Mr. and Mrs. Leal – Queer Love and Eroticism as Power and Self-Love

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often regulated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognised at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.

Audre Lorde

Wes Leal and Boni Mnisi have rose to near celeb status within the South African queer community. As Wes reflects when sharing a story with me during our interview, A particularly fond memory I have is when we were at Rosebank one day and this baby queer came up to us and told us how much we inspired them to come out and then they asked to take a picture with us! My wife was like: ‘Oh my god we’re famous babe!’ [laughs], that was pretty weird but cool!”

I Am My Own Fantasy 

I first got in the know about the pair a number of years back with Wes’ illustration practice and at the time, Boni together with Wes, were the minds behind a feminist driven pro queer and female driven zine. Since then, the lovers have expanded not only their creative talents venturing into film, photography and more but they have become online queer activists, at times even assuming the role of panel discussion participants at queer events. It is impossible to forget the time- if you are part of the online queer community within SA -Wes stated that he was trans and was about to begin his journey of transitioning as he started taking testosterone. What stood out about this was not only Wes’ bravery but the love that the internet enveloped the two with, and since then, their loyal followers have been on this journey with them as they share video footage of t-shots and masc-fem shoots online.

On the idea of their relationship as a possible queer political statement Boni expresses, “I think any and every queer relationship is a political statement. The power in standing up and being yourself and openly loving your partner(s) should never be underestimated in a world that constantly seeks to destroy and erase us.”

I Am My Own Fantasy

I Am My Own Fantasy, a collaborative project created by Boni and Wes, photographed for Three Mag delves into the power of the erotic. In this project, a shift in not only their collaborative practice but also in their relationship becomes memorialised. “I am endlessly inspired by my husband and his evolving relationship with the arbitrary construct of gender. This coupled with his identity as a sex worker has made me rethink many things I previously thought I had an open mind about. I used to fancy myself a sex expert but through Wesley’s work I’m really learning about sex for the first time ever and realising so much about him and myself and how we fit together and how there isn’t really any limit on that,” Boni states. Wes continues, “I Am My Own Fantasy’ was the first time I got to express my journey with gender accurately and succinctly. It obviously can’t capture my entire experience but it does a pretty good job at highlighting the different aspects of my identity and how they’ve shifted over time.”

I Am My Own Fantasy 

Grindr became a way for Wes to explore his eroticism and growing sexual interests, “which then led me to online adult content creation,” he tells me. “Revealing parts of myself that society assumes I hate to strangers, was oddly empowering. The ways that people react to my body whether it be attraction or fetishisation gives me explicit permission to enjoy my own body and be proud of it. That’s what I hope we were able to depict in that shoot. That there is something powerful and arousing about seeing a trans dude reclaim things like lingerie, makeup and a submissive disposition,” he continues. Asking about the public nature with which they choose to live their lives, Boni shares the following; “We both really hope that the archive we’re trying to create will fill in the gaps left by the violent erasure of trans people and sex workers by apps like Instagram. But most importantly, we hope to soften the image of queerness without being accused of assimilation”.

Photograph by Fynn Wilson

Wes leaves me with a final thought on his positionally as a trans white male occupying both a space of privilege and marginality:

“When my appearance started to masculinise as a result of cross hormone therapy, I noticed a significant difference in the way I was treated and the space I was given. I mean, it’s obvious to all of us that white men are treated way better than anyone else. When I started to look more and more like someone people would assume is ‘male’, which is not how I myself identify, I suddenly had people moving out of my way when I walk down the street, men giving me the ‘nod’ or expecting me to understand the handshake. And obviously this experience was enhanced by the fact that I’m white. It didn’t take me long to start challenging my own masculinity with make up and crop tops and other so-called ‘feminine’ adornments and mannerisms. As I changed once again so did the world around me. I know that the privilege I have and the way I’m perceived in the world is contingent on the way I’m presenting myself and how people around me are reading me. Being read as a cis-straight-man is something that doesn’t happen to me very often without a lot of code switching on my part but it definitely makes the world an easier place to navigate.  Like most young white people, I’m deeply ashamed of the legacy of whiteness and the trauma it continues to cause but I know guilt is a cop out. It’s obviously important to be uncomfortable but if you’re not going to do anything about that feeling, nothing changes and so I try my best to unlearn and deconstruct my inherent racism. It’s difficult and confusing and I’m constantly fucking up but I’ve been lucky enough to have my wife’s patience and guidance in attempting to become someone I can be proud of.”

Photograph by Jade Ashton Scully

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