It’s a dented, stained cardboard box. Inside; a tiny knife and fork on a white satin bed. I look at it and remember the lessons from the man who gave me this little gift, all those years ago:

Elbows off the table

Pause between bites

Never move your head toward the food, bring the fork toward your head …


I was genetically predisposed to being the Fag Hag I am. My mother, an incredibly glamorous hairdresser in the 1960’s Bloemfontein, was a Fag Magnet of note. In an era when homosexuality was a criminal offence, our home was a safe haven for parties few people ever forgot. I grew up with many, many uncles. There were my mom’s fellow hairdressers, fondly known as Bennie en Hennie (slang for a popular brand of cigarettes at the time; smoking was de rigueur back then). Bennie could always be relied on to dance with a lampshade on his head, or wear the flokati rug as a shawl while he sang Cole Porter classics.

Then there was Uncle Arch. Uncle Arch stayed at the same seaside hotel as us every December in Margate. Uncle Arch was a ‘bachelor’ and never wore shorts to the dining room, even if it was only going to be a buffet. Uncle Arch taught me that it’s not worth having a martini if there aren’t any olives and that I shouldn’t ever bother with chaps who wore socks a shade lighter than their trousers. Uncle Arch could take a 5 cent piece from behind my ear and let me keep it to buy a bead necklace at the beach. People marveled that such a handsome and erudite man had never married. Gossip had it that there had been a romantic disappointment. My mom and Uncle Arch sipped Gin Slings by the poolside and wondered what possessed that woman to think she should show the world the back of her legs, or why that pathetic man woke up this morning and thought it a quite good idea to wear satin jogging shorts in public.

My grandparents had the ultimate marriage-of-convenience. They had separate bedrooms from day one; they took sea cruises as often as they could. They adored one another in a sedate and very civilized manner. He was in charge of the drapery department at John Orrs and their home had baroque pieces of fabric hanging all over the place, even where there were no windows. He knew Evelyn Waugh in his youth. By some unspoken, impeccable code of conduct, he was probably what I think of as a ‘navy moffie’:” only when on board, if it’s good for morale”!

Growing up, I somehow always ended up partnering the ‘artistic guy’ to the school dances. It was just more fun to plan my outfit with someone who appreciated that my long gloves were vintage, who’d suggest we do the whole retro-Charleston thing properly or not at all, including tortoiseshell cigarette-holders.

My most enduring relationships have been Pink. I value the uncomplicated acceptance and support, I love the exuberant shopping and travel experiences, I adore the drama and excitement of the build up to Pride every year. I’ve shared the shockingly cruel pandemic that is AIDS, I’ve mopped brows and carried chicken soup during the dreadful fight and lost too many times. I’ve done the flowers at too many funerals, but I’ve always come away enriched by the strong sense of community and support. And I always come away, somehow, with one more Gay Best Friend.

Not even my husband is brave enough to say, as my camp-as-a-row-of-tents Hairdresser friend did: “sny jou bolla, Dolla, you look a hundred in the shade”*. Gotta love him.

*cut your hair, Doll, the bun makes you look old.


54 thoughts on “ON BEING A FAG HAG

  1. My Grandfather had very strict rules at the table. One of them was speaking in German – which is why I never put salt on my food or dressing on my salad as I spoke English! Lovely memory 🙂

  2. And the short cut makes you look so young. He was totally on the ball there.

    Cindy, this is an enchanting piece of writing, thank you so much. What an incredible upbringing. Noel Coward would be proud.

  3. Been missing your writing so very much….what a wonderful post!!! Well…there will only be one CIN in my book…you are special girlfriend. Sending you so much love oxoxoxoxox

  4. It takes a very gay man to insult a woman and a very straight man to get slapped for it. My best friend told me last night that its time for quite a few nips and loads of tucks as my skin is busy trying to escape to the South Pole. Now if it was my boyfriend saying that you would never find the pieces of his body anywhere on this planet.
    Your grandfather sounds like the type of man that would one day shape a young lady into a graceful woman filled with old world charm and values. Do you know her perhaps? 🙂

  5. lovely post! having been a hairdresser for years in my past, I’ve met my share of colorful and loyal friends. And loyolty is what friendship is all about. Happy that you have such good friends and fond memories. And your mother sounds like quite a character…more posts on mom!

  6. Ah, Cindy, I just love your blog and your writing. This is a fabulous post. You have such a way with words, and I feel carried along in elegance into your world. And it’s so rich and beautifully-observed – thank you so much. I’m probably the millionth person to say this to you, but you should really write a book.
    Sunshine xx

  7. Table manners where drummed into us every meal time.
    My father would say that he wanted them to become automatic so that we didn’t have to think about what fork to use etc so that we could be more confident in social situations. It is a valuable lesson and one I have TRIED to pass onto my boys!

    My Great Uncle Tim would have been one of those bachelor types that no-one questioned about ‘orientation’….

  8. I so enjoyed this absolutely hilarious restrospective, Cindy! My Mum also worked at John Orrs and then The Hub. She and your grandfather probably knew each other! 🙂 bb

  9. What a delightfully intimate peek into a world that touches base with a whole gamut of fascinating living!

    First, you’ve taught me something. When I was being guided through table manners, why did I never hear that one does not move the head? Does this mean that my women friends who walk away from the table with their shelves full are doing it properly?? 🙂

    I look forward to sharing this with some of my gay friends. I loved it one day when the gay man with whom I share the closest friendship said, “Oh, let’s go into the village and enjoy some shopping together.”

  10. Wonderful story..thanks for sharing. I look forward to a future when gay people will just be known as family and friends without a label to distinguish them as different from the rest of us.

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