SA drag queens living amid the coronavirus outbreak

The world is on tenterhooks as the alarming new coronavirus continues to spread. The biggest impact and the largest number of victims have thus far been in China, where the virus originated.

Two LGBTQ South Africans, who are well-known drag pageant queens, living in China amidst the crisis have spoken about what it’s like to be in a country that’s increasingly in a state of lockdown and fear.

David Legolie

David Legolie (aka Camille Von Zuush) is from Wellington in Cape Town and started his drag career in 2010, going on to win the 2015 Miss Gay Western Cape title.

Professionally, David is a qualified attorney who lives in the Qinghai province of China, in the City of Xining, where he is teaching English.

How badly is your city affected by the virus?

I’m far from the city (Wuhan) where the breakout of the coronavirus started. The recent statistics, however, show that in my city about six people have been infected. We are constantly checking to see whether these numbers increase as this virus spreads fast.

What are your emotions and thoughts about the situation there?

The government has ordered stores to be closed, people to remain in their homes, to avoid crowded spaces, to take care of our hygiene and to report to hospital if you display any of the symptoms of the coronavirus. This brings it home that this virus is vicious and deadly – even our temperatures are taken at the entrance of any building! Being scared is an understatement, being terrified is more like it; you are scared to touch things or be touched and when a person coughs, your heart skips a beat. The ‘what-if’ questions can drive you insane. My prayers are with the residents in Wuhan province as they have it the worst.

Can you go outside and what do you keep yourself busy with?

You can go outside, but you have to wear a mask. They do advise you to rather just stay indoors. So I’ve been sleeping, reading the Bible, watching movies and series and my all-time favourite thing – eating! And I’m keeping in touch with friends and family as well. The living in China is so easy, you can literally order anything and it’s delivered to your door.

When the virus abates, do you intend staying on afterwards?

When we come to China you sign a contract for a year, and meeting that contractual obligation is important. I would stay on as I one day would like to return to China without having been blacklisted.

Are you out in China, perhaps doing drag, and what is it like being LGBTQ there?

I’m not hiding my sexually but I’m not flaunting it either. China is still very conservative and traditionalist in their thinking, and being gay is still a contentious topic. I’ve seen a few LGBTI individuals around and the lesbian community seems to be more prominent. As far as doing drag here, for me, it’s not happening, but I’m stocking up on drag things here and there for when I do return home.

Anything interesting you’d like to add about living in China?

China is not what we were told or what we perceive back home. It is so different and you have to have an open mind. The thing I find very funny and frustrating here in China is the language barrier; you need to use all your senses to communicate, you must use your hands, arms, body and a translating app to speak to a Chinese person. Ordering food is a mission. I only go to restaurants where there are pictures on the menu and I can point and say, ‘I want this’!

Would you like to share a message for your friends, family and the LGBTQ community in SA?

There is definitely nothing like home. I miss the food, the people, the get-togethers and church. I hope the time flies and I see you guys soon. You are all always in my thoughts and prayers.

Zilin Ayoki

Zilin Ayoki is from Mitchell’s Plain in Cape Town and has been performing drag for 10 years, winning pageants such as Miss Cape Town Pride 2011, Miss Gay Western Cape 2012 and Miss Drag South Africa 2017.

Ayoki is situated in Changsha, Hunan, about 300 kilometres south of Wuhan, Hubei, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and is also teaching English.

How has the spread of the virus impacted your city?

We’ve been asked to remain indoors and avoid public places, also to wear protective (surgical) masks when we have to go outside, to do grocery shopping, for instance, to wash our hands regularly and to keep surfaces clean to avoid contamination. Communication has been scarce with the main source of information coming from television news. Streets are empty and malls are ‘ghost towns’ with just the essential stores, like the supermarket and pharmacy, operating. There is an eerie, ominous silence. People are edgy, but there are no visible signs of panic where I am.

Why did you decide to go to China?

As a full-time teacher, it was always a dream of mine to teach abroad. The dream, of course, was to travel and experience new places and cultures. The East was always at the top of my bucket list and that’s where I find myself right now.

How has the outbreak impacted you personally?

Having been in ‘self-quarantine’ for almost two weeks has had both positive and negative effects on me. Firstly it gave me a chance to relax and rest after a busy six months; settling in, familiarising myself with work protocols and adjusting to life in China. But on the flip-side, we are facing a deadly virus that we know nothing about, and the worry of contracting it is stressful. I still need to make a decision on whether to stay or return home once I have all the facts.

Are you out in China, perhaps doing drag, and what is it like being LGBTQ there?

Sadly, LGBTIAQ+ issues are largely taboo in China. China distinguishes its cities at tier-levels, with affluent and well-resourced cities being Tier 1 and developing or less developed cities filling in the rear. If I can explain it in simple terms, it’s like our urban/rural setup in South Africa. So Tier 1 cities are more prone to be LGBTIAQ+ friendly than other cities. Shanghai has an active LGBTIAQ+ community on the mainland, with Hong Kong being the place to be for LGBTIAQ+ activities. I only drag in my apartment and when I video call all my family and friends back home.

If you can’t go outside much, what do you keep yourself busy with?

I cook meals, watch TV (I’ve watched Maleficent 2 over and over), watch repeats of RuPaul’s Drag Race and listen to my favourite songs – Whitney Houston of course!

When the virus abates, do you intend staying on afterwards?

China is an amazing country, life is really good here, barring the outbreak of serious diseases, and I would definitely remain when the virus abates.

Is there anything you’d like to share with those of us back in South Africa?

Never be afraid of life, believe that it is worthwhile, and your belief will make it so. What I mean by that is, go for what you want!

This article was written in collaboration with Coenie Kukkuk who interviewed David and Zilin on behalf of MambaOnline.com.

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