Browse Category: Gender and LGBT Issues

Love and Afrofeminism: Queer Bois and the Gendered Politics of Partner Dancing

This post is part of my guest blog series called Love and Afrofeminism for BITCH magazine.

One night my friends and I went salsa dancing at a straight club. It doesn’t get any more gendered than that. My girl had been asking me to go dancing with her for months. I had finally acquiesced, and was really looking forward to it. But the minute we got to the club, my confidence made for the door, leaving me stranded, feeling weird and freakish. I became very aware of myself as a woman in men’s clothing, not short, not tall, black girl, poor girl, what are you doing here?

In my mind, I knew it was silly. I’m a great dancer. But something about that hall filled with really straight-looking people triggered my discomfort in a major way. I felt my girl pull my hand as she began leading the way, her straight friends following closely behind us, taking off their coats as they glided through the busy dance floor in that way some women do when they know they have eyes on them. I felt awkward shuffling along behind them, straining to keep my shoulders back and my face blank to feign disinterest, a cover for how insecure I felt in my ill-fitting clothing (at least compared to what everyone else was wearing). We hung our coats, and began looking for our friends. A song came on that everyone seemed to like, and I dug it. I was beginning to relax and settle into myself as we approached our friend’s table. I figured I’d dance with my girl and soon forget about where we were. She always had that effect on me, so our dance was something to look forward to.

silhouettes of people salsa dancing

But before I knew it, I felt her drop my hand. I turned to my left, and saw that a slick haired older Latino guy had taken her other hand and pulled her unto the dance floor for the current number. She’d innocently obliged, 1-2-stepping away and swaying her hips to let her know that she was down, and twirling away from me as I stood there feeling more awkward than ever, abandoned, and embarrassed. My eyes darted around in search of familiarity, a safe harbor to crawl into. But I realized that our party had dispersed into the night and I was the only one not dancing. All three ladies had found male partners, so what did that mean for me? I wasn’t nearly comfortable going up to any of the straight women to ask for a dance and face high school humiliation. I wasn’t pretty enough to fare as competition, nor was I macho enough to warrant any other kind of attention. So they completely ignored me (but for the few that blatantly stared in pity or disdain).

Eventually, I found the friends we’d intended to meet. Relieved, I grabbed a beer, and found my station in the corner, where I planned to remain for the rest of the night. Eventually, my girl came back to me, sweat beads all along her forehead from at least three rounds of salsa, and the familiar glow of being around her people that I recognized. She was smiling when she approached me, but my face held stern. She gestured to me to dance with her and I abruptly refused, taking another sip from my beer so that she couldn’t read me. Yet, even I couldn’t understand the way I felt at that point.

It wasn’t jealousy. My girl and I were in love and I didn’t have any insecurities about her dancing with straight men. It wasn’t even that Slick had gotten the first dance—I wasn’t that kind of macho. No, it was something more. And it took me several hours, long after we’d left the club and were safely in bed, to articulate, even to myself.

I had felt unsafe in that space. The night had represented every micro aggression I’d ever experienced from straight people: cab drivers that kicked me out in the middle of the night because they wouldn’t tolerate “that” at the back of their cabs, store managers who kept insisting I’d find better clothing in the women’s section, every gay boy that looked me up and down with disdain because I wasn’t conforming to their inherited fucked up view on what a woman should look like or wear to be “fabulous,” straight women who blatantly ignored me because I didn’t fit in the coop, and femme girls that ranted on and on about masculine privilege, but hardly ever acknowledged that their pretty privilege made their worlds so much bigger than mine. That my girl could mindlessly shimmy onto a dance floor even as a gay woman and enjoy the simple pleasure of a dance, go out with her straight friends to bars and not be stared at or called names, etc., while everything about the landscape, from the “Ladies free before 11PM” sign to the man-woman dance partner pairings made me so angry all of a sudden. And, I didn’t know how to handle it.

All the memories I’d retained of my life as a straight girl, or even as a heteronormative queer femme (as I explored my gender shortly after coming out) came rushing back to me. I remember when people smiled brightly at me when I walked into restaurants—”How can I help you, miss?”—and I would smile back, knowing that I could get whatever I wanted simply because I was pretty. I remember being able to play up the damsel in distress card whenever I arrived late at the airport, scuttling along in heels and designer hand luggage, and the two or three guards would help me cut the line to make my flight, with an upgrade just because. I’d given all that up for the sake of being authentically me. I didn’t regret it, or take it back. But becoming so aware of my lack of privilege, now, in those spaces, made me upset that it didn’t occur to anyone else to be more considerate of how I felt.

What I’d like to share with you isn’t about who has more privilege or who can pass, etc. I’m not interested in setting up an hierarchy of oppression. Life is fucked for a lot of us in more ways than we can calibrate, so instead, I’d like to share something else with you all, a few tips about how to be more supportive of people like me.

As a gender non-conforming (most of the time) boi who is dating a femme-identified woman, I have my responsibilities to her that I take seriously. I don’t tolerate stupid misogynist jokes at her expense, I don’t belittle her in front of anyone to validate my masculinity, when people assume that we stick to gendered roles in our household, I let her respond / answer honestly. I treat her with respect, always—as we should each other, regardless of how we identify—and I celebrate how powerful, and how protected I feel in spite of how scary the world can be sometimes, and I ask that she does the same. What we discovered that night is that there is more that she could do to make sure I feel seen, respected, and advocated for in gendered spaces.

So, here are a few tips we’ve discussed as a couple that I’d like to share with you, in case it resonates, and most especially, if you ever go salsa dancing:

1) Recognize you have “pretty privilege”: As a cisgender, female-bodied person, you are able to move in and out of spaces because of your perceived heteronormativity—i.e., you are “a girl who still looks like a girl” to regular folk, you have passing privilege, and not everyone’s gender presentation grants them that much ease of access to straight spaces. So please don’t talk badly about those “queers who only hang out with queers” especially as a femme woman. It hurts. I have so many kinds of friends, that know and trust me. But I can’t be dumped in the middle of blond highlight, Aldo stilettos Boston without warning. It’s ME they’ll stare and jeer at, not you.

2) Check the temperature of a space to ensure safety of your gender non-conforming friends: Similarly, as you can move in and out of spaces, check the pulse of a room before you invite your partner to enter it. If you are both invited to a straight friend’s gathering, give them warning. If you are frolicking downtown and just want to choose a bar to go to, it may be good for you to walk in and assess the environment, rather than go through the humiliation of entering a place and then having to leave because people are assholes / staring / your partner is not comfortable.

3) Please do NOT use emasculation as a way to put me down, make fun of me, or belittle me. I can’t tell you how much it infuriates me to hear femmes go, “Oh I can be a butch / stud / insertwhatevermasculinelabelhere, all I need to do is put on some baggy jeans and wear a hat.” My identity isn’t reduced to what I wear. I would never trivialize who you are by reducing your femininity down to some lipstick and earrings. This is not to say that I donít appreciate people who play with fashion / gender expression—I do. So I’m specifically referring to situations in which it’s used to belittle / emasculate someone / put them down by suggesting that their gender / how they feel about themselves is a cheap performance, and doesn’t go any deeper. As I’m sure you can imagine, for gender non-conforming / transgender people who choose not to / don’t have the funds to be able to transition (via surgery / hormone therapy), this is extremely hurtful.

4) Don’t use boilerplate rhetoric about sexism against me. If I don’t mistreat you or put you down, please don’t automatically pathologize me as such. I’ve always advocated for women; I’m a staunch feminist. Let’s not inherit stereotypes about masculinity from straight people and naturally assume that I’m a misogynist asshole simply because I present more masculine. Innocent until proven guilty, okay? Then I definitely want you to call me out on it. In fact, please do. The last thing I want is to turn into the kind of person whose masculinity can only be affirmed by putting down other women.

These suggestions have obviously been very personalized to fit my own relationship. My partner identifies as femme, and I’m more masculine presenting; the dynamic between us in public spaces may be slightly different (or even perceived as such) based on gender roles and societal expectations. However, even if this doesn’t apply to you—you’re a straight, cis couple, two butches dating each other, two femmes, multiple partners, etc.—I do think keeping this in mind as a way to be more considerate and caring of gender non-conforming people can’t hurt.

Have you had similar experiences? How did you handle it? What other suggestions/tips would you add for supporting people who don’t conform to society’s dogmatic gender norms when out in public (and other typically gendered) spaces?

Oh, and for the record, my partner and I have been practicing our Latin dancing (I’ve gotten so much better), and we are determined to learn how to dance like this. Who’s with us?

Previously: Gender Roles and First Date, Who Pays?, Introducing a New Series on Love and Afrofeminism!

Image: onlinsalsa via Flickr

Love and Afrofeminism: Gender Roles and First Dates, Who Pays?

This post is part of my guest blog series, Love and Afrofeminism, for BITCH Magazine.

glasses and a check on a restaurant tableThe other day, my girlfriend and I went out to dinner. In case you didn’t know, I’m currently traveling through Southern Africa for six months volunteering my social media training to African women and LGBT organizations. The anticipation of such a long separation had thrown us into a date night binge; we picked a new bar, restaurant, and cheesy romantic comedy nearly every single night ’till I finally left last weekend. On this particular evening, we’d opted for dinner and drinks at one of our favorite restaurants, and had about three margaritas each.

I’m going to pause here—you need a little bit of background.

I’ve been a do-gooder for as long as I can remember, but started doing it full time just a few years ago after the recession (yes, I’m one of the lucky folk who gladly used the recession as an excuse to my parents whenever they asked me how I’d planned to use my MIT degree; save the world instead). Embracing my passion for carving out a career for myself in philanthropy meant some serious lifestyle changes; I had to cut back on impromptu (read: expensive) date nights “just because,” I couldn’t decide to walk into a store and buy my girlfriend some earrings, and at one point, she actually started giving me “lunch money” so I wouldn’t dip into my savings. Even better, at one point, I had no savings and was completely depending on my partner in crisis.

Here’s the thing—I felt humbled and grateful for every minute of that experience, even when it got hard; one time I locked myself in my room and sobbed for hours after learning that she’d skipped out on getting her hair cut—the ONE way she treats herself each month—because she’d been trying to save money. On top of that, at the back of my mind was this nagging truth that my parents had sent me all the way to the US, given me everything they had so we could “make it,” and here I was bootstrapping as an entrepreneur, trying to make it in the lucrative field of philanthropy.

You may wonder, at this point, why I’m telling you all of this.

So many people dream about having the kind of partner I have; the kind of person that will support you through thick and thin because they actually believe in you; the kind of woman who will deny herself the right to look and feel “pretty”—skip out on getting her hair cut, even when the ends are sleeping, and you’re too much of a jackass to notice her non-answers when you tease her about it—just so she can support you. In the (many) moments when I doubted if I was choosing the right path/career for myself, and would talk about getting a “real” job, her assurance and unconditional support gave me so much gratitude; she was my rock, the pillar of our household, and our relationship. So, every single time some “boi” makes a sexist joke about bringing in the bacon for “my woman” or a straight dude presumes to know who “wears the pants” in the relationship, or a waiter assumes I’m the one that’s paying the bill (even after she asks for it), I flip the f**k out.

So back to that night…

It’s not like I’d never noticed any of these things before. Maybe it was the margaritas, but for whatever reason, on this particular date I got really pissed off after the waiter handed me the bill by default. I thought of the numerous occasions the same thing had happened, but when I’d been able to pay the bill (or at least split it); I hadn’t gotten upset. What did that say about me? Had I, too, been casually supporting a sexist default—the ridiculous notion that masculinity should always pay the bills unless otherwise stated? Why was this default bothering me so much now? Because I wasn’t in a financial position to cover the cost of a really expensive rib-eye, a greedy ordering of sides, and three margaritas each?

I walked away from the our date night wondering this: Is the issue of “who pays the bill” a question of gender or a question of class (or expectations around money)? And, are there cultural nuances that influence how we each respond to that question?

For instance, I grew up (in Nigeria) with the understanding that if someone asked you out—for a friendly lunch, a dinner date, a concert, etc.—they were going to pay for it. Thus, when I dated men (and I got asked out), I did expect them to pay for it. And, when I started dating women (and got over my awkwardness to actually do some asking), I imagined I would pay for it. However, I’ve often been that my expectations around dating (and who gets the bill) are antifeminist. Apparently, a good feminist never upholds patriarchy by expecting her meal will be paid for. But, would a good feminist not also concede that it’s not only respectful, but considerate of the fact that a friendly ask is still an unplanned line item in someone else’s budget?

What if the issue of paying the bills isn’t an issue of gender at all? Certainly, societal expectations and messages around who’s supposed to be doing the courting, providing, and spending are hinged on gender (with masculinity as the provider, and femininity existing mainly to validate that role), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our approach to discussing or dismantling this notion must take on a similar shade. Ultimately, for me, the question about who “pays the bills” shouldn’t be answered from any framework that’s intended to uphold or subvert patriarchy, but from one that upholds empathy and consideration above all else. I would hope that my (femme) partner would pay the bills not just to subvert gender roles, but because she cares about me.

For me, the issue of dating, of who pays the bills or gets the check, shouldn’t continually be discussed as an issue of masculinity vs. femininity, but about who is able to provide and who isn’t; our relationships shouldn’t (just) be about negotiating dominance and submission, but about care and compromise.

But that’s just me. I was curious about what other feminists thought about this—transposing the conversation about dating from the framework of gender oppression to one of love. So, I posed the question to my Twitter followers via an impromptu #afrofemlove discussion, and got quite a variety of responses.

Well, what do you think? Is the matter of who “pays the bill” or “gets the check” an issue of gender roles or of care and consideration? How can we be more loving—more conscious of the patriarchal systems in which we live—while also not abandoning our empathy for the sake of their subversion?

Previously: Introducing a New Series on Love and Afrofeminism!

Image: sdeborja

Lessons Learned from a Straight African Woman: Homophobia is UnChristian

Dear Readers,

A few weeks ago, I shared a short photo essay about my best friend, ChiChi. We’d been estranged for four years due to my sexuality and her Christian faith, but then recently reunited to find our friendship changed for the better.

Not only has it been as if we’d never been apart, but she’s now also one of my biggest cheerleaders; she donated over a thousand dollars to support my Africans for Africa project (via which I’m traveling through Southern Africa for 6 months, training African women’s and LGBT organizations in social media, communications, and storytelling).

When I published the piece, ChiChi was very moved, and told me that the only way she felt she could adequately respond was to write something for my blog. Hence, I’m so delighted to share her post with all of you.

All too often, ally voices are regarded with a deep (yet justified) suspicion; either allies are great, or not so great, advocates or saviorists. Due to our fear of being overshadowed, silenced, or having our narratives sidelined by society’s dominant voices, we rarely affirm their own stories. But there are certainly occasions in which we should.

In my experience, stories like “Confessions of a Straight Girl: What It Means to Be an Ally” (written by my Sister) or “My Straight African Brother’s Reflections on a Very Queer Christmas: Two Couples and a Sibling” resonate just as deeply with LGBT people of color who hope to someday experience love and acceptance from their families. I still receive emails from people who have been touched by how much I’ve shared about the ups and downs I’ve experienced with the allies in my life. Yet, we distance ourselves from their narratives, call them “allies” all the time — just to make sure they know their place. But these “allies”, sometimes, are simply the people we love, and hope to be loved by.

Given the ongoing battle between religion and sexuality, what ChiChi has shared below re: her faith, journey to deeper connection with God, her Love of me, and even her own exploration of her sexuality — not in spite of, but because of her faith — is nothing short of brave. This offering of Love from the place of a traditional practice of Christianity is most appreciated given how much oppression of LGBT exists in the name of religion.

I am very proud to share ChiChi’s words here, and encourage all of you — as we often preach — to affirm her own experiences with the Love and respect we expect in our lives. In any case, I hope her words encourage you, heal you, and give you hope that the loved ones you may have shunned you on the basis of religion will eventually come around.

Warmly,
Spectra

 

—————–

“Anyone Who Loves God Must Also Love Others”

When Spectra published “Keeping the Faith: Religion, Sexuality, and My Best Friend’s Pool Party” her piece about me, our friendship, the pain of 4 years apart, and the beauty and joy in our reconciliation, I was humbled and moved by how many people were touched by our story. The response to it reminded me of the power of stories to inspire, to unite, and to encourage. So I decided to write a response piece to affirm her words, and to tackle the loaded combination of religion and sexuality as I’ve experienced them.

For nearly four years, Spectra and I sought our identities in divergent paths—she as a queer activist, and I in exploring depth in my spiritual Christian faith. Because our paths seemed irreconcilable, I never anticipated that valuable lessons learned during my quest for a deeper relationship with God would bring me full circle back into relationship with my friend. But they did, and I’d like to share a few of the lessons I learned with all of you:

1) In my attempt to practice sexual abstinence, I have come to the conclusion that SEXUALITY is OVER-POLICED in Christian communities.

OK let me back up on this one—

In the 20 years that I have been Christian, the constant rhetoric in the Christian community has been that the sex life of a single, Christian woman should be, well, NON-EXISTENT. Therefore, as I grew in my knowledge and faith in God, I decided that I was not going to cut corners on the sexuality issue. I would practice sexual abstinence. Yes, I would remain abstinent until my wedding bed where with multiple orgasms, my husband will make the wait well worth it, and from thence we will live together in a one-partner, heterosexual marriage till death do us part.

But while this paradigm worked for me, was this the “correct” sexuality for everyone? Is there such a thing as “correct” Christian sexuality? What about those people for whom there is no biblical precedent, e.g. intersex individuals? What does a “heterosexual” marriage look like for them?

If abstinence is always the way to go, why is there an epidemic within the Catholic church of repressed priests unleashing on little boys and girls? Why is masturbation discouraged? Why does the Pope get to have an opinion on how a man and his wife should stem the number of children they would have? And, hmmm… why am I, suddenly, physically unable to insert this tampon???

Yup. In my abstinence practice, I unwittingly programmed the muscles around my vagina to SLAM SHUT when anything approached. And because the contraction was involuntary, gynecological examinations and tampon insertions had suddenly become terribly difficult. Even when I wanted to “open sesame”, it’s was like my vagina never received the override memo. (This is a sexual condition. It’s called vaginismus. If you’ve never heard of it, read about it here.)

Luckily, I don’t have this issue anymore. A couple investments in books and toys, and I was able to RETRAIN my vagina to function correctly. But more importantly, I learned that any sexual practice that undermines YOUR PERSONAL spiritual, mental, emotional, AND/OR physical health cannot be “correct” for you.

2) At the Core of My Faith is LOVE

The more I learned about God, the more I learned to open my heart, to be vulnerable, to be humble, to admit when I have been wrong, to ask for forgiveness, and to LOVE. Why? GOD IS LOVE. From the bible:

(1st book of John, Chapter 4, verses 7-9)–
7- Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8- Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE. 9- This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

3) Homophobia is UNChristian. (phobia = fear, hate)

Again, the Bible says this is so:

(1st book of John, Chapter 4, verses 18-21)–
18- There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19- We love because he first loved us. 20- Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a Liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21- And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

4) People are PEOPLE, not ISSUES.

When Spectra first came out to me, in an attempt to avoid coming to terms with her new identity, I instantly compartmentalized her being out as “her politics” and “her sexuality” which I placed as separate entities from the Spectra that was my college bestie, my sister. When she realized this, we had the falling out. As painful as the period apart was, it was important that it happened so that I could learn to wrestle with the issues that made me uncomfortable instead of simply sweeping it under its compartment. It was important that I learned to love her COMPLETELY in the way that she deserves to be.

So there you have it: four lessons learned from four years deepening my relationship with God and re-commitment to practicing the core principles of my faith. I hope it offers some guidance to Christians who are still struggling to reconcile their spirituality with the LGBT community. Choose Love. It always wins.

Spectra, I love you.  I am proud that your search for yourself culminated in the unearthing of the earth-changing, ass-kicking, turn-the-universe-up-on-its-head, Nigerian, Igbo, queer, activist tour-de-force that you are. And I pray that as you travel to spread your love, knowledge, and solidarity at home in Africa, God will guide your path, and reveal to you all his plans for you. AMEN.

Keeping the Faith: Religion, Sexuality, and My Best Friend’s Pool Party

A faithful friend is a strong defence: and he that hath found him, hath found a treasure. — Ecclesiasticus 6:14

My best friend from college; she’s the woman who taught me how to laugh, how to REALLY laugh… and then, when I came out, we stopped laughing together. We lost each other’s smiles for nearly four years as we both searched for self in different directions; I as an out queer activist, she as a deeply spitual Christian.

It was painful. But Love, wherever it touches, always wins.

My best friend found me again after reading a guest post written by my sister about being an ally; she left three heartfelt comments back to back; I’m sorry, I miss you, I still love you. I was so happy to have my friend back. It was as though no time had passed at all. We were back to laughing, so hard, at everything. And, like my siblings, our friendship proved that relationships are far more powerful than rhetoric when it comes to tolerance; Love always wins.

She recently threw a fundraiser for me in Texas for my #africansforafrica project. Four missed flights and connections, and a desperate additional one-way ticket to TX later just to make the party, it rained, and still we laughed. When the sun came out right when we had set up the DJ indoors, we laughed some more. And when we tallied the donations raised against the cost of planning the party, we laughed then, too.

Amidst all that laughter, I cherished you, and wouldn’t have asked for anything more; I was with my friend, laughing once more before setting off on my way, filled with Love.

So when I received notification of the donation she’d made, I lost all composure. $1000. For me, to go with to Africa where I hoped to heal women like me who’d lost their friends, lost their laughter, and needed to rediscover Love. “Chi Chi, why?” I cried. “‘Cause you’re my friend and I love you and I’m so proud of you.”

There was no laughter then, but for a good reason this time. That crazy woman in the pool. That smile of hers… let it assure you, your friends will come back to you, too. How I love her so.

Join our army of love.

Our Voices, Our Stories: Training African Women’s & LGBT Organizations to Use Social Media is Critical

“Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.” — African Proverb

Despite the richness, diversity, and complexities that shape the landscape that is my homeland, Africa is often depicted as one big safari (or war zone). Why is that? Because Africa’s stories are rarely told by Africans themselves.

This is no different for the African LGBT movement. For every western media news story I hear about LGBT Africans being murdered, raped, living in fear etc., there is an untold story of resistance, progress, and change. As a queer Nigerian writer, I have made it my responsibility to cover that change, to document our history as told by us — not through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists, and to amplify the voices of my brothers and sisters who are leading the way.

For instance, on a recent trip to South Africa, I met an African transgender man who told me that he’d gotten most of his hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries covered by the government. In MA, where I’ve been living for the past ten years, we only just recently passed a workplace anti-discrimination law that includes gender identity. Many of my friends still have to work several jobs at  a time, throw fundraisers, and run online fundraising campaigns to pay for their gender reassignment surgery. But before I could congratulate him on such a feat, he dismissed the achievement almost entirely. “They can do better. I’m going to make the government pay for all the surgeries. What nonsense.”

Given all the negative news we hear about gay Africans (as well as either the apathy or aggressive criminalization by African governments), who would ever have suspected that a black, transgender South African would not only have gotten gender reconstructive surgeries covered by the government, but that he would be so bold as to demand for more,  i.e. full coverage for anyone transitioning, when countries like the US are still debating the recognition of gender identity in basic healthcare policy?

I immediately began to interrogate him about his experience advocating for trans-inclusive healthcare, and LGBT activism in general. Soon, we discovered a way we’d already been connected; I’d recently written about his organization in a recent article (“Will Transgender and Intersex Activism Unite Africa’s Movements?“) for Gender Across Borders. Small world. But he’d had no idea. So, before we parted ways, we exchanged emails, and he gave me a T-Shirt with his organization’s name and logo on it. I was so happy to have met a fellow gender non-conforming African, and resolved to keep in touch, and follow his work more closely.

But here’s the thing: after I got back to the states, I searched for his organization online and all I found was a website with no content. Not even a contact link. His umbrella organization had an active Facebook page, but the major new initiative he’d shared with me, along with some of the programs and work he’d talked about, weren’t mentiond in their updates. Basically, my new friend — and all his passionate trans advocacy — was invisible.

Two weeks ago I heard about the brutal murder of an LGBT South African, Thapelo Makutle, described by western and African news and media outlets as gay. Thapelo had recently competed (and won) a beauty queen pageant, was seemingly self-described as trans, but I had no idea which pronouns they went by; almost all the news stories I came across had been written by people outside of the  community most familiar with Thapelo’s work. I wondered if my friend had known Thapelo personally. I wondered what he would have written about the crime, and what steps he would have suggested to happen next in order to honor and continue to build on the work of a fellow transgender activist.

As the story spread far and wide, framed as an anti-gay issue in Africa, Thapelo’s trans identity taking a back seat — I began to feel frustrated. Now, news of the crime was being picked up by western media sites, who barely cared to include any details beyond the murder method and a reiteration that South Africa was unsafe. Where were the other less-sensationalized truths? What were they? Who could we trust, then and now, to deliver them to us? And, how will these voices be able to reach us in crucial times such as these?

These are all questions I’m hoping my new project — Social Media & Communications Training for African Women’s & LGBT Organizations — will address. For the next 6 months, I’ll be traveling through 6-8 countries (including South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, and more), hosting workshops on social media, writing and storytelling, branding and communications, blogging, tweeting, and more.

My goal is to support my brothers and sisters in leading the conversation about the LGBT African movement and the impact of their work, so that it isn’t reduced to a series of atrocities and vigils due to the west’s tendency to “re-tell” reductive stories about Africa (and the Diaspora in general). 

However, I must reiterate, that in addition to lending my hand to the fight for liberation at home, I am eager — and excited! — for the opportunity to learn from activists who have been creating change with little to no resources.

As the founder and lead-organizer of a nationally-recognized grassroots organization, and executive editor of a media advocacy and publishing organization, both of which serve queer people of color, including the Diaspora, I’ve had to learn to be resourceful in a variety of ways; but I’ve done all this from a very safe distance away from draconian anti-gay laws that threaten imprisonment and death (at least most of the time). I can’t imagine the hardships queer African activists face under such a climate. Yet, in spite of this, they persist, they survive, and often, against all odds, they thrive.

I will never forget how much the passion and conviction of my friend inspired me that day; it still encourages me to have courage, push through the fear, whenever I begin to doubt myself. I need this trip just as much as my brothers and sisters need my — and all of our — support for healing, for hope, and for affirmation.

So, goodbye to the overly simplistic, dehumanizing narratives western dogma continues to perpetuate about African; and hello to authenticity, autonomy, and self-determination. Instead of constantly being disappointed by reductive narratives about LGBT Africans (in the rare occasion they’re presented at all), I’m focusing instead on arming my community with tools and strategies to amplify of our voices. As far as telling our story of the LGBT African movement? I think we can take it from here.

David Kato. Thapelo Makutle.  And too many whose names we will never know. This trip is my homage to you. 

 

Support Africa Social Media Project

I’m aiming to raise more than $7500 by July 31st. I’m embarking on this trip completley on my own, and relying on individual donations; no sponsorships, no grants, just me. So, please consider donating if and as much as you can. I’ll be gone for 6 months, and am hoping to not become another “starving child in Africa”!

Suggestion: A good way to calculate a donation would be to think about what you’d be comfortable giving me as a one-time contribution, then multiply that by six.

All details about my project are available at http://www.indiegogo.com/africansforafrica

You can follow my journey @spectraspeaks and hashtag #africansforafrica on Twitter, or my Tumblr blog http://africansforafrica.tumblr.com/.

Alternatively, you can setup a recurring donation via paypal by selecting from one of the options below:


Africans for Africa Project
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