7de Laan has chalked up quite a few milestones this year.
Not only did the TV series celebrate its 4 000th episode on air in March, it also got viewers talking when it broadcast the first ever gay kiss since its launch.
And tonight it made history again – by introducing the first transgender actress in its cast!
“People are going to get very fond of Genevieve,” says actress Deonay Balie (27), who plays the character. “She’s a strong woman and looks life squarely in the eye. She knóws who she is.”
For Deonay it’s also an important achievement to be one of the few – if not the only – transgender actresses seen locally on the box.
“There’s no well-known transgender actress in soapies. And LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) do have a need to tell their stories.
“It’s taken us a long time to get to the point that a transgender actress can appear in a series like 7de laan, but I still think it’s wonderful they’ve decided to add a trans character to the storyline,” says Deonay, a primary school teacher who became involved in television almost by chance.
“I teach in Steinkopf outside Springbok in the Northern Cape but I’m also involved in activism and awareness raising. When the soapie’s writers decided to create Genevieve they approached me to audition.”
As an art and drama teacher, she has no formal acting training but impressed directors enough to land the role.
“She and Aggie are at loggerheads in the beginning,” Deonay reveals, “but that’s only because she’s intimidating to Aggie.”
She’s not allowed to divulge much about what the Laan has up its sleeve for Genevieve but can tell us that close friendships develop.
A scene where Genevieve gets confronted about her sexuality turned out to be an emotional yet important moment for her, she adds.
“I’m able to use the personal disappointments and hurt I’ve experienced to portray Genevieve. I believe you should use moments of conflict to educate people.”
This is why Deonay isn’t daunted by the prospect of viewers being critical of Genevieve or upset by the character.
“I’d much rather listen to why they don’t like having a transgender women in the series and then talk about it. I’m a tough cookie. ”
“I’ll remind people that you don’t have to agree with someone but you should respect each other.”
At Ferdinand Brecher Primary School her learners are equally excited about their teacher’s big breakthrough on the box and can’t stop talking about it.
“Initially they got to know me as the strict, tough Mr Balie,” says Deonay, adding that her learners have been very accommodating about her transgender journey. “But these days when I ask them who they prefer, Mr Balie or Miss Balie, they say Miss Balie every time.
“Miss Balie is a much nicer, friendlier person. The children were around before I started my transition to Deonay and they’ve been only good to me.”
She also has only praise for the 7de Laan team.
“On day one people came to introduce themselves to me and everyone was very friendly. Mimi Mahlasela, who plays Aggie, reminded me every day to breathe when I get nervous.”
Her parents, too, have been exceptionally supportive. “Yes, the townspeople know I used to be a man. But the fact that my mom, who’s 65 and from another era, can support me like this – I find that really wonderful.
“God has a purpose with my journey.”