martha Mukaiwa in The Namibian.
In March this year, volume one of Drag Night Namibia took place under the category “Independence”. On 21st March 1990, Namibia got independent from former occupant South Africa after decades of apartheid which followed the era of German colonial rule. That’s why the first volume dealt with the question what independence means to the LGBTQIA+ of Namibia who are still not free after 31 years of independence as Mama Africa claimed in my interview with her some weeks ago.
The drag night is also a celebration of Namibian artists’ music. My interview partners explain to me that they would always make sure that all featured artists at the drag nights are Namibian artists who really support the queer community and do not just capitalize the community to “earn some pink dollars.” Drag Night Namibia wants to give a platform to artists who work with the queer community, try to help LGBTQIA+ and infiltrate spaces where the community is usually not allowed.
Asking them how the queer community responded to those events both explain that they received a lot of support. National radio stations across the country would have reached out to them to get a broader audience. Regarding the queer community itself, Chaulken says that he thinks the drag nights forced many gays out of their closets. He tells me about messages they got via social media in which people asked how they could become a drag queen. The sweetest one, according to Chaulken, was a 16 years old teenager telling them to want to come out of the closet and asking if the drag nights would be the right moment to do so.
“What we are doing is reaching a lot of people. Even though they do not show up, they see it. It’s an ignited flame.” – Chaulken
When I summarize that the drag nights would have an empowering effect on the queer community, both agree. Rodelio adds that the drag nights would always be sold out. At volume three, “Cabaret”, there would have been a queue from the café down the stairs to Independence Avenue and they had to send many people home. Funny enough, a lot of tourists would visit the events, Chaulken comments. Not only tourists but also straight corporate people, very heteronormative people would show up, according to Rodelio. Since they had been very sad to send many people home at volume three and realized that the audience is there, they started with the double shows on Friday and Saturday. Being the same show both evenings it shall make it possible for people to attend at least one evening in case they cannot make it the other date.
Besides, the drag nights would be gatherings of the queer activists who call each other colleagues, Rodelio points out another effect of the events. “It’s great to always see the other activists just coming together for a moment to breathe.” Chaulken agrees stating that his general experience in gay culture would be a feisty treatment to each other while in Namibia many other gays were and are supportive of what they are doing and could see their vision.
Creating safe spaces and the change of venues
At this moment, Zindri arrives from work. Theatre is a bounding element between all three of them. Rodelio explains that his first ever acting role he won an award and got his first double nomination for was Prime Colors, a production he did together with Zindri. The play itself celebrates queer stories, including scenes of a boy dealing with his own internalised homophobia and also so-called “corrective rape”. Prime Colors was the first queer play at the National Theatre of Nambia at all, breaking records with four nominations, two wins and being a multimedia production. Also Chaulken started his theatre play with Zindri. He remembers that it was just a year ago that he walked into the studios. Rodelio raves about Zindri introducing him as “one of the gate keepers.”
After Zindri finally also could say a word and we updated him how the interview had been so far, I am asking him about the Pride Pop Ups and their history. He says that the Pride Pop Up started about at the same time as the Drag Nights. The first event took place in December 2020 due to the lack of gatherings and safe spaces since corona pandemic. Being always nervous about if people would show up Zindri reminds that the next edition, the pool party, is just around the corner.
“It’s just basically about creating safe spaces and also occupying otherwise spaces where the community usually has no access to.” – Zindri
Venues would have been changing since queers invaded several spaces. He gives the ChezNtemba club as an example. It would have been one of the most homophobic spaces which is supported by Chaulken explaining that he had been there as high school student always feeling uncomfortable and hiding his sexuality. Now they would be quite open minded. After the first Pride Pop Up the owners of ChezNtemba even came to Zindri and the other organizers asking them to do an event at the club. That this place evolved would be a masterpiece itself, Chaulken says. Another example given by Zindri is The Catch who also asked if Pride Pop Up could bring gay events to them because people would come for the gay events but Zindri replied with a “No”.
Zindri believes there is a wave on the streets which forces such places to open for queer people because they could see them everywhere, even in their families. Chaulken adds that the queer community teamed up and became unapologetic. They would have become louder and powerful in the last years just taking up spaces.
Asking them to name some queer-friendly places in Windhoek Chaulken responds quickly: “Café Prestige is number one on top of the list.” Chicago’s Bar would have become one of those places as well, Zindri adds, but just after fighting for it. After a homophobic incident at the bar when a queer person was assaulted in the bathrooms, Zindri confronted the owner that they (as LGBTQIA+) would support him (the owner) and think of him as a friend but he would not protect them. From there they would have adopted a very strict policy in protecting the LGBTQIA+ in their establishment. “I am tired. I am not gonna have this conversation again”, Zindri emphasizes.
Chaulken also names The Brewer’s Market which was former Warehouse Theatre where Zindri and Rodelio used to hang up. Another place would be The Wolfshack, a pub at Ausspannplatz which would be very open to queers and protecting them. You can be openly gay and have an intimate dinner with your partner there, Rodelio assures.
“The work is far from over”
Changes could also be seen at the age young queers would leave their closets in Namibia nowadays, Zindri claims. “Kids that are ten years younger than me who just matriculated” would be the ones being out. Therefore, he refers to them as the “new generation”. While the work of stakeholders who already fight for many years, like Out-Right Namibia, would not have been received very well a long time because people were still in the shadows and not comfortable with themselves, nowadays many queers would be out and proud posting it all over their Social Media.
Ten years ago Zindri himself walked down the street with his ex-boyfriend and got arrested by the police for being a queer couple, getting asked questions like: “Are you moofies? Are you faggots or what are you doing here?” Coming to the word “moofie” Chaulken explains to me that the word is used for queer people in the country and asks at the same time that we do not use the term during the interview again. Rodelio agrees saying that both would have the same trigger for the word.
An explanation about the homophobic term and the situation of queers in Namibia in the 90s and 2000s can be found in the article based on my interview with Mama Africa.
“Now they hit on you asking for your number”, Zindri says after he gave more examples of queer hostile incidences. While some people would ask problematic questions but out of interest there would be still no traction “up there” (referring to the state/government) although there would be also queers in positions of power. However, Chaulken thinks it is also about taking steps oneself and making clear who you are. He tells us that he would work in a quite heteronormative place at the moment. Nevertheless, just a few weeks ago he went there in drag after a performance. While some outsiders were asking his boss why he would allow people looking like that working for him the boss stated that as long as he is a good worker the sexual orientation of his employees would not matter at all. Zindri himself never made bad experiences at the theatre which he calls “such a welcoming place”. Although the men he is working with are cisgender and heterosexual no one ever attacked him or discredited his work. “They know I am a gay person but for them I am a their colleague.”
The fight is far from over though. Zindri remembers about an incident at the Pride Pop Up in March at Chicago’s. The body corporate of Chicago’s would have shown up demanding the removing of the stage, the balloons and the stalls while people were already arriving. Security guards came and were sent back by the Pride Pop Up organizers back and forth until they came and just switched off the electricity in the middle of a performance. At this point, the owner of the Chicago’s asked the security what the problem would be and if they would feel offended by the balloons. The person asked replied: “Why are you having a moofie event here?” Emphasizing that as long as he as the owner of the bar would pay his rent on time it would be no one’s business what his clientèle is the situation was solved for this day. Anyway, there would be still a lot of such incidences.
Another struggle is getting arrested by the police, especially as a trans woman who would be put into a cell with other men, the Namibian gays explain. Learn more about the situation of trans people in Namibia in the previous interviews with Mama Africa, Deyoncé and Princess.
“That’s also a fear we as drag queens have. When we leave a certain place where we are performing we are so afraid and we just wanna get home immediately. Cause getting arrested like that…m-m [shaking his head]. Being arrested as a man is fine but getting arrested as a drag queen is…ja.” – Chaulken
Therefore, Drag Night Namibia partnered with LEFA, a transportation service in Namibia which works like the more common known Uber. Rodelio refers to them as “very queer-friendly and open to the community”. Everyone attending a drag night of Drag Night Namibia would get a N$ 20 discount on their ride home. The entire team would have been sensitised to the queer community, so people would not be at risk or experience any backlash being in the cab.
Covid pushed to a sense of urgency
Talking about the effects of Corona on the queer community of Namibia, the three made two different observations. While Chaulken expresses the feeling that Covid caused gays going even more into their shells and lacking sensitivity in the treatment of each other, e.g. not being up for a coffee anymore but just for random hookups, Rodelio opposes this statement.
“I think what Covid did was…it gave the queer community a sense of we are now or never. There was a now or never situation where they became loud. We became more about taking up space. It was more relevant than ever before because Covid prioritized specific people and specific demographics more than other demographics. The queer community along with the SGBV [Sexual and Gender Based Violence] survivors and women in general understood in the covid spectrum that if we do not take our space within that spectrum we are not gonna be seen, we are not gonna be heard, we are not gonna be included in anything. When Covid happened the protests started, fighting for queer rights, fighting for marriage equality. It re-emerged with intensity I haven’t seen in the past ten years cause we were doing this for ten years. But now we see it everywhere. It’s emerging constantly. It’s like covid pushed us into our shells again, it put us back in there but then what that shell did…it meant so many more queer people comfortable with who they are that they were just like ‘I refuse to be silent.’ Cause Covid took so many people out, we lost so many people constantly that we literally had the sense of urgency; if we don’t stand up now then we will never do it.” – Rodelio
Eventually, both agree in the point that human interaction dropped a little through the pandemic but at the same time it “birthed the need for activists to be louder, to be bolder, to be bigger than ever before.” Rodelio reports about a SADC panel (SADC = Southern African Development Community, a regional economic alliance of 16 member countries) last year. The leaders of queer movements from all the different SADC countries came together and discussed how the queer communities are affected and not being prioritized in all the regions like in getting access to PrEP or health care. Realizing that queers were shifted to the background the community leaders agreed that they had not done enough and should not go for a loaf of bread anymore but the whole recipe.
In their fight for equality alliances developed. Last year in October, a demonstration under the slogan #ShutItAllDown marched through Windhoek concerning Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Namibia and demanding from the police to put more effort to the case of a murdered woman in Walvis Bay and cases of SGBV in general. While in the beginning the march was about SGBV only, “it merged together with everything the queer culture is also going through”, according to Rodelio. “These two ecosystems they merged together because we realized there is not just discrimination against women but for everyone who is not cisgender men in the cis-heteronormative patriarchy. You are a threat to them if you don’t belong to this certain system”, he continues.
“What I love about the activism or movement right now is that it’s happening in almost every space. We have us here on the streets protesting in our own ways on the grass roots level. Then we have the level of Equal Rights Movement which goes into the court rooms which goes into parliament and they go heavy. So we meet each other somewhere in the middle and that’s why I feel like now we are fighting it on all fronts. […] We are somewhat moving as a collective and that is amazing.” – Zindri
Zindri also mentions the #BeFree Movement campaign of Namibia’s First Lady Monica Geingos. The campaign founded in 2016 focuses on youth relevant issues like sex or alcohol & drug use and “giving them safe spaces to speak up about things that affect them in society”, Rodelio explains. Queer activists and the campaign of the Office of the First Lady partnered up to reach out to the LGBTQIA+ youth as well. Just a few months ago Geingos spoke up on her Social Media channels telling people to stop the homophobia after another verbal attack of the SWAPO Party Youth League against homosexuals being “satanic and demonic”, Zindri reminds. In general the First Lady, although coming from SWAPO party herself, would be a “chess piece” in queer liberation struggle because “she is someone in office [and] shifted the narrative of the conversation”, Rodelio says.
After about an hour all my questions were answered and the first ones got nervous about getting late to their next appointments. I really enjoyed the interview which was a piece of queer culture itself with my interlocutors agreeing to their statements each other by snipping their fingers or screaming “Yass, queen!” Just two days later on Friday’s evening drag night we all have seen again, having the time of our lives with great outfits and performances. I might be an anarchist but I fall for those queens.
Next week on Land of the Queers: Omar from Equal Rights Movement.
If you got to say something on how covid affected queer life and activism in Namibia – hit me up!