Browse Category: The Political, Personalized

Year in Review: Top 5 Posts from Last Year

Today, on the 6th day of September, I am celebrating my 30th birthday! *include claps and applause here, please*

This past year has, per usual, been filled with growth, uncomfortable and welcomed. I learned, for instance, to harness the power of vulnerability, that people relate to the journey more deeply than they do the lessons learned, that practicing self-care literally makes you a stronger leader, and that this strength is much needed because —  in the words of one of my artist friends — “haters love to comment.” For real, I had to learn that lesson this year and not take things personally.

But what I’m most happy about on my 30th birthday is that I’ve learned to love myself, deeply, through both praise and perdition. After 30 years, I realize that self-love is the most important kind of love everyone needs, and I am no different. 

My writing and creativity are deeply connected to my spirituality. Hence, as I prepare for my upcoming year — yes, my new year begins on my birthday — it is part of my process to look back and reflect on the past 12 months via all my writing and every single bit of media I have created. (Sidenote: I’ve written something nearly every single day since last September, so I’ve been reading and reflecting for the past several days!) 

I can’t describe how powerful and affirming the experience of looking through pages and pages of words has been; from stream of consciousness prose to pensive morning reflections, from photo-poetry to snippets and chapters from upcoming book projects, I really am blown away by how far I’ve walked, mentally and spiritually. This blog alone is a testament to how much stronger and more confident my ‘voice’ has become and I feel so lucky to have gotten the support and engagement of my readership that I have.

So, for my birthday today, I ask that you indulge me, and share at least one post that truly resonate(d) with you from the list below.

If you are relatively new to my blog, welcome! I encourage you to pick one or two (or go for it — read all five) posts to get to know me a little better. I plan to update this blog a lot more frequently this Fall now that my summer staycation is over, so there’ll be more to come.

If you have been following this blog and/or my work for a while, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support, for affirming my need to speak, and for listening and engaging me on some very important, and often times, divisive issues, especially when we don’t agree. I hope these Top 5 Posts from Last Virgo Year serve as a reminder of the power of using online media to raise our own voices in order to change the world, one conversation at a time.

So here’s my Year in Review, My Top 5 Posts from Last Year: 

+ Preventing LGBT Youth Suicides: A Case for Diversity — As new students (as well as returning) begin their fall seasons, it is worth reminding school officials, policy makers, and activists everywhere, that it’s going to take more than single-issue politics to create safer spaces for young people of color. This piece, published in Color Magazine, contains a personal account of my experience with bullying and depression as a young immigrant LGBT student.


+ In Memory of David Kato: We Will NOT Abandon Hope for Fear — When David Kato, a prominent African LGBT activist was murdered in his home earlier this year, my world stopped spinning. The only way I could push through the sadness I felt was by writing. The popularity of this post and the support I received for it was a reminder that even one person, one blog, one moment, can have a profound impact on people’s lives.


+ The Birth of Kitchen Table Converations Podcast: LGBT Africans Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media — The post contains a link to my very first podcast in the Kitchen Table Conversation series, and includes the voices of four really inspiring LGBT Africans. The podcast itself has been downloaded ~250 times by people in the US, Europe, and Africa, many of who have reported that it’s sparked dialogue and action in their own local communities. I am so very proud of how it turned out, and will forever be grateful to the panelists (who I know call friends) for that life-changing conversation.

+ We Will Not be Unwritten: Preserving Queer Women of Color History — As someone who writes about media and the importance of documenting our own histories often, I couldn’t have asked for a better teaching moment. Bay Windows, New England’s Largest LGBT Newspaper, posted a factually incorrect article that erased the contributions of local black lesbian activists (myself included) re: an annual women’s health fair. Needless to say, I wasn’t having it.


+ A Creative Piece about Gender Roles That Caused So Much Controversy: Hunting Boi — I rarely post creative pieces on this blog. So when I was asked to contribute something to Bklyn Boihood’s site, a collective which calls for conscious masculinity through socials, dialogue, blogging, and other projects, I was thrilled, and jumped at the opportunity. What ensued was the most controversial comment thread my work has ever incited. To borrow from Erykah Badu, I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit, but the positive and negative feedback reminded me that art has the power to spark really important conversations across divisive lines (i.e. race, class, gender presentation etc), which the typical blog or “critical” essay would alienate. For the richness of conversations that followed, I am so grateful for the experience of sharing this piece and look forward to sharing more creative pieces with you all this upcoming year.

Again, to you all, thank you for your continued support of my work and my writing! There are tons of blogs on the internet, so I am grateful for every single time you take a few minutes to read one of mine. I am so looking forward to sharing and learning with you all as I embark on this next chapter of my life. Please stop by often, and remember to leave me a comment so I know you’re reading!

Happy Birthday to Me!

This Is What a Lesbian Looks Like: My CURVE Magazine Debut


I was recently interviewed for Curve Magazine’s “This Is What A Lesbian Looks Like” monthly feature. It’s taken so long to feel whole and integrated as a trans-national, multi- cultured and layered individual; Nigerian, African, queer, afrofeminist, nerdy etc. It feels awesome in so many ways, and yet, so surreal. I haven’t picked up a copy yet and I keep thinking that when I do, and I flip through the pages, I won’t be there.

Invisibility, as much as it enrages and motivates me to speak out and up for others, had become comforting it seems. Safe. But I haven’t been invisible at all, I’m realizing. I’ve simply been in denial. Perhaps as a way of dealing with my fear.

But today, I reflect on the pride I have for myself for pushing through fear and remaining visible to others who are like me (in so many different ways), in order to provide them with hope, love, and affirmation. I have mixed feelings about my face being all over the country right now (yikes), and wondering who could be reading this, my parent’s friends, my friends, old classmates, etc? It may sound funny, but it feels like I’m having my first “coming out” experience. Isn’t that crazy?

(Yeah, let’s pretend that I don’t own a blog that’s read both nationally and internationally, or that I haven’t founded an organization with regional reach… perhaps I have been for the past years.)

I shared this tearsheet on my Facebook wall and one of my Nigerian queer friends commented:

Congratulations! I want a copy of that issue. Shoot, I may show it to my own parents some day. “See mom and dad. I am not the only one, there are others!”

I’m gonna read this anytime I feel myself shrinking because this will remind me that every little bit I do counts for something.

Many heartfelt thanks to Rachel Shatto from Curve, for handling this warrior woman with care and for an article I can be proud to send to my own parents. For someone whose work has often been mishandled by journalists and photographers alike, I can’t express how appreciate I am of her writing (and sensitivity in handling this piece). You rock, Rachel. Thank you so much.

Explain what “iQWOC” means and why you chose to identify that way.

iQWOC means Immigrant/International Queer Woman of Color. Funny enough, after a few years of organizing around LGBT/women’s issues, specifically within the women of color community, I began to feel invisible at my own events. In a room full of people of color, I felt alone because I couldn’t identify any other Africans, immigrants, or people who were originally from a different country. I remembered all of a sudden that “woman of color” had been adopted by me as an identity label only after I realized I was queer. But I’d never in my life identified as a person of color until I came to the United States for school when I was 17 and people started to refer to me that way. For the years I spent in school here, I was part of the African students club, all my friends were from countries around the world… we discussed our national identities more so than our racial ones. But beyond the politics of ‘labels’, I realized that my perspective on a lot of issues was different from the larger group’s because I wasn’t American. I added the “i” to the “QWOC” label to remind others to acknowledge a fourth part to my identity.

How does your Nigerian roots inform your politics?
I recently got accepted to the Emerge Program, which trains democratic women to run for office. That’s a long way from the political apathy I’d come to feel after growing up under a corrupt military government. Also, as I’m from a different country, immigration is an issue that’s very personal, and not just from a policy/legal standpoint; I care very much about the experience of whole or fragmented families coming to a new country to create a life, while navigating issues of race, cultural and language barriers, preserving oral histories etc. My Nigerian/international background has definitely affected the way I organize QWOC+ Boston for sure. You’ll always be able to find some international or global component to our programming.

Who is Spectra? How is she different from your regular persona?

Haha. Spectra is a warrior woman, a revolutionary, who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks as long as they think at all. She’s constantly makes friends of enemies and enemies of allies because she has no affiliation with anyone but herself, and will always speak the truth. She believes that her voice is powerful, really powerful, and that we can all harness our collective power if we dare to speak up for ourselves. My regular persona on the other hand is an introverted reader of comic books who would rather live on a ranch with lots of animals. She thinks Spectra needs to relax; the revolution will be there tomorrow.

Do you have a life philosophy?
Too many. But I’m often motivated by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous quote, “Well-behaved women have rarely ever made history.”

Becoming iQWOC

The name, iQWOC, came to me after I founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) and, all of a sudden, felt invisible in my own community. It seemed I had succeeded in creating a safe social space for black lesbians, asian queers, white allies, latina friends, young professionals, power couples etc., but somehow, forgot to include Africans or Immigrant queers as one of the beneficiaries of the group. It had dawned on me one day that although QWOC+ events were rich in cultural and age diversity, they were nationally homogeneous: almost everyone identified as American.

I began to write about this, and one day, I described myself as an iQWOC in my journal. iQWOC: an international/immigrant queer woman of color. I liked it – the techie in me in particular drooled over the lowercase “i” a la the age of Apple, Inc – and began using it online and offline.

Many people have asked why I choose to identify as an iQWOC – after all, QWOC should suffice. Sigh… people. So, below is a brief trajectory of my journey, and why you should never question my (or anyone’s) choice of label again:

  • When I lived at home, I was simply an “Igbo” girl in a predominantly Yoruba state
  • When I left home, and came to high school in the United States, my accent and “strange” (read: polite) behavior routinely gave me away and forced me to identify as “Nigerian” moreso than I ever had in my entire life
  • Then frequently, people would call me “Black” and I’d stare at them blankly, trying to understand if they intended to offend me or not, cause sometimes, for reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, it did make me angry. The American media (read: movies I’d watched growing up) always painted “Black” as a bad thing and so of course I wanted no part in it. It also didn’t help that my parents had lived in a poor neighborhood in CA for a few years before moving back home, so all they remembered of the black people in their community was the gang violence, armed robberies, street loitering, and drugs. This made me cling to my “Nigerian” label even more vehemently.
  • To make matters worse, I was bullied by a group of African-American kids for being “African”, having an accent, the way I dressed etc, for the two years I was in private school.
  • In college, just after I’d gotten over my fear of  “Black” people, women’s studies classes opened my eyes a little more to the racial dynamics of the northeast, and my own internalized racism; I began to empathize. By then, I’d also experienced a few years being treated like a “Black” person so the empathy factor deepened my interest in understanding racism, a social phenomenon I’d never thought about (outside of movies) before. I came to view my racially identity more politically as a “Person of Color” and enjoyed intellectual conversations about racial profiling, interracial dating, adoption, and the power/influence of hiphop music on pop culture.
  • Just when I thought I’d figured everything out, I came to identify as queer, and my world shrank again right before my eyes: I was all of a sudden surrounded by white (American) lesbians, and.. well, that was strange. It was frustrating to feel alienated from my diverse group of straight culturally competent friends and feel stuck with a group of privileged white people (who didn’t think they were because they were queer).
  • I thought diversifying my social network would ease the burden – hence the launch of QWOC+ Boston – but whereas having QPOC friends was rewarding in specific ways (I now at least had an extra pair of eyes to exchange “No she didn’t” glances with! yay!), I felt completely invisible as a Nigerian / international / immigrant woman.
  • In the process of reaffirming my cultural roots, and reclaiming my FULL identity, I coined the term “iQWOC” for myself, which means International/Immigrant Queer Woman of Color.

The End.

Queer People of Color History in Boston: Thank You Letta Neely

Last night, Letta told me, “I’m proud of you,” and I was speechless. She had no idea how big a part she played in all of this.

I first saw her perform more than two years ago at the Dyke March. She performed some of her poems, and then just spoke frankly about everything from trans-people, to immigration, sexism within the queer community, and being allies to other causes outside of being gay or lesbian. At the time, I was part of the planning committee for the annual Dyke March – my first time volunteering in the queer community, and had been feeling somewhat disappointed at the world of LGBT community organizing; everyone seemed to be much older and so ‘boxed-in’ to doing things ‘the way they’d always done them’; bi-phobia pervaded many conversations but went un-checked, regularly; women of color were completely ignored (‘unintentionally’ – after all, we always invite them), and I was wondering what on earth I was doing sitting amongst ultra-American, predominantly (politically correct way to say “all”) white, New Englanders who I didn’t have anything in common with. Oh, wait… that’s right. We were all “dykes”. Yikes!

Anyway (and I didn’t know this then), the Dyke March some time ago decided that it made for a sensible formula to invite people of color to be the main performers during the annual Friday rally in order to draw out a ‘diverse’ crowd. Don’t ask. (Poor Zilli Musik, I don’t know how many times they’ve been asked to perform but…) Anyway, on this particular year, Letta Neely took the stage. And, it changed my life.

As I sat on the grass listening to her, I felt like I knew her. “Finally! Someone gets what it’s like to be me,” I kept thinking. She was loud, alright. Opinionated. Strong-willed. Idealistic. Passionate. A “wordsmith” for real. Listening to her empowered me. Somehow, she’d made it up there to get people to listen. To learn something. I couldn’t help but think that I’d been wasting my time in endless, drawn-out, unproductive meetings, organizing for the social rights of white lesbians. What the hell? Needless to say, I found my calling, and left the Dyke March Committee to do… something. I wished them well, but stated that there was just no way I could go on volunteering for them when my own people had no where to go, no place to speak and be heard… no one representing them. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but being on the Dyke March, and seeing someone like Letta up on stage had confirmed for me that I could do something. I had the power to do something. And, I think, for many young idealists wanting to impact change somehow, this idea is the most important, most powerful weapon to carry.

QWOC+ Boston’s myspace page popped up that August. And the first event was planned with MadFemmePride on October 17, 2006; a bit of history someone from the crowd felt they needed to respond with last night, when Letta posed the open question, “What do you know of queer people of color history in Boston?”

It felt weird to hear my name thrown into that pool, especially since I’m so young and most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing. But I will own it today. I did do something. I did. And I should be proud of it.

Almost a year later I saw Letta perform again at a Truth Serum event at the Milky Way. I told my girlfriend at the time, “That woman… she’s the one that inspired me to start QWOC+ Boston.” Sensing my deep admiration, my girlfriend urged me to go up to Letta after the performance and talk to her. “You should tell her! I’m sure she’d be happy to know! Go on…” And so I walked over, slowly, nervously, which is quite rare for me; I’ve practiced being confident and sure of myself in public since my summer sales job in college. However, as I approached Letta, I felt really… young, and awkward, like a nerdy school boy asking a really pretty girl to dance. I don’t remember what I managed to say to her, but it couldn’t have made any sense. I probably reverted to the standard “Hi, I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan I love your work-,” to which she replied almost immediately, “Thank you. Thank you.” Of course she’d heard words like that before. I signed up for her mailing list, then promptly returned to my girlfriend. “Did you tell her?” she asked. “Yeah, kinda,” I lied.

I’m not sure when next I’ll get the chance to say this to her in person. I choked again yesterday. But at least I can say something now, on my blog:

Thank you, Letta Neely, for arming me with purpose that day. Thank you for continuing to inspire me. Thank you for everything that you have done.

Hablando de Las Latinas (Continued): Dislocating Cultures

So many of my white American friends have never understood that when my parents come to visit that they of COURSE stay with me in my one bedroom apartment, and that my mother’s underwear will always be found hanging to dry in the bathroom. I know it’s funny, but that’s my life! When I was at MIT, my dorm head couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that when my siblings got out of school for vacation that they’d come stay with me in my matchbox of a dorm room. And, that if my parents had the money to come visit that summer, they’d book a hotel, but would always end up staying with us too! Crazy, yeah? I’ve found that situations like that are really hard for the average white American to understand. If you didn’t grow up poor, and you had the white picket fence and golden Labrador, ‘space’ was a right you acquired when you turned five, along with a play-themed room, which had a door that your parents had to learn to knock on to gain access to. Ha!

“Oh, stop the generalizing, iQWOC!” Well, if for the past eight years that I’ve lived here I hadn’t experienced looks of horror anytime I explained that my entire family usually stays with me during any given vacation/holiday period then perhaps my perception would be different. The fact of the matter is that – whether people want to admit it or not – if you haven’t had the immigrant experience, if you haven’t been dislocated from your culture in a new place, and you don’t even have family members (or even loud enough friends) that can say this, there are things about someone like me which are gonna be difficult to understand and/or relate to. Incidentally, it turns out that, of all the cultural groups that reside in the United States, Latinos are the ones whose experiences have most closely mirrored my own. Additionally, as I have come to identify partly as a “queer woman of color”, it follows that an even more specific subset of Latinos, queer latinas, most closely share my experience.

When I first arrived in New Hampshire for boarding school, the friends that I made instantly were from foreign countries – international students. I think most people would understand why that happened; we were all away from home, we could support each other, share our stories of culture shock, cook for each other etc. By the end of the semester, my group of international friends comprised mostly of students from South America. I honestly think that it was due to the fact that our cultures and general value systems were so close; family was the center of everything, and thus, your accountability to siblings, parents, grandparents… We talked about family and the differences we saw between here and ‘there’ all the time. Even the language barrier wasn’t strong enough to keep us from bonding (I was taking German at the time, not Spanish, but learned as we went along from listening to so much of their music – especially pre-crossover Shakira).

I’ve been asked a couple of times why (in place of Latinos) I don’t relate better to African-Americans/Blacks here, including people from islands like Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad etc. Well, the fact is that those people living here (if, first generation) usually identify as American, which is still very removed from who I am and where I come from. I love to party with those groups hard due to the commonality in the music culture; bass and drums are clear signifiers of African rhythms. But, on the flip side, they don’t know what it’s like to live in a country where everything about your culture is made fun of (or pitied) ALL the time, and perpetuated negatively throughout the media, including to people who LOOK like you. Reggae and Dancehall have become part of the music in this country. Everyone knows and loves old Bob Marley songs, Buju Banton, Elephant Man, Sean Paul, Jay-Z, 50 Cent (even him!), and it’s cool to know their songs, dance to them etc. It is NOT cool to be African in the US, even though ALL of this comes directly from the culture I am so proud to be a part of. Rather, our art is routinely collected (stolen) and displayed in foreign countries as ‘mystical’ and ‘ancient’, while our music is viewed similarly to ‘strange’ foods from Asia, from a distance. Or worse, in some cases (especially when the songs are recorded in English), as a pitiful attempt to ‘copy’, and so ignored thereafter.

Language definitely plays a factor into this. Moroccan hiphop artists will tell you that even though their music thrives in the rest of the world, it has been poorly received in the united states, and any attempt to record in English is ridiculed (Hiphop in French and Arabic? Noooo). So, whereas most of ‘black music’ – Hiphop, RnB etc – and popular music from the Caribbean is readily accessible, and thus, accepted, because it’s in English, this is not the case with African music. They say that the core of culture comprises Art, Music, and Religion. And, none of these parts of Nigerian – or even African – culture, are available to me here. At least, due to the inter-linkage of history between Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (not to mention the influx of immigrants from neighboring South America), Americans are routinely exposed to Spanish-speaking cultures: bilingual educational policies, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ana Castillo, Hilary and the Latino vote, Miami, Reggaeton thriving as a new genre… all these make it “cool” to speak Spanish and take Salsa lessons. And, before someone mentions “African” dance (as if we ALL dance in the same way all across the CONTINENT), even with that, as I mentioned before, the movements are usually viewed mystically, and placed within the Afro-Cuban religious context. It’s not REALLY my Africa they’re talking about.

African dance… That’s definitely another blog, for another day. My point is that since I have been completely displaced from my culture and work every day to find a place for myself in this country, I am more likely to relate to women in similar circumstances. Immigrant Queers – male or female – take the cake.

Queer Woman of Color, I am… but only here; this identity would vanish the minute I stepped unto Nigerian soil. But, even I am beginning to forget what identity would take its place… and even, what there was before.

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