Browse Tag: relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So back to that night…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previously: Introducing a New Series on Love and Afrofeminism!

Image: sdeborja

A Love Poem to Say Goodbye: Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

A Parting Love Poem from My Beautiful Partner

She read the poem below at my goodbye party last weekend, and wanted me to share it with all of you. I am so blessed to have found someone whose Love is big enough, strong enough, brave enough, to Love me even from the farthest parts of the world, and to push me to share it with others, always. I wish for the same for all of you.

As she has dedicated this to me, I dedicate this to everyone who loves an activist, who gives them sustenance when they are running on empty, the push they need to keep going, even when they think they can’t, and of course, so much unconditional love. The world is so much better because of you. Thank You.

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved

Banana peels left on book shelves
An open jar of jam
Repeated bursts of flash
as she waits for the shot that will
show me exactly what she sees
when she looks at me.

I didn’t know I loved singing.
Especially at the top of my lungs.
Most especially under a bridge.

I didn’t know I could memorize
every variation of a smile
And daydream of ways
to coax each one to light

I knew I would love her storytelling
….and our dancing
all that was unspoken
yet understood
in our movement

But, looking back at the tentative safety
of bluelight raindrops,
I could never have known
our water-deficient souls
would feel so safe
in this ocean,
this deluge of emotions
and dreams overflowing

I will miss you
Miss “I love you’s” whispered nightly in reverence
– a rosary of promises
placed in the dip of your collarbone
for safekeeping.

I will miss your hands,
your bigger than life laugh,
stolen glances across a crowded room

Corazon, I will miss your spirit
your open, loving, too-big-for-one-city spirit
filling our home.

Amor, I stand here and celebrate you.
I celebrate your courage,
the way you’ve learned to follow your heart
wherever it may lead

Know that I am always with you,
that the rays of your sun
will warm you in the farthest corners of the globe

Mi Reina…

Always know that I love you.


a poem by Idalia (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter)

Copyright Spectra Speaks 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Neither the whole or part of this work should be duplicated and/or republished without permission.

Love and Afrofeminism: Introducing a New Blog Series and #AfroFemLove Twitter Chat

Dear Readers, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be hosting a brand new guest blog at Bitch Magazine on “Love and Afrofeminism”!

I welcome this break from discussing politics to exploring Love, a topic I’m very passionate about, and the foundation for all my work, so I hope you’ll support me by reading along. You can expect posts (and, as always, vibrant discussions) about the usual suspects: gender roles, queer romance, masculinity/femininity, racism, transphobia, and exoticism in dating preferences, feminism, sex, and BDSM, self-love and martyrdom in activism, and a whole lot more. Check out the full post below.


For the past ten years, my work has focused on using media to facilitate conversations around important feminist issues: gender, sexism, racism, media, etc. So when the editors at Bitch invited me to guest blog this summer, I surprised even myself when I told them I wasn’t interested in writing about any of those things; instead, I wanted to write about Love.

What Is Afrofeminist Love?
The more I thought about the idea of blog series exploring Love and Relationships through an afrofeminist lens, the more it made sense. Here are a few reasons why…

I attempted suicide when I was in college; the culmination of my experiences with bullying, homophobia, sexual assault, racism, not to mention the absence of affirming images of “me” anywhere in the media, eroded my self worth and left me with no hope one night. Even though I recovered and resolved to persist for the sake of my friends and family, my failure to practice self-love kept me in a dark place of depression for years after.

It was ultimately the love I discovered for and from community—friends, fellow immigrants, queers, women of color, Africans, etc.—that saved my life; both the sense of belonging and accountability that came via my role as a community organizer (Founding Director of QWOC Media Wire) were enough to give me the hope and affirmation I needed to better tend to my mental health, and join the ranks of the people who fight every day to make the world a little bit better.

I fell in love, with the wrong woman, and ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship—an “on-again, off-again, perpetual invalidation of my needs, bad sex, and thoughts of purchasing a one-way ticket to an island I couldn’t pronounce” type of relationship, in which I was a survivor who was constantly portrayed as the abuser because of my more masculine gender presentation. Contrary to the overly simplistic narratives in the L Word, being in and out of love as a young queer woman of color, struggling to make ends meet and affirm my identity as masculine of center (without being pigeon-holed into having unsatisfying sex) didn’t turn out to be all that glamorous.

When I finally fell in love with the right woman, and dared to daydream of our queer, afrofeminist, Nigerian-Puertominican wedding, it dawned on me that hate crimes against gender non-conforming people of color, traditionalist anti-gay legislation in African countries, and white-male-led campaigns for equal marriage, weren’t just issues, but very real circumstances in my life; it occurred to me that my political perspective on diamonds would become a personal obstacle as both my partner and I wrestled with ways to validate our future engagement to our immigrant parents (who still think being gay is an “American thing”). We laugh about how we’re caving to societal pressure when we pontificate on the more superficial elements of our life-threatening wedding ceremony in Nigeria: rings or no rings? Should our fathers still “give us away” (provided they don’t disown us for attempting to get married in the first place)? And wouldn’t it be fun to force our brothers to wear bridesmaids dresses? But I digress.

Love, Actually, Is All Around Us
This isn’t just about me, my terrible and awesome relationships, or even just about the politicization of marriage. My definition of love is far more expansive due to my work as an activist; I see very clearly how love in various forms (for self, for others, for community) can influence and drive so many parts of our lives.

I’ve seen queer women of color struggle to find love and acceptance outside of their families, and, despite messages that influence so many people into hinging their finding the “perfect partner’ on serendipitious, accidental, meet-cutes, how the act of “choosing” love can lead to more fuilfilling partnerships, and sex lives! I’ve spoken with teachers who have lost youth to suicide, and seen the love of community birth political leaders from personal tragedy. I’ve watched girls wither away from lack of self-love at the hand of the media’s white, thin, standard of beauty; and I’ve seen girls with so much self-love check them on that BS.

Love is absolutely a feminist issue, a recurring theme in various parts of the political landscape. But we’ve grown so accustomed to framing our discussions and ideas for progress around everything but love—instead, facts, figures, statistics, issues, enlightement or problematicness—that I fear we’ve inadvertently distanced ourselves from the most important part of any of this: our lives and experiences as people.

Hence, this series will be dedicated to discussing and exploring love through a very personal lens, including Love for Self, Love for Others, and Love for Our Community and/or Environment—and the pop culture messages that influence our relationship with Love.

What I’ll Be Writing About
You can expect posts (and hopefully, vibrant discussions) about the usual suspects: gender roles, queer romance, masculinity/femininity and estate management, racism, transmisogyny, exoticism in dating preferences, feminism and BDSM, self-love and martyrdom in activism, and more.

Incidentally, I was recently featured in the Femisphere series at Ms. magazine, during which I talked about love as the propelling force behind all my work. I also discussed afrofeminism, the framework I created for myself to move through the world, and through which I believe that personal relationships—and the love that facilitates them—are the building blocks of progress. So, I encourage you all to read it as this is the “place” from which I’ll be writing.

Join My Twitter Chats on #AfroFemLove 
In addition to my blog posts, I’ll be leading discussions on Love and many peripheral subjects on Twitter! I’ve already started hosting impromptu Twitter chats about Love and Afrofeminism, which I hope will inform and/or complement my posts. I encourage you to follow me @spectraspeaks and join the conversation by also following and using the hashtag #afrofemlove.

What Do You Want to Talk About?
Lastly, I’m open to suggestions for topics to include/tackle in my series, so if you’ve been dying to discuss something, please leave a comment below with your idea. I’m looking forward to exploring, evolving, and learning to love better, with all of you.

Plugin from the creators ofBrindes Personalizados :: More at PlulzWordpress Plugins