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.
The podcast featured four LGBT Africans in the Diaspora, a few of which described themselves as gender non-conforming. Shortly afterwards, I received a really sweet message from someone who had listened to the podcast. It read as follows:
For a long time I have been trying to get involved in the LGBT arena and be a voice to my community but have not been able to find such a space or create one. It takes a lot to actually be in such a position to do so with limited resources. I listened to the Kitchen Table Conversation with a lot of admiration to the Passionate Voices of My Queer Sisters and felt so empowered. I am a sincere admirer of all your effort in highlighting these serious issues that affect us as African LGBT Community. These are the voices I have been waiting to hear for a very long time addressing such issues other than someone else speaking for us. How can I also participate as a transman in diaspora?
I remember feeling touched by the message, but sad, too; it stood out to me that a fellow queer African had waited till the very end of his message to come out to me about being transgender.
I thought to myself, did he really think that I would care if he told me that he was transgender? I’d been working within a small coalition to connect the straight and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and/or Transgender African diaspora within the US (and to my peers leading the queer African movement at home). My vision of the LGBT African movement certainly included transgender, intersex, and other gender non-conforming Africans. But did everyone else’s?
The delayed disclosure has stayed with me since then; the last thing I want is for Africa to repeat the same mistakes as the LGBT movement in the US and UK, which has historically (both intentionally and unintentionally) excluded transgender, bisexual, and intersex people from gay spaces in order to push forth a “less complicated” agenda i.e. one that doesn’t necessarily aim to challenge society’s oppressive binary perceptions of gender to create more tolerance, but reframe our alignment with the status quo so that we may “fit in.”
A quick rehash of comments from Africans about their opinions on gay people suggest quite a bit about their unwavering stance on gender roles: “Men are not supposed to dress like women…,” “Two people of the same sex should never lie together…,” “If there are two women, which one is the husband?…,” and (my favorite, from Christian extremists), “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” The existence of LGBT Africans ultimately challenges the view that Africans are naturally attracted to people of the opposite sex (i.e. the Homosexuality is UnAfrican mantra). However, this pigeon-holes the entire continent — straight and LGBT Africans alike — into addressing homophobia from just one angle: sexual orientation.
The danger in this approach is that it leaves out transgender people (who have a different gender presentation from that which they were assigned at birth), intersex people (whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female), and a whole slew of people — including straight Africans — who do not conform to traditional gender roles. For instance, at a forum I hosted last year, human rights defender and religious leader, Reverend Kapya Kaoma, shared a heart-breaking story about a woman whose husband was beating her, but — due to her traditional duty to remain a wife — was not permitted to leave, and was unfortunately killed. That woman was his sister. She was not gay.
To me, it seems clear: we should consider thinking about homophobia as a fear of people not conforming to traditional gender roles, and the direct correlation between that fear and the same fear that fuels sexism, and transphobia. By addressing homophobia in this way i.e. through the lens of gender justice, Africa could not only avoid repeating the mistakes of the west re: inclusion of transgender people, but achieve what the west has not been able to (at least, until very recently) — achieve unity across its many disparate social movements. Luckily for this idealist, I don’t have to wish, pray, pine away hoping that someone will take this on; a press release I read yesterday has presented Africa with a very timely gift.
According to Behind the Mask, three African transgender and intersex rights advocacy organizations have formed an alliance to enhance the trans and intersex movement on the continent. They include South African based Gender DynamiX (GDX), the first organization in South Africa (and Africa) to specifically advocate for transgender people, Uganda’s Support Initiative for People with atypical Sexual Development (SIPD) , the only intersex health and rights human rights advocacy organization in the East African region, and Transgender and Intersex Africa (TIA), an organization which focuses on black transgender and intersex issues in the rural areas and black townships of South Africa.
In a press statement issued yesterday, Julius Kaggwa, the SIPD director, states:
“The main focus of this new entity is to support a growing transgender and intersex movement and to engage regionally in advocacy for the human rights of transgender and intersex people.
Following his statement is an overview of the new organization’s strategy:
The vision of Transitioning Africa is to see a strong transgender and intersex movement in sub-Saharan Africa, based on human rights principles, while the mission is to strive for gender recognition within social movements in Africa.
The three organizations’ collective issues of focus, regional positioning, and programmatic expertise not only make for a very powerful collaboration, but a unique opportunity for Africa to test this gender liberation theory. The question remains: will Africans be more willing to address their homophobia if more intentionally framed under the umbrella of gender justice?
When I consider my personal experience with various African movements thus far, I think about how often I’ve been ignored in male-dominated spaces because (even though they’re gay) they’re not used to outspoken women like myself speaking up taking the lead, how rare it is for me to find solidarity with many straight African women because my sexuality and gender presentation are a point of contention due to their cultural beliefs — I can’t think of a more timely and critical undertaking to create a better shared understanding (and respect) of our varied experiences as Africans. It is critical that Africans recognize how gender binaries oppress us all — LGBT or not, transgender or not — so that we can become unified in tackling our oppression(s) from as many angles and frameworks as possible.
This post — written from my straight, Christian brother — is what I got for Christmas, and I am so thrilled to share it with all of you! My brother spent the holidays with me, my partner, and our two very good friends and, it seems, felt so moved by how much of a great time he had that he announced he would be writing about it. We didn’t believe he would — maybe he’d been caught up in the moment (after several glasses of wine, and so much turkey!) — but then this afternoon, I received his post in my inbox.
I can’t say this any plainer: I never would have imagined this possible. But look at this… look what happens when you stay holding on to hope.
For any of you feeling hopeless about your families coming around, I want you to read this post and see this as your future, see this as where your own family members can arrive after going through their own journeys of self-reflection. They will get there. You will get there. We will all find happiness.
“Two Couples and a Sibling” (guest post by Spectra’s Brother)
For quite some time now my sister has been wanting me to either read at least one of her blog posts (I know, it’s shameful that I haven’t been as engaged), or write something for her that she could put on her blog. I can’t say why I haven’t been paying closer attention to her writing up until this point but at least I’m finally doing it. I think for whatever reason I always felt that she was writing for the masses and not for me; that I wouldn’t learn that much from her writing as I would from the many conversations we have, one on one. I know … crazy, especially from someone who prides himself on how much he learns from reading books! But anyway, let’s move on.
A few days before Christmas, my sister (spectra) woke me up at 7am to ask me a huge favor: she wanted us to spend Christmas with a couple — we’ll call them Sukky and Shana — that she and her partner were very good friends with. She explained that they were both still struggling to find acceptance within their respective families, and would appreciate being among friends. I had met these particular friends briefly at a birthday celebration and they seemed nice enough, so I figured why not. The visit seemed very important to my sister or she (not being the warmest fuzziest person in the world) wouldn’t have given me a puppy dog face as well and a huge hug after realizing that I’d actually be up for an 8-hr roundtrip drive to New York. So on Christmas morning, we set off early, really excited at the idea of spending time with what Spectra described as “intentional family.”
The ride down to the city was great! I’m a speed demon so leaving early on Christmas day meant no cops. Saweet! (If any cops are reading this post I apologize for doing an average of 95mph which is why we got to Brooklyn in just under three hours — hey, wasn’t like I was the only one).
On reaching the couple’s apartment we were immediately greeted with a shriek from one of the girls (Shana) because her partner (Sukky) had kept it a secret we were coming. It’s a very nice feeling to be able to surprise good friends especially on a day like Christmas. And you must understand this too, any friends of my sisters are automatically friends of mine so I was equally as thrilled with the response. The entire day was spent cooking, laughing, cracking jokes, playing cards, taking naps, and for me specifically watching five basketball games back to back … ! Absolute heaven. Plus, I also had a few double Blacks on ice to take the edge off.
I don’t know if I’ve had such a good time quite like I did with these four girls. But in reality it had nothing to do with any of the things we did but everything to do with the people that were in that apartment. And I guess here is the message I wanted to communicate to whoever may be reading this: I’m a straight guy, a straight black guy, a straight black conservative guy, a straight black conservative guy from Nigeria, a straight black conservative guy from Nigeria who happens to have a queer black sister, who is in love with a queer Latina from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic! My world got turned upside down when my sister came out to me a number of years ago, but I can’t say I was surprised.
I’m the middle child, and only boy. I never had a brother who I could borrow or steal stuff from. I never had any hand-me-downs either. My dad is 5’5 and I’m a little over 6 feet tall so that definitely wasn’t happening. But for as long as I can remember my younger sister was always stealing stuff from my older sister (Spectra), and Spectra in turn was always stealing stuff from me! I remember out of all the items of clothing she had she was always more excited about the more masculine items: the jerseys, the large T-shirts, the boots, etc. All this never quite made sense until she came out to me.
But, please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. Just because I had a feeling I knew what she was going to tell me doesn’t mean that when she finally told me it didn’t put my life on pause. My personality didn’t allow me to act alarmed. In fact, my reaction was the total opposite. I was extremely calm and told her that I’d known for a while, which was true. What I didn’t know was how I really felt about it.
It has taken me years of getting to know my sister again, years of getting to know her new community of friends, years of challenging my own beliefs (pay attention to this people), not for some “greater good”, or because it’s “politically correct”, but for the sake of having a real relationship with my sister. I went through years of self-reflection, years of pushing myself towards personal growth, and of course years of asking the question, “Why?” And here’s what I have concluded:
When you really love someone, when your sister or brother or whomever tells you they’re queer or gay or whatever (I’m still learning there are many different ways gay people describe themselves), it simply shouldn’t matter.
I’m so glad I had enough wisdom to realize that love isn’t love if it’s conditional. If you’re ashamed to affiliate yourself with someone because of how you think other people are going to perceive YOU … I feel very sorry for you and you need to go into whatever wound you have that is keeping you from experiencing life to the fullest. If there are two things I know for a fact it’s this: the quality of your life will be directly related to the quality of the relationships in it, and you will be miserable until you get over worrying about what other people think about you.
This Christmas was the most amazing Christmas I’ve EVER had. I was a single straight guy with two queer couples, and I had a blast. Why? Not because I spent time learning about an “issue”, but because I was with real people, who were really in love; who had real problems and real challenges, real arguments and real fears about the future, real hopes and dreams, and, quite frankly, that’s way more important to me than the fact that they identified as “queer.”
After this experience, I find myself hoping even more that people are braver; that they find the courage to engage themselves in learning more about how to love, and less about how to control. Because any question of “why” that comes from your own small sphere of beliefs — which by definition is egocentric — is absolutely a question of control. For me, slowing down my beliefs and just simply getting to know Spectra’s friends led to a bittersweet realization: I had way more in common with them than I do with a lot of people I have known for years.
For instance (and don’t laugh), the highlight of my visit was bonding with Sukky (a tomboy like my sister) over the film 300 about the Spartan army that stood up to the Persian empire in ancient Greece! I was pleasantly surprised to find that she shared my passion for the raw, over-the-top masculinity of the men portrayed in the movie. It was such an eye-opening moment for me because I always felt that the movie in itself could only be really appreciated in that way if you happened to be a straight guy! But, once again, my belief-system was challenged and I am all the better for it.
I urge you this coming year if you have been closed-minded about anything in your life, dare to think and dare to love. If the human race did more of those two things there’s no doubt in my mind the world will be a better place for our children, their children, and generations to come.
I titled this entry, “Two Couples and a Sibling,” simply because that is exactly what was most important about our time together, the memories I created with Spectra, her partner, Sukky, and Shana. This Christmas, for me, wasn’t about “two interracial gay couples and a straight black guy.” None of those things are as important. Two couples and a sibling — two families coming together to celebrate life and the future together; that’s important.
I hope other guys get this message. It’s really not that complicated.
Something about the way I received the news cut more deeply than all the other hate crimes that the media covered last year: several email forwards from other LGBT African activists I knew, Facebook status updates from friends who knew him personally, text messages of condolences, missed skype phone calls…
A year ago, I would’ve been part of a community of activists that were “outraged” at such a terrible crime. I may have even written a post condemning the destructive influence of the tabloid paper which outed several gay Ugandans (by publishing their photos and addresses, with the words “Hang Them!”), and called for all of us to acknowledge the power of media, and to contribute our own voices so that we can influence change positively.
However, a year of aggressive networking, coalition building, and supportive friendships with other LGBT Africans, both in the US and outside of it, has placed me closer to the frontlines of the struggle for acceptance; the fact that there were just two degrees of separation between my own life and David’s murder is a harsh reality I’m still trying to absorb. I no longer have the privilege of being a passionate spectator. I’m part of a global community of activists who are deeply saddened, in mourning, and filled with so much fear…
When I read the news, I immediately thought of one of my friends, who’s presently seeking asylum in the United States after escaping just what may have been just as brutal an outcome for her in Kenya last year. That was so close, I thought. I may have never known her. I thought about the power Nigeria had just given back to traditional rulers in the spirit of preserving culture and respecting older traditions, an act that empowered one of the rulers in Abia (Ibo land, where my mother is from) to put forth a law not just ostracizing persons who are “confirmed homosexuals”, but stoning them to death as well. My grandfather still lives there and he doesn’t know about me.
I thought of the last conversation I had with my mother. She’d told me, “Don’t come home,” and I’d gotten so angry. How could she tell me not to return home to my own country? At the time, I admonished her for letting her fear of what others would say cloud her judgment. I was her daughter after all. If she loved me unconditionally as she said, she wouldn’t care what anyone else said. She’d support me, no matter what.
“Why do you have to play Moses?” she’d said to me when I told her about joining the board of the Queer African Youth Network and shared my plans for organizing in Nigeria. “Why do you always have to be the one championing everything? I didn’t ask for this.” What I didn’t understand until last night, when I received the news of David’s murder, was that my mother wasn’t just afraid of what people would say about her; she was afraid of what people would do, to me.
After hearing about David’s brutal murder — his head bashed in with a hammer in his own home — I keep hearing her voice in my head. Her words are on loop, piercing my morale in different places. I’m still trying to come to terms with all of this.
I visit home once a year, and each time I do, I return with funny stories about feeling oppressed: being forced to wear dresses and loud earrings, suffering through silly kitchen table conversations about wives who don’t know how to prepare egwusi soup for their husbands, and of course being asked over and over again when I’m going to get married. The anecdotes are relatable enough; a girl from a small town in Maine or Kansas could report similar injustices over Thanksgiving dinner. I realize that I’ve only ever recounted these stories with humor because it’s too painful to talk about the fear I have of what might happen if I don’t smile through it all. As a result, what my friends routinely fail to grasp is the severity of the repercussions should this ‘small town girl’ refuse to conform. There are terrible consequences for being who you are and they’re way worse than being uninvited to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
I don’t get to just “do me” at home in a fit of individualist rebellion. I’d be risking way more than just societal acceptance, and even way more than just my life; by writing and speaking as much as I do, I’m already risking the safety and livelihood of my parents and my sister (who reside in Nigeria and depend on their social network for a variety of resources), and anyone else who stands by me.
So, what now? Do I cower at the thought of being murdered during a visit home? Shut down my blog and abandon all hope for fear? Do I give up on reuniting with my family for longer than two weeks at a time every couple of years, dreading that in the interim, someone will discover who I am and bring shame (or worse) to my family? Can I hide behind glass and watch from a distance as people all around me are dying, when my voice and visibility can at least offer support and affirmation that they are beautiful as they are and do not deserve the cruelties under which they are suffering…
[David said] ‘I can’t run away and leave the people I am protecting. People might die, but me, I will be the last one to run out of here’. “David Kato did not run, and he died. We cannot leave his work undone” Gloria Careaga stressed.
No doubt David’s brave words will resonate with activists and community organizers all over the world. His words along with Gloria’s call to action are enough to get me out of my rut, even though I am still sad, and still afraid. The truth is that even though, like so many other activists, I’m still trying to figure out my place in all of this, one thing is absolutely certain: I must do something. We must do something. We must NEVER abandon hope for fear.
Dear David, in honor of the sacrifice you’ve made for all of us, I will do my part to support the movement you helped propel forward by daring to be bold enough for those who do not have the privilege to be so bold. I will continue to push through my fear to be visible to those who need to see me, to speak to those who need to hear me, to support those who I can directly. In honor of your work and all the others who have died before (and will continue to die) after you, I will NEVER stop speaking. I will never stop fighting. Your death will NOT be in vain.
To My African Diaspora, whether or not you are part of the LGBTQ community or not, it is your responsibility to stand in solidarity with the human rights organizations that are fighting against the injustices being committed against LGBTQ Africans every day. Do NOT join the ranks of the “Aww”-givers, who sit cross-legged on their sofas as they watch the daily news. Africans are Africans, period. Those are YOUR people that are dying. We are ONE community. We MUST stand together in the face of all this injustice and we must speak out and support each other, from wherever we are, in whatever capacity we can. WE are the only people that can rescue Africa from this mess. The future of our Africa is in our hands.
And finally, to activists, concerned citizens, allies, friends, etc. Please consider making a donation to The Queer African Youth Network. Here is a Donation Link. Signing petitions against ‘corrective rape’ online won’t change much. But your dollars supporting an organization that is coalition building in countries around Africa and providing resources to LGBTQ Africans worldwide just might…