Browse Tag: queer

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

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.




“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.

A Word to the Wise On The Culture of Naming (and Divisive Labels)

During my speaking tour last week, I was fortunate to enjoy a really interesting conversation with college students about the trials and tribulations of finding safe spaces on their campus. The main tension, is seems, comes from from having to submit to a specific label in order to feel included and welcome in monolithic spaces.

Similarly, on Twitter last week, I ran into a familiar back and forth between two people about the use of the word “feminist” which linked me to an article involving a heated comment debate in which someone thought it would be a good idea to tell people who don’t identify as feminist that they need to be “educated.”

As with many other solidarity labels — women of color, black, feminist etc — I support using common labels to reveal ourselves to others who have shared experiences and perspectives; but my primary identity isn’t pivoted around any of these and I wouldn’t take it too well if someone were to tell me that I have problems, or need to be “educated” because I choose to identify (or not identify) the way I do. See rant against being forced into monolithic blackness here. Read about my views against defining afrofeminism here.

After speaking with students about this issue, I decided to tweet (as I usually do when I need to write about something but am too lazy to work on a post) about “The Culture of Naming.” My main point was that naming can be as powerful as it can be silencing, and that we should consider the purpose of them before blanket use; for affinity groups, naming is essential, but for engagement/education, probably not so much.

Check out my late night thoughts on #thecultureofnaming embedded below.


Thoughts? What do you think about choosing labels based on the mission of a group (i.e. affinity or engagement)? Which labels have caused you to feel excluded or included? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

No More Denying: Embracing Positivity for Lent and Spending 40 Days on LOVE!

Happy Ash Wednesday (if you observe)!

Today marks the first day of Lent, which occurs 46 days before Easter, one of my most cherished celebrations as a child, as it involved family, friends, and community, so much Naija food, real live bunnies for us kids to play with, and a mystery hunt involving multi-colored chocolate-filled egg shells!

Lent was also the period of each year I remember seeing my mother — a devout Christian, prone to bouts of depression — at her happiest and most centered. During Lent, as tradition dictates, my mother fasted, eating only once a day for the entire period, and praying two – sometimes three – times a day for everyone, from a friend she’d recently quarreled with to my younger brother who was still insisting his only ambition was to grow up to be a taxi driver.

When my mother couldn’t fast, she’d give up something instead, such as her favorite snacks — Nigerian groundnuts, roasted chicken, wine, etc. — or a behavior she felt guilty about, like gossiping. And, of course, whe would of course encourage my two siblings and I to do the same. So eager to  please Mommy, we would each proclaim our challenge for the next 40 days: my sister may have given up Saturday morning cartoons, my brother, drinking soda (a cop out, as soccer would have been the truest sacrifice), and I would give up hanging out with my friends (many of who I detested anyway) or complaining about my life. ( I was quite the Daria).

Since my childhood, my spirituality has evolved into a hodge podge of Buddhist philosophies, astrology, a myriad of self-growth frameworks, and a constant reverie about the earth and its elements. But, I’ve also retained elements of the Christian faith that resonate with my values of self-reflection, personal growth, and gratitude; hence, lent is one of them.

For as long as I can remember, I too have “given up” or “gotten off” a variety of privileges and guilty pleasures — chocolate (my vice), meat, carbs, dairy, alcohol etc, and it hasn’t been in vain (in case you think that’s where I’m going with this). What I’ve gained from fasting and denying myself physical pleasures has certainly encouraged a heightened sense of awareness of the many luxuries I take for granted (at least during the lent period, and shortly after). But if I’m  being completely honestly, my denial of physical pleasures has most noteably resulted in physical benefits i.e. a healthier, reduced-carb, vegetarian-ish diet, which has done wonders for my physical health overall, but admittedly also triggered periods of anorexic behavior (which I struggled with for years) justified under the guise of “discipline.” I wonder how many people who have struggled with body issues like me are using Lent as an excuse to express hatred of their bodies in the name of spiritual love, and I worry. But, I digress.

Last year was the first year I didn’t participate in Lent season. Why? Well, for one, I couldn’t figure out what I could give up other than food to make me feel appropriately challenged (and without interfering with my work e.g. Facebook… I’m never giving up Facebook), but more importantly, I struggled to maintain the belief that I could truly cleanse myself, spiritually — not just physically — from such a contrived approach. Could I really attain a higher level of enlightenment (or even happiness) from denying myself Season 5 of Dexter? Or weeknight cocktails (again)? Or sacrificing “date nights” with my partner (she veto-ed that idea by the way). Was the meaning of Lent, simply to give things up?

I received an email from my mother today reminding me about Lent; she hoped as always that I would be participating this year. In the minds of many people — not just Christians — self-denial brings them closer to the divine. But I find myself facing the same predicament as I did last year: questioning the purpose of denying myself physical pleasures when it’s within the spiritual realm I seek clarity, centeredness, change, and positive intention.

All the years I spent starving myself for 6 weeks each year don’t compare to the bliss and serenity I feel from continuously reflecting on all the blessings I have in my life — and most especially, all the LOVE I am surrounded by. For instance, in 2010, I began a tradition of posting Morning Reflections. I wrote between 2-4 morning reflections nearly every single day for a year — about love, relationships, friendships, the power of positive thinking, activism, and much more — and the transformation I experienced has been un-matched.

So, for Lent this year, I am trying something slightly different; in place of denying myself physical pleasures, I am committing to posting positive reflections and affirmations, daily, and ridding my mind of toxins.

In “giving up” the mental vices that block me from being in touch with my inner divinity — negativity and ingratitude — I do believe I’m still keeping with tradition, just in a way that aligns with where I am spiritually, and more importantly, can be shared with others.

I invite you all to join me in experiencing 40 Days on Love, by commenting under my daily reflections on my Spectra Speaks Facebook Page. Or (if Twitter is your drug — I mean, platform of choice), I invite you to share your positive reflections (including images, quotes, links etc) using the Twitter hashtag #40daysonlove. I’ll retweet from my handle @spectraspeaks.

I’ll be focusing my own shares (and writing a weekly roundup of #40daysonlove updates) based on the following breakdown, but you don’t have to stick to this — please share organically if you wish! I just tend to be all over the place when I don’t filter my content:

  • Week 1: Self Love
  • Week 2: Relationship Love (i.e. Family, Friendship, Romantic, Earth)
  • Week 3: Community Love
  • Week 4: Healing Love
  • Week 5: Career / Work / Hobby Love
  • Week 6: Spiritual Love

Remember, the hashtag is 40 Days ON Love #40daysonlove; let us experience, together, how our bodies and spirits feel and interact with each other when we intentionally begin using life’s most potent drugs — love — to transform our lives. The sharing’s already started — check out the first tweets on Storify. I hope you join us!

Challenging Gender Binaries in the Motherland: Could Transgender and Intersex Activism Unite Africa’s Movements?

About a year ago, I hosted my first Kitchen Table Conversations podcast on Media, Culture, and Identity. 

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.”

Incidentally, when I came out, my parents were surprisingly okay with my dating women; it was the “dressing like a boy” part that made them very uncomfortable. They worried that I’d be drawing too much attention to myself, that I’d stand out and cause unnecessary controversy, and that I’d be saddled with the very complicated question of which “role” to play at my wedding (bride or groom? seriously). Up until then I hadn’t really considered my gender presentation as a deal breaker. I mean, homophobia stems from an intolerance of gay people, right?  But where does the intolerance itself come from?

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.

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