Foreword by the author.
This article took me on a journey into the past of drag culture; it made me question my personal borders against those heavily criticized by society and made me feel compassion for many labeled as ‘queer’.
It’s easy to categorize people or groups as wrong, strange, or dangerous because it gives you an excuse not to listen with the means to understand. It is easier choosing to cast them into a category simply titled as queer, for our own comfort.
Synonyms for queer: unusual, strange, crazy, disquieting, irrational, irregular, oddball, unbalanced, unhinged, weird.
“As a qualified hairdresser for the last 45 years, I think it was unnecessary and wrong. I worked with white hair, black hair, yellow hair, blue hair; us coloreds don’t even have hair. We are not worried about our hair. There is mos wigs to make hair!”
Sandy Lentoor speaks out about her disbelieve regarding the recent Clicks- and EFF debacle, wherein a so-called racist add lead to a series of nationwide protests and the destruction of various Clicks stores around South Africa.
For Sandy Lentoor, also known as Sandra Dee, the mere term of wigs takes her back years ago when she worked as a hairdresser during apartheid in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.
“I worked for an Italian barber, for four years in Hillbrow. I had to make-up myself as a white woman and I wore blonde wigs”.
“I played white for the apartheid regime.”
Sixty-one-year-old Sandra Dee, whose given name is Steven Lentoor, grew up in District Six, and because of the Group Areas Act, was forced to move to Manenberg in the Cape Flats in 1968.
While adapting to this new environment, Sandra was seven years old when her life changed dramatically.
“I wanted to play soccer and the boys aged 16- and 17 years agreed to join me, but they had something else on their minds. They must have seen something in me that was feminine. Seven boys raped me that day, while one boy continued till I was 10 years old.”
“I couldn’t take the pain anymore and run away to a friend’s home, who said ‘you want to be a woman, here is a dress’ and at the age of 10 I became a woman and a prostitute in Sea Point.”
Dee explains as a matter of fact, that ever since ‘I lived my life on my own, I was into drag and I never changed’.
As one of the famous drag queens in Cape Town, she remembers the flourishing underground night clubs for the LGBTQI+ community especially.
“Studio Four in Short Market street, and Wings. Those were the good old days”
She knew she could be arrested for masquerading as a woman. She explains it was like playing hide and seek. She was eventually arrested. Twice. And had to spend three months in jail, respectively. Asking whether it was tough in jail she laughs.
“No not at all, I signed in as a woman, those years there was discipline. If you had a pretty face and they liked you then all was good. I was a hairdresser, so I cut everyone’s hair for them. Life was nice to me.”
Her home in District Six after leaving Manenberg was where she started her hairdressing career at the early age of twelve. Back then the drag culture was led by Kewpie, who provided a safe space for many who fled their homes for expressing their convictions/orientation.
“Patti showed me how to do hair, she worked for the queens of queens: Kewpie.”
“My first haircut went gat-gat (hole-hole), the shaping was perfect but at the back, it was just gat-gat (hole-hole). When the guy asked for the back-mirror I had to show it from a good angle”.
Lead by the small drag queen community in Cape Town, the first Miss Gay Cape Town was hosted and Sandra Dee won twice with the stage name Yeta Roemkof.
Dee longingly looks at some older photos: “Look at my body, those were the days”.
In 1981 Dee qualified as a hairdresser and then moved to Johannesburg for 30 years. According to her, that was where the money in hairdressing really was.
Turned away numerous times, she eventually landed a job at an Italian barber in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. She had to pretend to be a white woman, but she did it and her talent as a hairdresser developed.
Dee takes pride in her work. She enthusiastically talks about the time she did the then Miss Death Candice Morgan’s hair, and even South Africa’s voice behind the inspiring song, ‘Afrikan Dream’, Vicky Sampson’s hair for her wedding.
Till this day, more than 40 years later, she still does people’s hair, and more…
From her home in Hanover Park, where she lives with friends, she is the chairman and founder of the NPO, Fairy Godmother Community Project.
“I'm very much about my seniors. We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays where we pray and talk about each one’s home and what is happening in our community. Then we do exercises, they love exercising. We even had a fitness club, but with COVID-19 many things have changed.
Even Women’s Day this year was different.”
Among many other initiatives, Dee also partners with the Princess Project where they assist matriculates to dress and look their best at their matric farewell. She is also a hairdresser coach for the youth employment service, YES, at Crystal Secondary School in Hanover Park.
In 2017, director and producer Sofia de Fay, documented Sandra Dee’s life in Masquerading: to hell and back.
She also wants to write a book. But for now, her dream is to build a clientele outside of Hanover Park: “I recently did a wedding in Goodwood. I did the hair and make-up. I’m very good at doing up styles.”
Dee reflects back and remembers the many dangers she faced in her lifestyle as a gay in the apartheid era: drug abuse, clubs, prostitution, and prison. Being clean for more than 20 years she believes God protected her through it all.
“He carried me. Never mind me being gay, I pray a lot. I believe in God.”
She explains she always wanted to be Catholic, but because she is gay she was turned away numerous times.
In 2002 she was finally baptized in a catholic church, and under the name, Sandy Lentoor.