Twenty-nine-year-old Charl-Jaquairdo van Helsdingen from Johannesburg was recently named Mr Gay World South Africa.
The model, dancer, creative director, fitness instructor and event producer will represent the country in the upcoming Mr Gay World contest in Knysna.
We spoke to Charl-Jaquairdo about body image, surviving testicular cancer and what he aims to achieve as Mr Gay World South Africa.
Charl, let’s start with your coming out. What was it like?
I was 17. I still remember it like it was yesterday – constantly thinking and practising what to say, how to say it, over and over again in my head. Often building the courage and guts to want to speak the words to my mother, thinking, okay this is the moment. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, it was eating me alive. The real Charl was gasping for air. Finally, one day I walked into my mom’s room. It was now or never. No matter how much I had gone over and over what I wanted to say, the tears still rolled down my face. I told my mom that I was tired of living a lie and pretending to be someone that I’m not. That I wanted to discover who I really am, what I’m truly capable of and for her to get to know the real me. With tears now rolling down both of our faces, my amazing mother hugged me tight and told me that she loved me and nothing will EVER change that. Now that the only person who’s love and support I truly ever needed was backing me no matter what, the real Charl was ready to flourish and soar.
Magic Mike SA was a very proud liberating experience for me. To be able to not only help choreograph and perform in such a big production, which is one of my biggest passions in life, but to be accepted and supported as a proud openly gay man as the lead of Magic Mike SA by my fellow dancers and even by everyone watching Magic Mike SA was absolutely amazing. It helped show me that no matter whether your gay or straight, don’t let anything stop you because of what society says is right or wrong according to your sexuality or gender.
Do you still dance, and what is it that you do you now for a living?
I do still perform, for Odyssey International Dance Crew. Not as much as I would like to as I have been focused on my studies on getting my diploma in sports psychology. Currently, my full-time job is personal training and modelling but I like to explore all avenues and new opportunities that life presents me with.
Why did you decide to enter Mr Gay World SA this year? Why was it the right time?
I considered entering Mr Gay World South Africa for many years but I was not ready and still had a lot of growing to do. If I had to be completely honest, I first had to go through a lot of challenges, growth and tribulations to be a worthy Mr Gay World South Africa representative for our community. I have not stopped learning and growing yet.
What insights or perspectives do you think you can bring to the Mr Gay World contest?
I believe I bring a never give up, never quit attitude. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been in the gay scene and community for over 12 years and as such, I represent some of the new generation’s outlooks as well as being old enough to know what our history and struggles have been; to understand our history and at the same time know where we have come from and how much growth we still need and are capable of.
Is there any particular issue or issues that you’d like to focus on in your reign as Mr Gay World SA?
I have a LOT of issues I’d like to talk about and face as a community, but the biggest issues I am most passionate about and would like to be most involved in are education on HIV/AIDS and the stigmas based on and around them, cancer awareness and education, and fighting bullying. I believe by speaking up about these issues that may be uncomfortable or too taboo to talk about, that we can inspire others out there to really start speaking up and start creating real unity within our communities
Pageant winners in our community are sometimes criticised for largely disappearing from view after winning their title. What will you do to differently?
The pressure and criticism from the community can be overwhelming for many previous winners and contestants. So many times we can so easily focus on someone’s negative traits or even when they stumble or make a mistake, that we are so quick to condemn and criticise them. So instead of crumbling under the pressure or disappearing because I may stumble sometimes or receive bad criticism, I will stand strong and inspire others to never give up because we are perfectly imperfect and we all can be kinder and more compassionate.
You’ve embraced bodybuilding. What value has that brought to your life?
Fitness has played a huge role in my life and often been the best therapy and friend I’ve sometimes had. Through fitness, I have learnt accountability towards myself and the goals I want to achieve. Fitness has helped me stay consistent and helped me apply that to other aspects in my life. You get out what you put in… period.
Yes, I have. I am very comfortable in my own skin. Through many years of training and modelling, I have learnt to understand my body and constantly push myself to new and stronger body goals. But the confidence I have now is not just from training but also from going through cancer and learning to love and celebrate the one and only body you have. I do semi-nude shoots to celebrate the body and hopefully to inspire others out there to celebrate and be comfortable in their own skin too. I don’t do full frontal because I don’t want to sexualise the message I’m trying to get across and the body positivity I try to create. We need to understand that nudity is not always sexual; it’s a celebration of who you are and the skin you live in.
What would you say to those who argue that by constantly celebrating the buff body we are perpetuating unrealistic body standards – along with the accompanying body image problems such as steroid use, eating disorders etc. – especially within the queer community?
This way of thinking, where we say we celebrate and respect all body types, shapes and forms without shame yet still single out one specific body type such as the “buff body” is very hypocritical. There are no unrealistic body goals. We need to celebrate all body types and stop singling out people for how they choose to present themselves and their body goals and ambitions. Anyone who is fit or has achieved what are considered “unrealistic “ body goals has worked their butts off to get there. It takes constant, everyday effort, to get up and work hard on your dreams and goals. And I believe that these qualities can be applied to so many aspects of life. Steroid abuse and eating disorders are all completely separate issues that we absolutely have to take seriously, but like any disorders such as depression or anxiety, these are issues rooted deep within ourselves. It takes everyday work on ourselves to get better and deal with these challenges. We need to stop looking for approval from our communities, regardless of your shape, size or gender and celebrate everyone as an individual and stop putting people in these labelled boxes and then judge and assume what kind of person they are based on the way they look.
The issues of race, representation and inclusion in South Africa cannot be ignored. Do you think it’s problematic that there has still not been a winner of colour in the contest?
I do believe that we need greater representation when it comes to race and diversity. We need to motivate and inspire everyone to stand up and not be afraid to be strong representatives. This will only start by us showing support for these members of our community and creating a safer space for them to be comfortable enough to be able to represent the amazing diversity we have in our beautiful country.
What do you think about transgender men taking part in Mr Gay World SA?
I absolutely believe that any gay male or transgender man who can inspire and represent our LGBTQ community’s issues and struggles should partake in Mr Gay World South Africa and have the equal opportunity to create change, motivate and stand up for those who aren’t strong enough to stand up for themselves.
Your cancer diagnosis must have been life-altering, especially at such a young age. How has it changed you?
Cancer changed EVERYTHING! I always say that even though I don’t understand why a young healthy person like myself would be diagnosed with cancer, it was not the end of my story but the beginning. Having gone from a super healthy strong young man to not even being able to get out of bed for days at a time would often break my spirit. The effects of chemo and radiation took a huge toll – not just physically but emotionally – but it’s still the best gift I ever survived. Having to fight for my life in 2018 and 2019 really made me appreciate living every single day to its fullest. It’s given me the strength and drive to be able to go for my biggest dreams and goals. If I can overcome cancer and face my mortality, I can achieve absolutely anything. The thought of dying without achieving my dreams and goals; without truly living and seeing the beautiful places and souls of our world; without making a real impact and change in this world, scared me more than anything I’ve ever faced.
You decided to speak out about your fight against cancer and become a spokesperson for a testicular cancer charity, Love Your Nuts.
Openly sharing my struggle with cancer; the good, the bad and the not so pretty showed me that we are all struggling with some sort of battle. Sharing my story has inspired others out there to face their struggles and demons. I decided to become a spokesperson for Love Your Nuts as it has given me an opportunity and platform to help create a support system for many out there who need help and education on cancer. Love your Nuts is an amazing organisation that educates young children as well as adults on cancer awareness and how early detection can save lives.
What words of advice would you give to those of us who have testicles?
My advice is the same for any other person out there. Know your body, check for signs of lumps and growths. Whether it be testicles or breasts. Early detection saves lives and we need to educate as many people out there on how to check for signs and to have a support system to know that you are not alone.
After winning Mr Gay World SA, your mom was the main person you thanked on social media. What does she mean to you?
My mother is my world. It is because of my mother that I am the man I am today. I come from a very, very humble upbringing. As a single mother with no kind of support, my mother sacrificed everything in her life to give me the best opportunities in my life, to be able to make something of my life. She also never ever stopped believing in me, even when I failed, stumbled and often didn’t believe in myself. She always treated me with compassion. I have absolute and unconditional love and support from my mother. Everything I do and strive for today is to make her proud and show her that the sacrifices she made in life meant something. She has also taught me to be kind, compassionate and showed me what true strength and unconditional love truly is. I do this for your Moeks.
Tell us something about yourself that we’d never guess?
Many people look at me and think that because of the way I look and the kind body that I have that I am vapid, shallow and self-absorbed. Yet, if you get to know me and who I really am, they will learn that I have a huge love and passion for uplifting others and helping others find self-love and confidence; to inspire others to believe in themselves and know they are not alone, no matter their shape, size or gender. My goal is to break that stereotypical way of thinking and show others to not judge a book by its cover.
Finally, many of us need to know. Are you single and what kind of guy appeals to you?
I am single! The qualities I look for in a partner are the same qualities I look for in any kind of relationship or friendship. I look to surround myself with people who have compassion and depth. I value and look for a partner who can stick around when things get challenging. This lesson I learned when I was diagnosed with cancer. So often, many people are ready to run at the first sight of imperfection or challenges. I look for a partner that can make me laugh and that I can sit down with and talk about real goals and aspirations. To uplift each other and be able to call each other out when they need that extra support and push to believe in themselves. Like all of us, I am looking for someone to love and accept me unconditionally for who I am. Flaws and all.
Mr Gay World 2020 takes place from Sunday, 26 April to Sunday, 3 May in Knysna, alongside the annual Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival. The Mr Gay World 2020 grand finale will take place on Saturday, 2 May at Villa Castollini.