From the title of the book bottelnel breek bek, the warning signs are there — this is not going to be an easy read.
But because I have been following Dianne du Toit Albertze’s career for a long time, I knew this would be worth the battle.
In a digital interview, she tells me that the story found her rather than her discovering what she wanted to write about. “I needed to write about people who were braver than me because it was Covid and I needed something to save me,” she says.
That’s where she found Dora and Whashiela, who came with their own heaven-sent gifts. And their strong appearance was probably driven by the fact that “as a trans person, I don’t find many heroines in the books I read. I also don’t see them at festivals or on television. Especially not in my mother tongue,” she notes.
In her own way, she wanted to show Afrikaanse moffies that they shouldn’t let go of their dreams — “Moenie jou tong oppie highway verkoop nie” is how she says it bluntly and beautifully. “Nancy is waiting, we need to make and take our own space.”
Feeling and querying whether this is a very personal tale, she acknowledges that first novels are probably always close to the bone. “I wanted to push my high heels through the literary door with a story that feels close to me. I wanted to go as close to the edge as I could and much method writing followed,” she says. “I learnt about everything I wrote about and didn’t want to be a faker.
“Perhaps I listen to too much Tupac or hide too easily behind my pen … because the book also helped me recover from a poisonous addiction. Every day without drugs is a BIG day. And hopefully this full-frontal writing of mine will mean something to someone out there.”
We all know about method acting and what that has done to those taking it too far, and if you read the book without the hairs on your arms standing on edge you’re possibly not paying attention.
This is an artist who takes her art seriously and even if it meant she climbed a steep mountain with the language, it is what adds authenticity and soul to the characters and story.
“I wouldn’t have been true to my characters if they spoke the language of dubbed Turkish soapies,” explains Dianne about her choices. And acknowledges that she wanted to honour the colourful language of the trans community in Observatory and Matjieskloof. “A variant like Gayle (created by the queer coloured community in Cape Town) even has its own accents in specific regions.”
And then she’s not even referring to Sabela (a language flounced together from numerous local languages in local prisons for gangs to communicate) or those creative Cape expressions we’re all familiar with. This is completely different yet with distinct similarities – an anomaly in itself.
“I’ve always been fascinated by linguistics – to create different codes and to learn different expressions and idioms.”
On a language level, she embroiders, the tongues of the different characters metaphorically reflect their life paths – also pushed out and teetering on the periphery. “Those of us who have for so long been hiding in the shadows should move into the light and speak loudly.” Another incentive for telling her story the way she does – letting it all hang out … bravely.
Amen, say I, having read the book and also revelling in this particular interview/conversation, which was a written rather than a spoken one. “Steve Biko says I write what I like and perhaps I agree with him,” notes Dianne. “I write about shit that matters to me and what I believe will interest a broader audience.”
She also hopes that a trans child might read the book and realise that they too matter, perhaps influenced by her own struggles and lack of support.
For the writer personally, she has many dreams and desires: a musical, Medea in Namakwaland, staged in-between the koppies; and to write a few movie scripts. These are on the cards.
For her, writing plays is like breathing in and out. She’s been doing that from a very young age right through her drama studies. “Poetry and prose come from there, but to write for stage is my big love,” she says.
As for her activist stance, she took her queue from the Sestigers (a moniker for a group of dissident Afrikaans writers, including Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, Ingrid Jonker, Elsa Joubert, Jan Rabie and Etienne le Roux) who believed that words carry weight and that we need the arts and artists to be our conscience.
This would mean, to her mind, stories that free us from what is becoming a hopeless land with steadily growing layers and levels of suffering.
In the meantime she is working with actor/director Lee-Ann van Rooy on a season of her text Kaap, which was performed at the 2020 NATi Jong Sterre Suidoosterfees . And with her Namakwaland trans sisters, she is busy creating an NGO House of Influence with which they hope to establish safe houses as well as perform community theatre.
She’s a busy woman but for those of us lucky enough to witness her creativity, moving on the edges as she does, she draws a curtain on a hidden yet important world.
This is what makes our universe an interesting one. People are allowed if not encouraged to be themselves and for those who are open to the diversity and differences, it establishes a never-ending stage of wonder, wisdom and, of course, a wackiness without which life would be so much poorer and less colourful.
And as Dianne is so determined to bring to our attention, real people are living here.