TLJ-VT: Tell me about your favorite charity.
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: I would not say that I have a favourite charity. As an activist working against hate crimes, which see us lose many of our queer Black family, almost on a monthly basis, I work with non-government and grass-roots organisations. Some of my favourite organisations include Iranti-Org, 1 in 9, Forum for the Empowerment or Women and Gender Dynamics. I use art as an interventionist tool first to cultivate images of Black, Queer, womyn that do not always position us as victims and objects to be possessed. I perform to my community and also perform my art in impoverished communities, working with grass-roots activists to utilise art as a platform to speak out against the abuse, rape and murder of Queer people within those communities. Much of the performance work that I do for Queer, Black communities is non-profit work – if there is compensation, it for costs of props and costumes or travel but not for my personal pocket – that is part of my contribution as an artist and an activist working with organisations like Johannesburg People’s Pride. I am also a member of our universities Anti-Racism forum, through which we help students as well as agents of the university community, to fight against institutional discrimination.
TLJ-VT: Tell me in your own words how you feel about community service.
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: I feel that community service is one of the ways in which we have to engage in order to fight against oppression. Recently I successfully headed a fund to help send a young Black, womyn of a cleaner at my university, to study at another university institution. I do that as a young, Black, womyn who has had the privilege of higher education, and who wishes for others to have the same opportunities. Recent forms of community service include helping university cleaning staff fight economic disenfranchisement, through salary negotiation or support for disciplinary action due to protest, as one example. We can all contribute, we all have the means to assist in some way. This is how we tackle a culture of individuality and look towards supporting one another as a community – that is the only way we can attain a sense of freedom and autonomy, by working together.
TLJ-VT: What makes you a Leather Woman and/or Bootblack?
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: What makes me a Leather womyn is a realization that sexuality should not and cannot be dictated by dominant, normative standards of expression. I feel and live in a way that understands that sexuality is diverse, that it can and often does cross boundaries that may be deemed as unacceptable or perverse in dominant culture. Now this comes with a respect for consent, communication and knowledge with people who are not so young as to be in a space of vulnerability. As a young womyn, I was sexually assaulted and abused and I must be clear that, such acts do not constitute being a Leather person. Leather is about positively expressing my kinky sexuality and inviting others to do the same. It is about challenging a culture which glamourizes abuse and rape (as a violent crime), whilst opening up to a culture which consensually engages in acts of play that are diverse and driven by self-expression. Sometimes, I love to be submissive, and as a feminist, that can be problematic. However, I recognize that normative expressions of sexuality can just as easily subordinate womyn, in a manner which makes that abuse invisible. In Leather, I am not choosing to be abused; I am asking to be touched in a way that turns me on. Even as that occurs within a patriarchal context, it is a space that I actively mediate. I am a sexual rebel and so, a lot of the times, what is supposed to happen, what is supposed to be apparently ‘healthy’ gets displaced and totally fucked-up, in a way that really gets me off.
TLJ-VT: Who is your favorite Leather Woman…Why?
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: My favourite Leather womyn is Viola Johnson. She was one of the first womyn that helped me make sense of what people meant by terms such as slave and submissive, and why we use such words. By sharing her knowledge on all things Leather, I started to unpack how I could make sense of Leather culture through the lens of my own cultural context. Reading her words made me feel less nervous and embarrassed about being a Leather womyn. As someone who does not eat meat, her explanation of Leather culture really made me feel more at ‘home’:
“The cowhide,boots and collars that distinguished us twenty years ago are fashion statements now.. I’m a leatherwoman regardless of what I’m wearing… some unique and decidedly different traits are an ingrained part of my personality. I think the first trait is a willingness to acknowledge that my choices about who and how I love make me (and all of us who embrace this lifestyle) a sexual rebel.”
I thought well, yeah, I’m a sexual rebel too. And you know what, I don’t have to wear particular clothing and never have had to, to feel at home, to embrace the outlaw that I am. You know what, being an outlaw is not about personal inadequacies and childhood traumas – I’m not kinky ‘cause I have not processed my abuse – I’m Leather becauseI refuse to be passive and sucked into normativity.
TLJ-VT: What do you feel is the most dangerous mis-information passed through traditional & social media affecting our community today, and how would you combat it should the opportunity arise?
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: I think with the advent of the Fifty Shades franchise, it would be that an abusive relationship could pass as a dominant-submissive relationship. The franchise has garnered much love and interest in a world consumed by gender-based violence. The perception created by Fifty Shades, further adds to the idea that Leather, kink and S/M are just convenient places to abuse womyn and/or feminine-presenting people. This is simply not the case. This also makes it more difficult for victims and survivors of abuse from our community to be heard, so as to say “I thought that, that is what you wanted.” No, just no, that is not what the community is about. The community is about self-mediated exploration, which does not negate any person’s desires. What we do not need is an entire generation of people who associate Leather with: forced rape and abuse, with people that are not-wiling, who reject the advances of dominant players, only to have their bodies taken against their wills, in a context of play that has not been agreed to, except through coercion, and passing that off as something kinky. Whilst this opens up a wider space for sharing and building knowledge, it also has the potential for setting the perception of Leather, kink and S/M back.
TLJ-VT: in 100 words or less what will you do as IMsL or IMsBB to promote your title?
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: I will do what I do best: write, produce art and engage in critical conversations. I would utilise what I learn to guide community conversations around sexuality and consent. I would combine performance-based methods with what I learn from Leather, to develop workshops that work through traumas. Art, education and activism would be a basis to foster community gatherings, where people with developed skills could share knowledge – in this way I hope to connect more with national and international communities. Community spaces for safe play and fun would be essential, especially for Black lovers of Leather culture in South Africa.
TLJ-VT: What do you say to those who feel that the Title system is outdated and no longer necessary?
IMsL Contestant Selogadi: I understand that sentiment. The idea that one could get a good idea of someone’s leadership qualities, passion and love for Leather by seeing them ‘from a distance’ on stage, I think, is not a holistic approach. Speaking on judging contestants, Tyesha Best states that “We can move further away from standardized questions and formulate questions based on how they can use their personality, their quirks, their flaws and their knowledge,” to serve the community better. However, I would not say that titles are outdated nor no longer necessary – especially revolving titles! To place people at a unique position to serve and learn as much as they can is wonderful. To empower people to spread the life and love of Leather and to base this around unique responsibilities, is necessary and a great way to encourage active involvement. We should encourage more leadership outside of competitions as well! I would say that the modes and ways in which we ascertain who would be the best can always evolve to be more holistic. As I answer this question, I shouldn’t feel that I have to say “yes!” so as to guarantee the title, I should know that it’s about more than poise and knowing the right answer, it’s about the fact that nothing would give me greater pleasure. It’s about the fact that this is an opportunity which I would take-up with the greatest respect and honour.