“Nice shoes. Wanna go to bed with me?” I overheard a sexy tanned Colombian guy in his early 20’s
say to a muscle daddy he had just approached. I was on Ocean Drive, South Beach in Miami Florida,
at the local gay watering hole on an April Sunday afternoon in 1995. I had just turned 25 and
decided to celebrate at a “tea dance” that was held each week at this time. Since moving to Miami,
a year before it was something everyone did – all you needed to be was gay, have a pair of cut off
denim Levis and a smile.
In 1994 South Africa was changing and so was I. We were promised a new constitution with
protected rights and social acceptance. I had come out of the closet, but I was sceptical. I was also
tired of a boring corporate job and felt like the entire world was happening without me. FOMO
wasn’t a word back then, but I knew I was aching for more than what I was seeing and doing in
Durban, where I was living at the time.
After a summer in Greece, I decided to follow the sun and head to Florida. In 1994 Miami was a city
on the brink of resurgence and was all about Stallone, Madonna and South Beach, derelict Art Deco
buildings next to remodelled delights, beautiful people, and models and film crews everywhere. I
was now one of them! Perhaps I could find fame and fortune, here where I knew I would be
accepted; denim shorts and rollerblades on! Men, men and more men. I was a young man and
caught the eye of many. Gianni Versace was very much alive in those days and we all used to hang
out on the stretch of beach in front of his house. Tanned to a crisp, wearing my black Speedo, I
secretly hoped to catch his eye and be invited back to his mansion, where many legendary stories
that did their rounds took place. There was always fun to be had in the form of weekends away in
Key West, long days on the beach, rollerblading on Ocean Drive, and hot nights in the nightclubs.
South Beach was totally pink with gay clubs, gay restaurants, clothing shops, and galleries supporting
only gay artists. How different this was from my everyday “straight acting” Durban life, I would
think. I managed to pay for this all in Miami with a mindless office job I got through a friend.
Carefree and lucky is how I thought of my newfound life. Way before social media I would get a fax
now and again and hear about the drab life I left behind. Now however, I was celebrating being gay
in the gayest possible way.
Standing next to the muscle daddy with the nice shoes that caught the eye of the Colombian, I was
reminded that conversations were always about sex. These were the early days of ARVs, but many
were still dying of AIDS. They used to call South Beach ‘heaven’s waiting room’. Many would find
out that they were positive, cash in their savings and life policies, and come to live it up here till
they died. I met many such men and had sex with some too. Always protected sex, but clearly risky
when I was drunk – which was a lot of the time. I watched the Colombian and his “daddy” disappear
and found myself looking at the floor at other men’s shoes. Had I just learnt the pickup line of the
century? It was definitely easy meeting guys those days, but this was a new level. Perhaps I should
try it? I came from a city/country where I always felt inhibited. Now in Miami as a 25-year-old, I was
learning new exciting ways to break down my barriers. Shoes! That was the next frontier of
“charfing “someone perhaps? Then a barman friend of mine reminded me of a party at the newly
opened club called Amnesia. That night they were going to have the first foam party ever held in
Miami. Plastic “plakkies” and my demin shorts on, off we went. Another first, another night of
celebration and perhaps another hottie to meet? I had arrived and was having the time of my life –
or was I really?
The next week, I woke up and something happened that made me realize it was enough. I opened
the local gay magazine which was basically full of social pages with shirtless men around town. It
was there that I saw a picture of myself in denim shorts at that party, surrounded by hot men all
covered in foam. I looked at this picture and knew I was done. While life had become very pink and
exciting for me, I realized I hardly knew the so-called friends I was with. After a year there, I only
had a few acquaintances. Some were dying or died, others were hustling to get by, and most were
looking over my shoulder for the next guy to bed.
I did not feel like I was living a well-rounded life. I was tired of hot and hotter men. There was a fake
side to it all; the mindless chatter, dodgy pick-up lines about shoes, cruising and dating were boring –
never mind dangerous. Madonna wasn’t calling me for lunch. I wasn’t hot enough to be included in
the troupe that hung around Versace. What the hell was I doing there? I missed my brain. I missed a
bit of my soul. I missed home and wanted a career, and to build a life for myself. This was not going
to happen so far away from my home, working illegally, with little money and few real friends or
connections. I craved reality and I knew I was made for more. My moral compass reset, I booked a
I got home to a new South Africa where everyone was talking about equal rights for the LGBT
community. Powerful constitutional protection sounded fantastic, but what was really happening on
the street, I thought? I did feel a strong new feeling one day when I went back to my local CNA book
and magazine spot. I used to buy tons of magazines in those days as it was my window to the big
wide world. Before I left for Miami, you could hardly find a gay title, and if you did, they were at the
top behind the girly naked mags. (The irony of that always entertained me). But that day I went and
found some men’s interest magazines and one of them was a new title called the GAY pages. The
compelling factor was that it was at eye level, proudly next to a car title.
How brazen I thought the title was? It was explicitly for GAY men, and the cover made it very clear it
had something sexy to say. It was no longer hidden on the top shelf, and I realized I had arrived back
to a new South Africa; one that was perhaps about real change, potential and exciting possibility.
America was the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”, but perhaps this life was now following
me back home? Proudly paying for my new precious gay magazine in full view of everyone I was
feeling some of that change and realized that, I was young, full of energy and Johannesburg was
where I would make a real life for myself.
Soon, I easily connected with old friends and my first time out we went to a new bar in Braamfontein
called Champions. As I walked in with a squad of loved ones, things felt real, comfortable and full of
promise. I also found myself looking down. Wow! There were definitely some great shoes in