Browse Tag: Writing

For Women’s History Month: Writing Our Way Back into History

Happy Women’s History Month!

There is a lot to say about women’s history. Yet, what is always at the forefront of my mind is that women’s history starts with me sharing my own story, contributing to the movement of millions of other women doing the same.

All morning I’ve been reading tweets about great women who inspired change — politically, socially, within the fields of science, music, the arts etc. It’s inspiring to see so much media that sheds light about amazing womens’ contributions to the history of the world, but let’s face it — not all of us are going to get interviewed on BBC, speak at a UN convention, amass the most followers on Twitter, or write a book that makes Oprah’s highly coveted reading list.

Does this reality make any of us less important? I don’t think so — but how many women from the everyday do? How many inspiring women — mothers, wives, teachers, students, scientists, artists etc — equate being a part of history with being a famous celebrity, or tech innovator, winning an election, or leading a political revolution? My guess is many. But, history doesn’t always have to be so dramatic to count — it just needs to be documented.

History, contrary to the popular misconception that the word is derived from “his” and “story” put together, actually has its roots in an ancient Greek word ἱστορία (hístōr), which can mean “inquiry,” “knowledge so obtained,” or — my favorite — “a written account of one’s inquiries, narrative, history.” Note that no part of the definition of history inherently suggests a limitation of “written accounts” to men, or white people, or any other marginalized group for that matter. So why have women’s stories been (and continue to be) left out of history?

Perhaps rehashing the etymological roots of a single word won’t change the  fact that history has long been recounted from the viewpoint of dominant society; Hollywood, arguably the world’s most influential movie industry is still run by white people, or men, or Americans (depending on which way you look at it); the op-ed pages of major news outlets — through which policy and thought leadership are driven — are also dominated by men who don’t understand women’s issues; and while stories of minority groups do make their way into history archives, the fact that they are often told from the point of view of the oppressor often leads to unrealistic, dehumanizing, biased portrayals of the people whose history is being documented for them. But, embracing the revelation that history is simply “a narrative accounted for” actually makes things less complicated:

In order to address the dearth of women’s histories — our stories, and voices being undocumented, under-valued, and falsely represented without reprimand — women must begin telling their own stories; we must essentially write our way back into history.

Incidentally, one doesn’t always have to “do” something huge to be someone important  — sometimes sharing the complex, intersecting pieces about ourselves (and inspiring others to do the same) can do just as much, if not more, to change the world.

For instance, I recently asked my straight, conservative, Christian brother — who does not consider himself a writer, by the way — to contribute a guest blog about his personal experience spending his first Christmas with me and my partner. At first he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hear from him; he even stated in the piece that he’s just “a regular guy from Nigeria.” Well, three months later, I still get emails from so many young people telling me that they used his piece to come out as gay to their families. Three months later, I still have African students walk up to me after I’ve given a talk to let me know that my brother’s piece changed their lives, that his “writing” gave them hope. I’m about to hire one of them as an intern this summer, an opportunity she describes as opening her world up to more African community than she’s ever been exposed to before.

And in case you’re tempted to point out that my brother’s a guy, it was no different when my younger sister contributed a similar piece, Confessions of a Straight Girl, two years ago; a high school teacher reached out to me then for permission to use her piece to lead a gender and sexuality studies class.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, even if I want to write, my life is not that interesting. I’m just a [insert perceived mundane role here that has everyone wondering why you’re being so self-deprecating] with nothing to say…” That is simply not true. Bertrand Russell (a man) once said, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” When I think about how many boring history textbooks written by men are out there, it motivates me to keep writing, no matter how insignificant the voices in my head insist my perspective (on anything) is. And if positive-thinking doesn’t work for you, here are some other factors to consider:

  • Women are less likely to run for office in  part because they don’t feel “qualified enough”
  • “Mommy Blogging” has gotten the attention of a $750 million blog marketing industry; companies want to know what moms — not “experts” — think before they spend a dime developing new products
  • The It Gets Better campaign — videos created by regular people — has dramatically increased awareness of issues facing LGBT youth
  • There are too many men who really shouldn’t be talking (Rush Limbaugh and David Bahati come to mind) writing and saying all kinds of things, and even worse influencing millions of people with their biased point of view — shouldn’t we at least join them?

See, the problem with women not telling their stories isn’t just an issue of “balance” (i.e. we need men and women’s voices in equal measure), but an issue of “influence.” Thus, the reason I write as often as I do is not because I think I have more to say, but rather, there’s too much at stake in the world if I don’t say enough. So, in moments when I doubt my power to impact others, I’ve learned to tap into the deep dread I feel at the thought of someone else speaking for me, especially after I’m gone; someone giving my children their version of who I was instead of doing the work to make sure my children get to read my words. My writing ensures accountability to my voice, my perspective, my journey, my history, which is worth telling, and worth telling right.

So, for women’s history month, I challenge you to take charge of your own history, by writing it. Instead of passively sharing women’s history as recounted by others, how about you begin the process of formally documenting — journaling, blogging, creating art and media etc — about your own life? It’s simple enough these days: you could create your own blog using a free Blogger or WordPress account, sign up for Twitter and share snippets of your history using #myherstory.

Blogging and tweeting may seem trivial given the bigger picture of revolutionizing history, but tell that to the voters (29 and under) who  leveraged the power of social media to elect the first US Black president, or the people of the Arab Spring who tweeted, YouTubed and shared their revolution with the world, and in turn sparked many more revolutions — the occupy movements — worldwide. Yours truly will be participating in Gender Across Border’s Blog for International Women’s Day, thus joining thousands of women all over the world to celebrate this year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” Why not be one of them? Your words matter. Our words matter. Women’s words matter.

Whether you’re a teacher who educates young girls in a classroom, a mother of four who loves to write erotica, a hiphop artist who has a thing to say about gender discrimination in the music industry, a bus driver who bakes cupcakes, a sibling with an outspoken, queer, activist of a sister, please speak. Please say something. You have to — the world is counting on you.

A Letter To My Plagiarist

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, I thought it only appropriate to post this response to the plagiarist who thought they could get away with stealing my words.

I admit that I wrestled with responding at all; the pain of knowing that a fellow African LGBT activist, who I knew personally, had done this to me was a lot to bear. In the wake of David Kato’s murder, a prominent LGBT Ugandan activist that was murdered in January, the last thing that I needed — that the Queer African movement needed — was internal conflict. Aside from the infuriating suggestions from people (including other writers– wow) that I “let it slide for the greater good”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling, that my words — the only things I have in this world — had been taken from me. I felt violated.

At one point, I had to say it out loud to believe it, “I’ve just been plagiarized, blatantly, by someone who knows me.” Seriously, verbatim. This woman (who was a journalist so couldn’t claim to not know better) had lifted a whole three paragraphs from the blog post I’d written about David Kato and read it as part of a speech in public forum (at a vigil held in NYC in his honor – starts at 2:00 min), no citation, no credit, no mention that her speech even contained excerpts from an ‘unnamed’ source. I found out in the worst way possible, on effin Twitter. I happened to click on a link to video coverage of the event she spoke at in NYC and there she was, speaking my words verbatim, being so inspiring it took me a few takes to realize why her words resonated so much… they were mine. Wow.

Of course I confronted her about it. I sent her a very nice but stern email that said I know what she’d done and I was giving her a window to take responsibility, apologize, and do something about it i.e. email the media outlets that quoted her with my words in my mouth and ask them to make corrections AND post in a public place (her blog for instance) that she’d taken my words without permission and was going to give appropriate credit to make it right.

At first she apologized and agreed to make things right, but then she did a switcharoo, all of a sudden getting annoyed that I was making all these “demands” of her and decided she was going to investigate on her own if she’d actually done anything wrong. Despite her new-found confidence in barreling through the issue without taking responsibility, I gave her several more chances after that. But all she ended up doing, to add insult to injury, was put up this deliberately condescending message about how trials as an activist on the day she had to give that speech, and oh by the way here’s this person Spectra who writes about Africa even though she doesn’t live there, and here is a link to her blog. I’m linking her here to “lift her up with visibility.” I was LIVID. But also incredibly hurt.

The experience, I admit, shook me. I only just realized recently that I hadn’t been writing and sharing as much content online. The fear of violation like that again, even the fear of being accused of not thinking about the “bigger picture” (i.e. going after a ‘fellow’ whatever) held me back; it become a subconscious trigger anytime I was about to post something online. I’m a writer first before anything else. I don’t want my words stolen. And certainly not from people who claimed to love, admire, care about me. But I’m done with the silence. It’s stifling. I’ll have no more of it.

Aren’t I the person that always tells it like it is, regardless of which ‘community’ I’m supposed to be aligned it? Aren’t I miss warrior woman, outspoken, no-bullshit, no-nonsense, no tolerance for injustice? If I don’t stand up to a bloody cyber plagiarist, then I fail all those people I’m constantly encouraging to speak up — writers, artists who believe their work is important enough to protect, to value, activists who feel trapped by petty politics, anyone who’s ever felt betrayed or violated by people that are supposed to be supporting them.

We must speak out against bad behavior, even within our movements. In doing so, we will find strength and healing we didn’t know was there, like I have. It is too important that we hold our communities — and each other — accountable, lest we begin to silence among ourselves.


Dear Plagiarist,

I must admit, you swept me off my feet.
Charmed me with flattery,
used words like “passionate”, “prolific”,
game changer, you seduced me,
sanctioned the urgency in my voice
just when I’d’ begun to shrink under the weight of accusations,
“aggressions unwarranted,” they said
even though our people were dying;
this “angry black woman” was on the brink of depression when you showed up,
offering verbal bouquets in my mother tongue.
You spoke friend, and I listened,
awakened my senses so that I could smell the bullshit from these white people
who only loved me when I was tame,
only loved me when I was game for banter,
could only stomach me placed neatly between the black and white lines of their own agenda
— I spit at their podiums.

But you…
I felt like I knew you.
Your accent, thick with struggle through colonial diction,
that awkward ensemble of western clothing gave you away
an immigrant attempting to recreate themselves in a foreign country,
I stood under you when you needed uplifting,
welcomed you into my house, unsuspecting
I fed you. Nurtured you when I myself was starving,
simply because I was thankful for the company,
for the ability to lock eyes in a sea of white guys who misused the truth for their own gains;
“We are Africans, the longest surviving population on the planet,”
I proclaimed, “… and we don’t need saving.”
We need solidarity.

In the aftermath, I wrote:
“David Kato, in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear.”
…in the face of violence, we must never abandon hope for fear,
and you cheered for me in private,
clapped your ashy hands at the gall of this Naija woman
to inspire healing through pain as ego clouded your vigil;
you pounded your fist on the table as I vowed to share the truth,
that these westerners preached too god damn much to listen,
gave our fathers reason to say, “Homophobia is a white man’s problem.”

So I didn’t mind when your sound bites
had bitten off too many of mine
We were sisters, and what was mine was yours,
but when I heard the media applaud your thievery I saw it plainly:
my sister had maimed me,
ripped words like cheap clothes from my naked body,
and waved them in the air for glory.
You betrayed me.
I didn’t see it coming.

But see, the thing about being a warrior woman
is that I’ve been bitten one time too many
by snakes disguised as allies standing right next to me;
You must bleed to beat the poison,
You must bleed to win.

Val Kalende — What, thought I wouldn’t put you on blast?

At your best you were a thief,
impostor playing journalist stealing other people’s stories,
media sob story turned professional token — you have lost your footing
and now, your head bows low enough to be petted by the same jokers I wipe the floor with,
the same cowards who cower under the bass of my voice when they piss me the fuck off.

…and trust me when I say, that I am pissed the fuck off.

If you thought I would go sulk in a corner
a good girl ashamed to report her abuser
for fear of being accused of seeking media attention
damaging your “stellar” reputation out of envy,
then you must not know me.

I am a warrior woman,
a freedom fighter, truth seeker,
liberator of all who’ve been double-crossed by oppression,
I will make an example of you.
Run and hide behind the podiums these white people have given you,
a house kennel for the stray dog that you are
— no rhetoric will shield you, no eulogy will save you —
You will NOT escape my wrath.

NEW PROJECT: Interview Series Featuring LGBT Human Rights Leaders around the World

For Immediate Release:

Spectra Speaks, founding director of QWOC+ Boston and award-winning LGBT activist, is interested in interviewing LGBT POC leaders in the US and human rights activists around the world as part of the QWOC Talk Project.

If you’re an LGBT activist/leader based in the US, who is part of the (or works closely with) the LGBT people of community, or a human rights activist working to further the fight for LGBT equality and acceptance in any part of the world, you are invited to participate in this interview series.

The project launches in February, and in solidarity with Black History Month, will feature interviews from Black LGBT Leaders across the country (from New England to the West Coast) and the globe (spanning various parts of Africa and Europe).

Note from Spectra:

“Too often, we lose momentum in movements due to lack of mentorship and access to the wealth of knowledge held collectively by our leadership. I’m interested in speaking with individuals who are working in various capacities to improve the livelihood of their communities because I believe that through these people, we can all learn something, even if it is that we — as leaders — are not alone in the struggle for acceptance and eventually, equality.

So whether or not you’re featured in your local newspaper, part of 501c3 organization or proudly unaffiliated, creating change legally or socially, speaking out via Op-Eds or through your craft as an artist, remember that you are an important part of the LGBT movement. You ARE an important asset to all of us, and I’d be honored to hear from you.”

Please submit some preliminary information HERE and you will receive an email if you’re profile aligns with the mission of this project. This could take anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on interest and interview schedules, which will be conducted via phone, in-person (depending on location), email, or Skype.

Spread the word.

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