Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology (of which our very own founder, Spectra, is an editor) seeks poets, writers and photographers within Africa and the Diaspora to share their stories.
Walking the Tight Rope: An African LGBTI Anthology
Call for Submissions in Prose and Photography
Thanks to the high interest in the new African LGBTI Anthology and the engaging poems we received in our original call for submissions in poetry, we’ve decided to expand the focus of the anthology to include prose – more specifically short fiction and short (creative) lyric essays – and some photography.
As before, we encourage writers who identify as gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, or transgender, living in Africa and first or second generation Africans living in the Diaspora (i.e. if you are African or one of your parents is African) to send their best work for consideration. Works will be chosen solely on merit.
We prefer works that are unpublished. All prose should be no more than 600 words (exceptions can be made in rare circumstances) and in English or English translations. All submissions in photography should be in either JPG or TIFF format.
We encourage writers to submit photography and prose addressing the following themes:
4) (Re)Definition. Works addressing other themes will also be considered.
Since we have a good representation of Nigerian and South African writers, we especially encourage writers from other parts of Africa to submit their work. Also, we urge the use of pseudonyms where writers feel threatened.
Here’s some fantastic news from one of my favorite African women musicians: queer Namibian songwriter Shishani, has launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund her debut album!
Diaspora Art and “AfroSoul”
I rarely post about media that isn’t in the form of a review, but after seeing her perform live in Namibia last year, and hearing some of the tracks that’ll be included on the LP, I strongly recommend you give her music a listen.
Earlier on this year, I interviewed Shishani about her experience growing up away from her home country, Namibia, finding inspiration within its thriving art and music scene upon her return, and contributing to the movement to end racism, homophobia, and all forms of discrimination through her music.
In her popular single, “Minority”, Shishani calls for the world to embrace differences by acknowledging that each of us, in some way, is a minority. The video of the song earned a Namibian Music Awards nomination earlier on this year, and Shishani hopes to use the momentum to successfully fund her debut album.
Here’s a short note form Shishani:
“An African proverb goes, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” – I need your help to raise this one of mine.
I’m an independent artist and activist. In 2011, I started my solo career in Namibia – travelling back and forth to the Netherlands (where I’ve been based) and studying Cultural Anthropology & Musicology in between. After winning the Last Band Standing competition in 2012 (a Live Band version of “Idols” in Namibia), I started working on my debut album. I’ve been working on my album for the past 2 years. And it’s been a journey ever since. Now, all the stars have aligned – it is time.
My song, “Minority,” got nominated for “Best Single Non Album” at the 2012 Namibian Annual Music Awards. And recently the “Minority (Jazz Remix)” was nominated for Best Music Video at the 2013 Namibian Annual Music Awards. This song advocates for Human Rights, Equal Rights, Right to Love throughout our societies. Through social media this song has been able to spread, and I hope to reach even more through the release of my album.”
Shishani’s Indiegogo campaign goes till June 15th, so supporters of indie musicians have about a month to contribute.
The perqs include the usual: digital and hard copies of the album, T-shirts, other signed merchandise, and private performances. Undoubtedly, even newbies to Shishani’s music will need no convincing; her songs are, at once, catchy, sensitive, and inspirational. If Bob Marley, Nneka, and Tracy Chapman could birth a child together, she would be it. If you have any doubts, listen to the music that soundtracks her campaign video: pure talent, pure heart. The debut album will feature Shisani’s most popular singles, including “Minority” and “Raining Words”.
Support LGBT African Artists and Media Makers
If music isn’t your thing, and you stand more for movement, take pride in knowing you’ll be supporting an LGBT African icon in the making. Shishani is not the first queer Namibian or African artist to produce music or rise to stardom; there are other LGBTI African artists who have for obvious reasons have stayed mum on the subject of the persecution of gays on the African continent.
As an outspoken member of the Namibian diaspora, Shishani graciously acknowledges that she stands on the shoulders of musical and revolutionary icons who weren’t afforded the same privileges she has, yet paved the way for her as an artist whose work is political. Still, it would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that her outspokenness is a risk to her career and thus, she is deserving of our respect and support as advocates for justice and freedom for everyone, everywhere.
Watch the Campaign Video
I’ll be getting my copy of her debut album, and I encourage you to do the same here. Note: Shishani plans to have completed production of the album by July 2013. For more information, check out her video campaign below, and visit her IndieGoGo campaign page.
Male and Married: The Gay Zulu Wedding and the Danger of a Single LGBT African Story
In case you missed it, a few weeks ago, two gay black South African men tied the knot at their 200-guest traditional wedding in KwaDukuza, the first of its kind in the old Zulu capital.
Love birds Tshepo Modisane and Thoba Sithole, both proudly Zulu and Tswana, have made their union a part of South Africa’s history by deciding to go public with their gay African traditional wedding ceremony, with a few twists:
In place of the customary lobolo (bride price or dowry), via which the husband customarily offer’s the wife’s family money and/or gifts, they’ve decided to opt for gender parity and, instead, offer gifts to each of their families in thanks for raising them. They also plan to use the hyphenated version of both their last names, Sithole-Modisane, and are planning to start a family soon using a surrogate (though this report says they’ll be adopting.)
In the video report (below), the couple shares, “It’s against this idea that being gay is unAfrican… Being gay is as African as being black. We are a part of our culture. Thoba is Zulu and I’m Tswana. We’re rooted in our culture and very excited about it.”
On paper, South Africa boasts the friendliest constitution, which protects its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) citizens from discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Yet, the country’s struggle to shift cultural attitudes towards acceptance for this marginalized group of people, especially in rural areas and townships, remains.
According to this Human Rights Watch report, “Black lesbians and transgender men in South African townships and rural areas face an overwhelming climate of discrimination and violence despite protections promised them in the country’s constitution.” It’s no wonder, then, that the mere optics of the “first gay traditional African wedding,” warrant its celebration as a historical milestone for gay Africans everywhere.
Denis Nzioka, founder and editor of Identity Kenya, a news organization covering sexual and gender minorities in Kenya, remarked in an interview, “The gay Zulu wedding was epic, if not pioneering. Having seen the video and photos and customs I was amazed at how the two mixed their love and celebrated it in an ‘African’ way.” And in response to what’s become a slogan amongst anti-gay African leaders, “Homophobia is unAfrican,” Nzioka insists that “the fact that two African men can fall in love and wed, despite a homophobic society that frowns on same-sex relationships counters what many Africans [have been] saying’.”
The Danger of a Single LGBT African (Male, Middle-Class, and Marriage-Focused) Story
Chimamanda Adichie, a celebrated Nigerian writer said in her famous TEDTalk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes, is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.”
For instance, the video report states that the two gay black men are based in the metropolitan city of Johannesburg and are working professionals in the fields of financial services and IT. That’s not to imply they’ve been in any way exempt from experiencing the debilitating impact of societal discrimination–far from it; the effects of homophobia (compounded with racism, as the couple is black) on the livelihood of people presumed to be LGBTI can result in workplace discrimination, prejudice in health care, not to mention depression, anxiety, even suicide.
Still, there’s a huge difference between the experience of being a “regular looking” cisgender male employee, at a “Big Four” financial consulting firm, in a fairly liberal city that boasts the largest gay pride in the country, versus the harsh reality of a trying to make ends meet in a poor township, while also fearing rape for being a lesbian, or murder for being an effeminate gay man.
“When you have money, it’s quite easy to set yourself free from discrimination and danger,” Junior says. “Many of the white gay and lesbian people here can afford to reside in a safe and progressive area, but the majority of us live in townships. In openly embracing your sexuality there, you run the risk of getting abused, raped or murdered.” Junior’s statement emphasizes that gay and lesbian equality in South Africa is strongly mediated by race and class, and that sexual freedom is often available to those who have the racial and literal capital to afford them.
In light of the struggles of LGBTI Africans, the desire to celebrate any kind of progress – especially when it comes in the form of a gleeful Zulu wedding – is understandable; the vibrant ceremony presented a sharp contrast to the media’s grim and, at times, gruesome depiction of violent homophobia on the African continent. However, it is dangerous to assign wide-sweeping gains to all LGBTI Africansbased on the perceived victory of a few.
What of gay Africans who view marriage as the least of their problems – young people, for instance, who have been disowned by their families and, above all, seek a stable alternative to homelessness? What about transgender women who experience rejection (and violence) from both gay and straight communities alike? And lesbians–forced to live in fear of so-called “corrective rape”–will marriage mean social acceptance for them, too?
If we’ve learned anything from criticism of the same sex marriage equality movement in the U.S., it’s that too much emphasis on marriage as a pathway to acceptance could only end up benefiting a small segment of the LGBTI community (e.g. gay men, or members of the middle class–while the groups most at-risk e.g. women, youth, transgender people, etc.–are likely to go unheard, and even unfunded.
A Nigerian lesbian activist (who prefers to remain anonymous) remarked on the unwillingness of many global human rights funders to support ‘less popular’ LGBTI programs:
“If you’re not doing HIV/AIDS work, forget it. Funders are mainly interested in gay men because of that. With women, we are not seen as much as being affected by these issues. And there is no research on Nigerian gay women to suggest otherwise, so we are at a disadvantage. Our organization provides a safe haven for lesbians and bisexual women to be out, be themselves, meet other women. We organize social events, movie nights, you name it. I know it is saving lives. But the funders don’t seem to feel that way because we are not in the news.”
LGBTI African Activists Propose a Multi-Country, Multi-Issue Approach to Advocacy
Florence Xhaxas, founder and director of the gender justice organization, Young Feminist Movement, Namibia, warns against zero-ing in on the struggles – and progress – of a single African country at the expense of others:
“As much as I feel [the wedding video] is great for South Africans, the feeling isn’t shared by all LGBT people across the continent. The truth is that [South Africans] have mastered the art of amplifying their voices and documenting cases.”
Says Xhaxas, “How can we improve documentation [in other countries]? How can we make sure that media hype is created for all the struggles we go through? And hold other states in the lime light of the global community’s responsibility to protect all citizens?”
Given the impact a single video has had on recent conversations about homosexuality in Africa, among Africans at that, it goes without saying that proponents of LGBTI equality on the African continent, should more intentionally support LGBTI African media advocacy organizations and initiatives – the writers, journalists, digital media producers, and artists that risk backlash for daring to critique the world as it is, while imagining and inspiring the future as it could be.
Jabu Pereira, founder and executive of director of Iranti, a media advocacy organization based in South Africa emphasizes the importance (and threat) of LGBTI Africans using media to influence change:
“We must end the ongoing ignorance of states who continue to encourage systemic violence, we simply can’t afford this. We must not stop documenting the human rights violations we experience as LGBTI persons in Africa.. even when we are threatened…”
When I woke up to International Women’s Day celebrations, the first thing on my mind wasn’t politics, but the personal connections I didn’t know I would forfeit the minute I stopped wearing skirts, traded in my long hair for a frohawk, and fell in love with a woman.
I used to have a very close-knit circle of female friends; we defended each other from perverts at crowded bars, cried on each other’s shoulders, told each other we were beautiful whenever the world made us doubt that we were, and gave each other relationship advice, regardless of the gender of the person we loved.
We were sisters. It didn’t matter if we were tomboys or not. We were sisters. It didn’t matter that some of us wore skirts, and some of us wore shorts. We were sisters. That was all that mattered. Right?
Wrong. The second my gender presentation transitioned from straight girl femininity to queer masculine “inbetweener,” I lost most of my sisters. I’m a different kind of woman now. And all of a sudden women I used to call my sisters don’t know how to interact with me. I’m still a woman, but the reactions to my expression of womanhood have changed, drastically.
This is the kind of experience that informs my work as a media activist. I’m always thinking about which perspectives are missing from political conversations and representations in pop culture: who is being excluded? why? how can our political movements become more self-reflective so that we can identify who among us is being left behind, and become stronger advocates for the kind of progress that includes them. Incidentally, in the fight for women’s equality, the people most frequently excluded from consideration and celebration, often enough look just like me.
Even within the open-minded, women’s activist spaces in which I find myself for work, I still have to endure not just the endless hours about boyfriend/husband talk (as though women can’t bond around any other topic), but also–after I attempt to contribute–the prolonged, awkward silences that follow once they realize my partner is a woman.
My straight girlfriends–bless their hearts–enjoy inviting me to their favorite (straight) nightclubs so they can maintain their perception of my being “normal”, but have no clue how uncomfortable it is to be a tomboy in a venue with a dress code policy that insists, “Ladies wear heels, Fellas button-downs and hard soles.” So, they’ll usually abandon me on the dancefloor to go to the ladies room for a “touch up”, or worse, disappear into the post-nightclub meat market, leaving me exposed on a street curb as a prime target for drunk dudes to take out insecurities about their masculinity: “Was that your girlfriend? What, you think you’re a dude? You like pussy? I like it,too. I got a dick though.”
Yup, that happened. I broke up with a friend over such an incident (and more since then).
I can’t tell you how many times my masculinity has been used to absolve other women (and men) of the responsibility of advocating for me; whether in the face of harassers on street corners, the gender-ed aisles of mainstream clothing stores, or even within the women’s movement itself, it’s as though people automatically assume I’m “stronger”, physically, mentally, and emotionally, just because I shop in the men’s department.
“Don’t worry about her. She can take care of herself.”
But I have never experienced physical aggression from the world to the degree that I do now. From constantly dodging men who take it upon themselves to “put me in my place” to being ignored by women who’ve subconsciously decided that I’ve chosen “the other side,” I’ve never felt less safe and more in need of protecting.
Hence, in light of international women’s day, I can’t help but note how often my masculinity is the unspoken reason I’m excluded from women’s spaces, and denied access to the very same sisterhood that nurtured my unwavering dedication to every woman’s empowerment.
I’ll end with an excerpt from my contribution to Ms. Afropolitan’s Women’s Day post: a roundup of comments from African women responding to the question, “What Does Women’s Day Mean to You?”
When I remember how my mother celebrated International Women’s Day–as part of a community of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of African women, dressed in bright colors, often laughing and dancing, holding hands–I think about how many African lesbians have been evicted from their sister circles, how many transgender women have never experienced unguarded female friendship. Women’s Day inspires me to keep writing my story so that my African sisters can get to know me, and to keep advocating for queer Africans like me who are still fighting–not just for women’s “rights” but for women’s community, sisterhood, Love.
Women’s Day should be a reminder to all of us to keep advocating for every woman’s right to love and be loved, even long after we’ve found sisterhood for ourselves.
Have you experienced being excluded from women’s spaces due to not fitting in to a heterosexist idea of womanhood? If you’re someone who believes in the importance of women’s spaces and sisterhood, how do you make sure to enact that ideology in your personal life? I believe masculinity is suffering from an estranged relationship with womanhood. What do you think?
“You’ve got rules telling me what to do But is there anybody checkin’ up on you?”
Award-winning acoustic soul artist, Shishani, has just released the music video for her latest single titled, “Minority”, a catchy, upbeat, acoustic track that calls for freedom and equality for all people despite perceived differences.
Shishani got her big break when she performed at the 2011 Namibian Annual Music Awards in the capital city of Windhoek, where it’s still illegal to be gay. And though, she says, she’s made no real attempts to hide her sexuality, she hasn’t come out as an “out lesbian artist” till now.
“I wanted people to get to know my music,” she says, “Sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s like pasta — asking if you prefer spaghetti or macaroni. It just doesn’t matter… I’m an artist first, before being a gay artist.”
Born to a Namibian mother and a Belgian father, Shishani spent her early childhood in Windhoek, before her family relocated. Due to her mixed race ancestry, the curly-haired songstress is no stranger to discrimination, but is candid about enjoying a relatively liberal upbringing in the Netherlands, known for its liberal social policies, including legal protections of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people.
“Being raised abroad gives you a certain freedom… It took some time before my parents were okay talking about stuff, but eventually we did. I was even able to live with my partner of four years… But living in Namibia, it became so clear to me how much more people are discriminated against–and for a variety of different reasons, like their ethnicity and sexuality.”
Homosexuality is illegal in a number of countries in Africa, and Namibia is no exception. Even though Namibia has been independent for over 20 years, and its constitution views all people equal under the rights of the law, punitive colonial laws against sodomy (though not enforced) have remained. Thus, LGBTI people risk harassment and violence due to a strong culture of stigma in part reignited by religious leaders and government officials.
In 2001, past President Najoma’s called for “anyone caught practicing homosexuality to be arrested, jailed, and deported”. And, just over a year ago, Namibia’s first gay pageant winner, Mr. Gay Namibia, was beaten and robbed shortly after securing his title.
But Shishani, who upon her return in 2011, found a safe haven in Windhoek’s art performance communities, is optimistic that the current climate for gays will improve. She recently became an honorary member of the board of Out Right Namibia (ORN), a human rights advocacy organization that aims to address widespread homophobia in the country, and is eager to continue evolving as an artist, while using her platform as a musician to advocate for freedom and equality.
Since her breakout two years ago, Shishani has released indie tracks such as “Raining Words”, an acoustic ballad about a new relationship, “Clean Country”, a soulful, melodious call to action to raise awareness about climate change, and–inspired by Alicia Keys’ chart-topping tribute to New York–“Windhoek”, a song that celebrates the beauty of her hometown.
As a student of cultural anthropology and self-identified activist, it’s no surprise that her music has been described as a fusion of sounds from such socio-political music icons as Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, and Nneka. “Minority” is the first single through which seeks to address the issue of same-sex love.
Alluding to the potential controversy of her new single, Shishani says, “Two years ago, I was really just trying to get my face out there…. When I returned to Namibia, I started booking my own gigs, performing solo, writing new songs. When I was invited to perform at the Namibian Music Awards, I was afraid to perform “Minority” because people didn’t know who I was yet. But to make a statement, you have to be strong.”
As an African musician who identifies as being a part of the LGBTI community, the lyrics of “Minority” no doubt challenge the infamous meme “Homosexuality is unAfrican.” But, Shishan insists, her song is about much more than being gay.
“In Namibia, it also makes a difference what ethnicity you are. “Minority” argues for equal rights for all people regardless of their cultural backgrounds, economic status, sexuality, religion,” she says, “There is so much systemic discrimination against people, for so many reasons.”
The release of “Minority” is timely; January is the month in which outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist, David Kato was bludgeoned to death in an anti-gay attack three years ago, sparking an outcry from fellow African human rights activists. January is also the month in which people in the U.S.–perhaps even all over the world–celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a powerful civil rights leader and icon. His call for freedom and equality of all people has been taken up by activists all over the world, including Shishani, whose lyrics echo his principles of love and unity.
“Homophobia all over the world comes from the same place; colonialism, apartheid, racial segregation. All our struggles are connected.”
When asked about being a visible lesbian African artist, especially in light of the hardships experienced by LGBTI people in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, she says:
“My music is becoming more popular in Namibia. I’ve been working hard and trying to make my mark, so I feel stronger, now. I may lose some fans, but it’s okay. So many others have it way worse than me. So many others activists are risking much more. It is an honor to be viewed as a role model. So, if I can contribute to the movement through my music, I’m happy to, and I will.”
Check out the video of Shishani’s new single, “Minority” below. To learn more about Shishani, visit her website at http://www.shishani.nl.