Paving the way

Veon Wentzel, also known as Manila Von Teez.

Drag star Manila Von Teez, 27, is paving the way for other drag artists and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community to live authentically and thrive.

Manila, from Goodwood, whose real name is Veon Wentzel, burst onto our TV screens after clinching second place in the finals of SA’s Got Talent in November, last year. Kryptonite Dance Academy took first place.

Manila described her experience on SA’s Got Talent as intense and a roller-coaster ride that she would never forget.

“I have always wanted to enter the show, and in 2015 I almost did. During that same year, a drag queen entered and in a way that paved the way for me,” she said.

She said she never thought she was good enough to enter the competition and that the competition boosted her self-esteem and showed her she can do anything she sets her mind to. Manila wowed the audience and judges with her powerful performance and transformation.

She told the Bulletin, that after watching a few drag shows she decided to try her hand at this performance art more than six years ago.

“Initially, I would go to events in drag and after finally plucking up the courage, I decided to take to the stage. I was encouraged to do so by the organiser of Miss Gay Western Cape, Barry Reid, who is also my manager. I didn’t think that I would do it professionally but here I am, doing what I love,” she said.

Dressed in a flattering hot pink dress along with shimmering gold stilettos, she said it takes about two hours to transform into her alter ego, Manila Von Teez.

“There is a lot of highlighting, contouring, padding and corsetry that is involved in my transformation,” she explained.

Manila identifies as a gay man and “came out” to her family when she was 21.

“I didn’t want to live a lie anymore. I decided that people either accept me or they don’t. I faced discrimination in the form of people’s perceptions about gay men. Eventually my family came around, and now they are my biggest supporters,” she said, gleefully.

Her accolades include winning Miss Black Pride, Miss Cape Town Pride, Miss Cape Peninsula and Miss Loerie. Talking about the discrimination and prejudice experience, by the LGBTQI community in Cape Town, she said: “I firmly believe it takes just one minute to listen to a person which will pave the way for acceptance.”

She encourages people who come from a heteronormative mindset to speak to someone who is part of the LGBTQI community in an effort to understand them better.

“Self-love is very important on the road to accepting yourself. If you don’t practise self-love, you will never be confident enough to follow your dreams. If you come out, and your family kicks you out; only the conviction you have in yourself can ease the rejection,” she said.

Manila performs regularly at Beefcakes, in Green Point, and her future plans include taking her brand to great heights.

“I have many projects in the pipeline, as I want to experience every aspect of being an artist; such as appearing in commercials and music videos,” she said.