CREATIVE WRITING issue Issue 13 • 1
An Issue on African Visual Arts The African arts scene is surging! Artists on the continent and the diaspora, new and established, insiders and outsiders, are reinvigorating and extending Africaâ€™s diverse visual practices with new languages, new
images, and new media, creating expressive, authentic work that speaks in powerful and nuanced ways to the African experience. Itâ€™s an exciting moment in African visual arts, and it is being shaped
significantly by the Internet, which, among other things, is democratizing artistic practice and enabling African artists to connect and share in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago.
Callfor Contributions For our next issue, Q-zine turns its focus on these new developments in African visual arts from a queer perspective. As the only digital magazine of African LGBTIA+ arts and culture, we are in a unique position to reflect on how the current explosion in African artistic creativity
can illuminate the African queer experience. For our 15th issue, we invite visual artists from Africa and the African diaspora to share work that speaks to or about the queer experience in the broadest sense of the term. We are interested in any work that explores questions of identity, community, belonging, authenticity, modernity, sexuality, gender, and difference. We welcome work in photography, painting, drawing, video, digital art, or any other visual medium. Artists at all stages of their careers are encouraged to submit their work, but new and upcoming artists are especially encouraged.
Examples of what are we looking for: • • • • • •
Illustrations and cartoons Paintings Documentary and portrait photography Reviews of exhibitions, festivals, dance, plays, films, television and web series, and websites Profiles and interviews of artists Fashion, make-up, and hairstyle shoots
Art: Each image should have
a caption (max. 100 words) commenting on the work and each file should be linked to its caption. The location and date of photos should also be given. All images should be submitted as high-resolution TIFF or JPG files (at least 1,000 pixels on the long edge).
Photography, Fashion & Style:
Photography, fashion, makeup, and hairstyle shoots can be in color or black and white. They should include the name of the designer, the models, the make-up artist, and photographer. Provide a short description of the work, the contact address of the artist (including Facebook page), website, boutique address, and
prices of work featured. All images should be submitted as high-resolution TIFF or JPG files (at least 1,000 pixels on the long edge).
Profile and interviews of artists: Profiles and interviews may be of artists, performers, photographers, filmmakers, or anyone else involved in visual arts. Interviews should have a brief introduction with some critical commentary on the interviewee’s work and be edited to create a narrative flow; therefore, a simple question-answer format is not appropriate. Preferred length: 1,000 to 1,200 words.
Reviews of exhibitions, festivals,
plays, films, web series, television, dance: Reviews can be
retrospective or focus on current or soon-to-be released work. They can focus on a single work or review a related group of work. Preferred length: about 1,500 words. Please send us your submissions in either English or French to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, please
contact Mariam Armisen at email@example.com
Deadline for submissions: September 10, 2017
Artwork and layout by : Nye’ Lyn Tho
Cover image by Siphumeze Khundayi About Q-zine Q-zine is a project of the Queer African Youth Network (QAYN) Editorial Team Co-Founder and Managing Editor Mariam Armisen Lead Editor John McAllister Translator HomoSenegalensis
Photo by John McAllister (endotica.org)
Graphic Design GTECH Designs Contributing Editors Solange A. Valerie Bah HomoSenegalensis Gerard Casas Contact Website: q-zine.org Digital magazine: issuu.com/q-zine Facebook: facebook.com/Qzine-301213179916527/ Twitter: @q_zine Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inside this issue issue 13 • creative writing
fiction 13 22
The Prospective Student Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe
The Edge Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende
70 Elegy Maya Pillay
The Lithe One Ola Osaze
What Not to Wear Tanlume Enyatseng
Processing the Tree Po Lomami
107 Goodbye, my Love HomoSenegalensis
111 A Disreputable Love Emma
The U.S. Questions Garissa FreeQuency
Metaphor of a Deceptive Love Ruth L.
Photo by Siphumeze Khundayi
A Moon Memory of You Tai Rockett
Potter Mothers Eva Bouillon Little Sky FreeQuency
Seductive Red Ruth L.
Children Are Born of these Wars Tai Rockett
110 Where Do We Stand? Pamina Sebastião 113 You Say Edna Ninsiima
Inside this issue issue 13 • creative writing
The Revival: Women and the Word (2017) Valerie Bah
Lycinais Jean, or When Zouk Music Comes Out of the Closet! HomoSenegalensis
Stories of Us John McAllister
59 Limit(Less) Mikael Owunna
105 Bus Stop Mariam Armisen
101 Beyoncé Love Drought Video Mikael Owunna
Trans* Visibility in Feminist Spaces Mariam Armisen
Riding Taxis in Abidjan Solange A. Musanganya
In Between Pages Cynthia Ibo
Photo by Mariam Armisen
Dressed up on New Year’s Day Mariam Armisen
contributors homosenegalensis HomoSenegalensis is a young feminist queer-identified work in progress from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. She loves listening to the ocean, reading, travelling and experimenting with her guitar.
po b. k. lomami
Photos by Mikael Owunna; endotica.org
Po B. K. Lomami is a Belgian Congodesendant socio-artistic project manager, contemporary art programmer, and anti-negrophobia, afroqueer, and afrofeminist activist and performer. turbonegresse.org
tanlume enyatseng Tanlume is a writer, content producer and dream chaser. Born and bred in Botswana. A creative writer with a flair for words. He loves discovering new places, listening to music, taking in contemporary art and design, documenting memories and exploring the world. He is the author of Bananaemoji.com, a blog which illustrates today’s evolving culture through social commentary, fashion and humour. bananaemoji.com
Ola Osaze is a trans masculine person of Edo and Yoruba descent, who grew up in the delta region of Nigeria and now resides in the US. Ola works for Transgender Law Center in Oakland, CA, and has been involved with Audre Lorde Project, Uhuru Wazobia (one of the first LGBT groups for African immigrants in New York City), Queers for Economic Justice and Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Ola was a 2015 Voices of Our Nation Arts Fellow, and has writing featured in Black Public Media, Black Girl Dangerous, Black Looks, Autostraddle, Trans Atlantic Times, Trans Queers: A Transfags Sex Journal, and anthologies, including Yellow Medicine Review, Queer African Reader, and the soon to be released Queer Africa II.
Issue 13 • 8
contributors maya surya pillay Maya Surya Pillay is a queer brown girl who was born in Durban, South Africa in 1997. She is currently a medical student at the University of Cape Town. Her writing has appeared in various publications, such as the American Poetry Review, AERODROME, Alien Mouth, and others.
Barbara Mhangami–Ruwende is originally from Zimbabwe. Her stories have appeared in the following anthologies: Where to Now (AmaBooks, 2010), Still (Negative Press, 2011); African Roar (2013) Caine Prize Anthology (2014) Gonjon Pin and Other Stories (New Internationalist, 2013), Muse for Women ( 2013) and African Drum (Diaspora, 2013). Her stories have also appeared in the following journals: Storytime (2012), Guernica (2016) and African Writing (issue 12). She was a 2014 Hedgebrook Writer-in-Residence and Caine Prize for African Writing workshop 2013 attendee. She is a mentor with the Ugandan “Writivism” program at the center for African excellence (CACE) Foundation.
9 • June 2017
kuukua dzigbordi yomekpe Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe is a transdisciplinary artist: choreographing West African dance forms; creating a fusion of Ghanaian dishes; and penning memoirs, essays, and social commentaries. She was born and raised in Ghana and the raising continued when she immigrated to Ohio. Some of her work has been anthologized in: First Bloom, Writing Fire, Berskhire Mosaic, Fierce Hunger, African Women Writing Resistance, Becoming Bi: Bisexual Voices from Around the World, and Inside Your Ear.
Photos by endotica.org
Mariam Armisen, founder and managing editor of Q-zine, is a feminist activist, social researcher, and consultant from Burkina Faso. Her passions include connecting people and ideas, art and culture, travel, taking pictures, and reading.
pamina sebastiao My writing is a reflection on my daily struggle in Luanda, Angola, as a black woman who is bisexual and polyamorous. I don’t try to speak for all bisexual black women. I’m just making sense of what has been my experience based on my fears, pain, and identity.
mikael chukwuma owunna Mikael Chukwuma Owunna is a Nigerian-Swedish-American photographer and writer based in Washington D.C. As a photographer, he specializes in documentary and portrait work with a mission to elevate marginalized community voices. As a writer, Mikael focuses on analyzing white supremacy, colonization, and anti-blackness in popular culture and mainstream media. His writings and podcasts on Tumblr as BlackinAsia and Owning-My-Truth have been viewed over a million times and have been quoted or cited in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and Salon. He has also written for Mic.
Photo by Mariam Armisen
edna ninsiima Edna Ninsiima is a Ugandan feminist and writer with a particular interest in social justice, especially issues relating to gender as a social construct. Edna is a lover of the written word. She loves good books, mostly African literature and writes reviews for The Daily Monitor, one of the leading newspapers in Uganda. She is a blogger at beingedna.com and blogs about pretty much everything, but her interests lean towards poetry, human rights, equality, and travel. In her spare time, Edna dips her fingers into digital communications, creating online content for brands, organizations, and campaigns.
mwende “freeQuency” katwiwa Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa is a 25-year-old Black, Kenyan, Immigrant, Queer, Womyn poet in New Orleans, LA. Ranked 3rd and 8th at the 2015 & 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam, FreeQuency is an Anti-Racist and Reproductive Justice organizer who has spent most of her life living and writing at the intersection of arts, education and activism. In New Orleans, she organizes & advocates with BYP100-NOLA and Women With A Vision, does youth work & poetry with the New Orleans Youth Open Mic and Team Slam New Orleans (Team SNO) and is an African Culture/Fashion Blogger with Noirlinians. View her work at www. FreeQuencySpeaks.com & www. Noirlinians.com.
Tai Rockett is an Oakland based poet and actor. Since 2012 Tai’s poetry has been regularly published in literary journals and anthologies both nationally and internationally. She is a 2014 VONA Fellow, and her most recent publication will be released through Sinister Wisdom in the fall of 2017. Her two most prominent acting performances have been in Dyke Central, a local webseries, and Leaving the Blues, a play by Jewelle Gomez. Tai works in education and takes joy in advocating for community art projects and culture spaces.
john mcallister John McAllister taught literature and writing in Kenya and Botswana for more than a quarter century until he retired in 2015. He has been involved in numerous LGBTQ creative projects over the years, including lead-editing Q-zine since its launch in 2011. He now runs Endotica, an independent creative consultancy in Vancouver, Canada. Contact him at: www.endotica.org
Issue 13 • 10
contributors cynthia ibo Cynthia Ibo is an afro-Caribbean activiste, poet, writer, filmmaker, rapper, photographer.
eva bouillon Eva Bouillon studies French and Francophone Literature with a concentration in Colonial Studies and Gender Studies at Paris 8. Raised in a Congolese and Catholic family in the Parisian suburbs, she is interested in the intersection of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and religion. Through her writing, she aspires to expose the taboo surrounding homosexuality in African culture all the while celebrating it, especially Congolese culture.
11 • June 2017
ruth l. Ruth L. was born and raised in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and currently studies Geography at Paris Diderot. From a young age, she developed a strong interest in writing and photography, and recently, black and white photography. She draws from personal encounters, tales and her imaginary to tell stories. Her passion for black and white photography allows her to capture the moment as a witness of the present but also nourish the memories that fuel her writing.
solange a. musanganya Solange A. Musanganya is a trans woman and an international LGBT rights activist. Canadian of Rwandese origin, she is the founder of Arc-enCiel d’Afrique and initiator of the Montreal Massimadi Festival. Passionate about writing, she has written five manuscripts describing her jour-
ney since the Rwanda genocide. In her chronicles, Solange uses an erotic framework to talk about her transition, sharing her experiences and emotions throughout the process. She addresses issues of self-perception as well perception by potential partners, thereby showing that transition is not only a personal matter, but also a collective one.
valérie bah Valérie Bah is a writer, independent filmmaker and photographer whose work focuses on black feminist and queer resistance.
thank you all from
Photos by Mariam Armisen
Emma Onekekou is a young Ivorian woman who was born and raised in Cote d’Ivoire. Passionate about literary work on love stories between African women, she combines, in her books, African traditions, imported religions, and personal convictions. She has already written four books (which have not been edited yet) and has a blog where she addresses issues of gender, the rights of queer women as well as STI prevention.
Catch the Energy of African Queer Creative Writing
Photo by endotica.org
In February 2013, with our sixth issue, Q-zine made history by publishing the first anthology of African LGBTQ creative writing. We were quickly followed by others, and now, just four years later, African queer fiction, poetry, and memoir, which before this were almost as hard to find as a queer-friendly African politician, can be enjoyed in several print collections and numerous websites and blogs. A brilliant new generation of writers is rising up to make the diversity of African queer voices heard. Here at Q-zine, we are proud to have played a pioneering role in the “arrival” of African LGBTQ literature as a cultural force to be reckoned with. Since 2013 we have brought out issues on LGBTQ “others,” on Afro-Caribbean queer culture, on the queer presence in African fashion, and naturally, on love. Earlier this year, with Issue 12, we scored another first. In collaboration with HOLAAfrica! we published the first-ever anthology of writing by African queer women. We are now organizing material for volume two of this project, which will be out in a few months.
In the meantime we decided to take another look at African queer creative writing from Q-zine’s unique pan-African perspective, and this exciting new publication, our lucky Issue 13, is the result. Our first creative writing issue was our most popular publication to date, and we are pretty sure that Issue 13 will be another favorite. It features an all-new lineup of brilliant young poets, short-story writers, essayists, and story-telling photographers from every corner of Africa. They express our queer African experiences and dreams from too many different perspectives and in too many different styles to describe here. Open this issue anywhere and catch the energy for yourself !
John McAllister Lead editor
Issue 13 • 12
BY KUUKUA DZIGBORDI YOMEKPE
13 â€¢ June 2017
PHOTO BY SIPHUMEZE KHUNDAYI
“W “Welcome.” I said as I flashed my award-winning smile and pulled out a chair for her at the table where my friend, Chioma, and I were seated. Chioma, worn out and a bit cranky from our long day in the lab, said, “What did you say your name was again?” “Amaka,” she answered before I could roll my eyes at Chioma. “We’re all tired,” I said, trying to look apologetic. “Mr. Oware works us to death in our morning BioChem lab. Then we barely get through lunch before Mrs. Nyame drills us in Physics.” “Thursdays are just all around torturous!” Chioma chimed in, regaining some of her usual bubbly energy. “Come, I think we should show her around as Prof requested,” I whispered to Chioma. Something about Amaka’s eyes had caught my attention, and I didn’t want to be left alone with her. Chioma reluctantly unfolded her long, lean, dancer’s body from the couch, straightened her dress, and picked up her backpack. “Ok, I’m up, let’s go!” she ordered. “So where are you from?” I asked Amaka, as we made our way to the exit “Nsukka, about sixty kilometers from here,” she replied. “Why do you want to transfer?” I asked. Chioma looked at me. “I thought a few minutes ago you said you were tired and couldn’t wait to get to bed! Where did you get this sudden energy?” “Well yeah, I did, and I still do, but we have a visitor to our campus,” I said, avoiding both pairs of eyes. We left the cafeteria and headed down the first-floor hallway . “We should start in our department,” Chioma suggested. I ignored her and turned to Amaka, “What’s your thesis on” Issue 13 • 14
I asked, “ ... or haven’t you decided yet? I’m doing mine on the tsetse fly, which causes… ”. For some reason, my mind went blank. “…Trypanosomiasis,” Amaka chimed in looking me the eye. “That’s surreal! she added, “I am too.” She smiled, still looking straight into my eyes. “Ei! What is this?” Chioma said, cutting through our private moment. “Nothing!” We both chimed, as we broke the magnetic field that had held our eyes. AFTER WE HAD SHOWN Amaka around the department,
we went up to the 5th floor to show her the labs and ran into Ranni just as she leaving for the day. “I’m famished!” she wailed. Ranni liked to exaggerate. “Yeah, I suppose I could eat!” I replied. “But where are my manners? Ranni, meet Amaka, she’s a prospective student,” I added. “Why don’t we all go to Madame Onyeka’s? It’s late enough.” Chioma suggested. “Yeah, if we leave now we should be there just when the first batch of fufu comes out before those Upper Six boys take all the best parts of the goat.” Ranni was infamous for dating younger men and frequently leaving in her wake a series of, shall we say, unresolved circumstances that erupted at the most inconvenient of times. We all knew it wasn’t really true that the goat meat would all be gone if we delayed. But the Upper Six boys might be! “Amaka, do you eat goat? Fufu?” I asked, resuming our locked-eye relationship. “Yes, I do. I love them.” “Yella!” Ranni shouted pointing to the door, calling on her Arabic ancestry as she sometimes did when she got excited. “DINNER WAS GREAT last night, wasn’t it, ladies?” Ranni asked the next morning as we walked to class. “I like the new student!” I declared emphatically. “Correction, prospective student! And of course you would!” Chioma retorted. “What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, searching their faces, but they both suddenly found the ground at their feet deeply engrossing.
15 • June 2017
“See you later then!” I split off and headed towards the cafeteria, still perplexed. Later, as I checked my email and drew up my timetable for the week, I wondered if the girls knew…. I almost fell over when I saw an email from Amaka: “My father’s driver can’t pick me up until Saturday morning. Do you think you could suggest some things to do around here? Are you free tomorrow?” I couldn’t get my fingers to type fast enough. I knew just the thing! I would invite her to come hang out with Chioma and me at our usual power lunch at the lab. Chioma and I subscribed to the idea that powering through four days of thesis research and then taking three whole days off was more efficient than doing a bit each day. I wrote back instantly. She responded just as quickly, and it was settled. I kept my fingers crossed that Chioma would not be upset with me. “HI! GOOD TO SEE you again,” I said, approaching her. I was
alone. “Unfortunately, Chioma bailed on me,” I explained. “Not because of me, is it?” Amaka asked. “Don’t be silly!” She had to run an errand for her part-time job, that’s all. She can’t always make it. “I hope you didn’t eat already,” I said, searching her face. “No, I could eat.” She met my eyes. We got our trays of avocado sandwiches and Fanta and walked to my favorite spot in the canteen. As I sat down, I suddenly realized I was glad Chioma hadn’t been able to come.
AS WE CHATTED at the table, we found we had quite a bit in common. Cancer in our families, recent deaths, divorced parents, half siblings…. and she had a sense of humour when
delivering even the most depressing of stories, which I loved. I explained to her what we usually did in our lunch and lab sessions. Even though she was not a student at our school yet, I could get her into the lab with Chioma’s ID number. Soon we were upstairs in our lab coats, busy titrating and calibrating test tubes and flasks. We decided to work individually on one of my recent experiments, take a break after two hours. and compare results. “All done!” she yelled out from the front of the lab right before the timer began buzzing. “Yeah, right!” I retorted looking for an excuse to keep working. “Yeah really. Come see for yourself.” I went over, and to my surprise, she had solved the problem I had been having trouble with for a week. “Seriously? How did you do it? As she explained, I struggled to keep my eyes on the flask and buret. When she had finished, she asked, “What do you and Chioma usually do after this?” I hesitated. “It depends on what we each have going on.” “What do you have going on?” she asked. It sounded almost … flirtatious. “Nothing. This is it.” I said, honestly enough. I hadn’t given any thought to what I might do afterwards. “Do you want to see a movie or something?” she asked. “That would be nice. I don’t get to do that very often.” “Anything in particular you want to see?” I shrugged. “I don’t know what’s showing. You choose.” “Great. But let’s get dinner first. There’s something I’d like to see in town, but it doesn’t start until 7.” “Sure, what would you like to eat?” After about fifteen minutes of roaming the main strip of shops and restaurants in the centre of town, we settled on an Indian place. Over dinner, we talked some more. My jokes about the cute waiter took our conversation in a different direction. “So what’s your type?” I asked after she had disagreed with me about the waiter. She smiled, and very soon, we were sharing our dating history with each other. What we liked, our pet peeves, our non-
negotiables, as I like to call them. I felt so comfortable with her that I shared things most of my friends didn’t even know. “I’ve always wanted to kiss a woman,” she volunteered a few sentences into the conversation on fantasies. “Oh?” I was slightly shocked. Had she said this only because I told her I had dated a woman? “Well then, why haven’t you?” I challenged. “The situation just hasn’t presented itself,’ she said coyly, adding, “I’m not usually the initiator.” “Hmmm…” I looked away. Was that was an invitation? We didn’t speak for a few moments while we finished eating. On the way to the cinema, we talked about other things. She told me how she had woken up the night before at the relative’s house where she was staying and heard rats scrabbling around. She hated rats more than anything and was worried she would not sleep properly tonight. What else could I do? I offered her my couch for the night. She was being picked up the next morning. It was just a matter of calling and giving her driver the new address. “Are you sure?” she asked for the third time. “No, I’ve changed my mind since the last time you asked.” She playfully smacked my arm. “Let’s hurry before we miss the start of the movie,” I said, pretending to glance at my watch. “GOODNIGHT.” I said to Amaka. She had finally accepted my offer to stay the night. “Goodnight,” she answered. “Are you warm enough?” I asked.
Issue 13 • 16
“Yeah, for now…. Then she added, “ I’ll crawl in bed with you if I get cold.” “Ah, sure, okay. Just make sure to crawl in on the other side. I’m stuck in my ways about where I sleep,” I said, then wanted to bite my tongue. Had I sounded cold? I summoned my courage. “Amaka, are you attracted to me?” “Isn’t that obvious?” she replied. “Well…I wasn’t too sure,” I said. “So do you just want to crawl into bed with me now?” I added, laughing. “Yes.” As I scooted over for her to climb in, I realized that I had given up my favorite place on the bed without even thinking about it. “Are you sure?” she asked, pointing to where she was now lying. “Uh-huh.” “Are you comfortable? Do you feel seduced? Are you telling me the truth?” My insecurities took control of me. Was this right? “I’m fine,” she said firmly. “No, I don’t feel seduced. I’m an adult, you know.” “And yes, I’m telling you the truth,” she added. “May I kiss you?” I asked. The sound of my voice seemed like it was drowning in the sounds of the drum circle playing in my heart. She nodded and smiled at me. She was beautiful. I prayed neither of us would regret this in the morning. We kissed and held each other for most of the night, only stopping to lick and suck on breasts and grind on each other’s thighs. Had I had other virgins, she asked. I think I said a couple amybe. Later I checked. Yes, three. But none were like this. This comfort and lack of awkwardness was new. It was as if we had known each other a long time. It felt as though she knew exactly how to touch me, hold me, kiss me. IT DIDN’T SEEM that a first timer could know this much, yet here she was, two hours later, still awake, kissing me, switching briefly to pull her locs out of our faces. She was
17 • June 2017
gorgeous. Even though we both stayed fully clothed the whole time, the skin on my body tingled all night long. Her long lithe body moved effortlessly next to mine as if it was meant to be there. “Goodnight.” I said, as I nibbled on her ear. “Mmmm…Goodnight,” she responded, curling further into the spoon I had created for her. I fell asleep holding her. We woke up exhausted but without regret. It was beautiful. We were beautiful together. I wondered if I could ever share this with Chioma and Ranni. Would they feel betrayed? Would Amaka feel betrayed? I kissed her before I opened the door for her to walk down to the waiting car. “I hope you get accepted and we get to hang out,” I said, feeling shy for the first time. “Please don’t feel obliged to call me though.” I didn’t know what else to say. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not now at least. I’d had an amazing time with her, but I didn’t want her to feel any pressure. After all, she had just wanted to kiss a woman, not marry one. I kissed her one last time and made her promise to let me know me when she got back in Nsukka. “You can check it off your list,” I joked with her as she descended the stairs. “It’s not as easy as that!” She turned around and winked. “Safe travels,” I said, prolonging our goodbye. “Thank you. I hope you don’t fall asleep at work.” “Goodbye.” “Goodbye.” I resisted the urge to look out the window after I heard the front door slam shut.
the lithe one BY OLA OSAZE PHOTO BY SIPHUMEZE KHUNDAYI
Issue 13 â€¢ 18
he was tall and lithe. He was languorous, draped in mesh. She was yellow and amorous. Amongst them I was a square shaped 5’4”, the only trans masc surrounded by two Amazonian trans women and one fluid cis gay man. Today an orange-hued despot with a blond combover was inaugurated as US president. He’d been elected two months ago, after promising to deport three million immigrants, promising police forces around the country the power, like rabid dogs, to unleash themselves and their military-grade weapons onto black people, brown people. And for the benefit of those who view trans and queer people as personifications of sin, who think that we -- and women generally -- have no right to self-determine the fate of our bodies, he promised a different kind of wall. This was our backdrop as the four of us of trooped into Woody’s, a tri-level, multi-room club in downtown Philly, eager for release on the dance floor. Earlier in the evening, I’d been an unwilling participant in this impromptu party, eager to dig into my hotel bed, drown in the down covers, and feast my eyes on what the tube had to say for itself. A simple text, a simple playful goading by him “oh so I’m not motivating enough?” was all it took. I joined them and followed them through the night. It all began with the word “Africa” imprinted onto a page, the booklet that laid out what workshops were going to be where and when. What cocktail receptions were going to take up the evenings. This was the first time in years I’d returned to Creating Change, a ginormous conference for the gays in America. Here most faces peeking at me in hallways and elevators were oyinbos or mzungus, depending on what part of the continent you’re from and what terms you use to describe white people. Here I least expected to run into other Africans like me who were assigned one or more letters in the alphabet soup of queerness. In “Media, Religion, and Hope in Africa,” the one workshop that spoke to any aspect of my cultural identity, where other queer Africans came, I suspect, because they wanted something familiar 19 • June 2017
and perhaps, like me, they hoped for other familiars as well, in that room of twenty or so people, there were eight of us who had some recent direct link to the continent. We sat spread around the room, not known to each other yet, but when we spoke up or when we caught each other’s eyes as the discussions carried on around us, we knew. The one African on the panel, a cis gay man, a pastor from somewhere in Southern Africa preached on about a global movement to support our people on the continent. He was flanked by a white woman, a chaplain from some church that had chapters all over the world. She too, unlike me stranded on this soil for some twenty-odd years, had the privilege of saying she’d spent considerable time on the continent recently and somehow the conference organizers had taken that as worthiness to present on the subject of “Africa.” Eventually, during the course of the workshop, she was flanked by another white person, a cis gay man from an American foundation who talked about a book written by a group of queer Africans, none of them here to tell us about it themselves. In this murky sea, other white voices felt equipped to chime in about our lives. Through this murky sea, I swam to other Africans, befuddled like me that this nice face of white colonialism was still happening in 2017. But I’m not here to write about white people encroaching on us. That has been done time and time again. I and the other three reunited later in the afternoon when one of them was giving a talk as part of a panel discussion on LGBT asylees. And again, later in the night, in the reception room where space had been cleared for conference attendees to dance and while away the night. The four of us stood in the corner, swaying to Whitney, Abba, Michael. “Let’s go to Woody’s,” he suggested, and I cringed, the homebody longing for the hotel bed, the drowning covers, the beaming TV screen. But I couldn’t say no. Plus, there was that voice inside me that said this was what I’d been looking for. A gathering of Africans like me, but unlike me, a chance for new friendships fostered in a subtly hostile climate, the beginning of a comradeship that I had an inkling would bloom into something neither of us could have predicted.
“But perhaps there’s destruction in daring to be so free with our bodies, with daring to be in public though our new president says we’re enemy number one.” Down the street we traipsed, on sidewalks crowded with others, sinewy bodies eager to catch the heat of the dance beat, hulky bodies bouncing off each other, gripped by spasms of laughter. Glaring street lamps caught pupils and irises, cast a yellow glow on dark and pale skins. We wound our way through them. I played my usual game of who’s queer. I tremored in silent fear for the wondrous two of our four, trans women who could care less about the stares. My body braced for the first sling of injurious words or aggressive pushes, but nothing happened. Just us four laughing our way to the club’s entrance, where we joined the fast-moving queue, flashed our IDs, and went in. But I hung back because she, the tall and lithe one, was nowhere to be found. I looked back at the line. She was going through an extra set of scrutiny. I couldn’t hear what she was trying to tell me, what the bouncer had declared to her after seeing and slapping shut her Zimbabwean passport. “You can’t stand here, sir,” said another bouncer to me, because I’d stoppedstill in the middle of the eager queue, refusing to move without my sister. She came around on the other side of the ropes they’d used to demarcate the line. “He said my visa is expired, so I can’t go in.” “What?” I said, uncertain how to proceed. I beckoned at the others, who by now had come back outside. We all peered at the passport. The visa indeed had expired. “Are you walking around with this?” he asked her, incredulity written into his gaping mouth and raised eyebrows and enlarged eyes. She shrugged. I looked on silently, aware of the fear that was creeping up her body and making her heart race. Once upon a time, I was familiar with that fear. “But your passport is not expired, so he shouldn’t be refusing you entry because of this,” he continued. I was still speechless. She, the amorous one, flicked her long braids to the other side of her face. “He shouldn’t. Can we go talk to him?” “No, I don’t want any trouble. I’m fine with going back to the hotel.” I
was faced with a crossroad, so I froze. Back her up and we go back. But we always go back. Back them, the two who were now headed to the troop of bouncers in the black jackets and hat-covered heads, and she the lithe one could be facing something that all of us secretly and openly fear, at least at one time when the word illegal was emblazoned onto the underside of our eyelids. Yet I froze. “I’m fine with going back to the hotel.” she repeated, now to me and me alone, because the other two had taken her passport back to the bouncers, but a different one this time. He was a light-skinned dude, his body filled out with muscle and fat, expanding, it seemed, forever horizontally. He extended vertically too. Tall, stout, and hulking all at once. He peered down at the document, the lights from car lights dancing off the lens of his glasses. When he beckoned at her, I followed. I prayed. My heart thudded. Should I have snatched her passport back from the other two and insisted we follow her lead? I sensed the fear seeping out of her pores in heavy waves. I saw the way she wavered as she walked towards him. I felt the ground beneath my feet and called up the power that lay in its depths. “What happened?”The other two started to say something but he cut them off. “I want to hear from her. What happened?” He looked directly at her. I stood to one side. “He looked at my passport and said my visa was expired so I couldn’t go in.” Is this the US border? Is this a customs line at the airport? It is neither. It is a club in the middle of downtown Philly. We four are here to dance. Not cross illegally into some national territory. Not blow something up or shoot something or do anything destructive, just stamp our feet, sway our waists, pump our fists in the air, dip down low to the ground and shimmy back up again. But perhaps there’s destruction in daring to be so free with our bodies, with daring to be in public though our Issue 13 • 20
new president says we’re enemy number one, with daring to boldly live life in the open, though our new vice-president says we should be cured. “Next time just open your passport to this page.” The light-skinned bouncer points to the bio page where name, date of birth, gender, and nationality are listed, where the age of the passport is listed, and hers was still very young, still very much in its prime. “Don’t open to this page.” He was now referring to the page that had a flimsy piece of paper affixed to it. A paper that said entry to the US had been granted and would expire on such and such date. On hers, the date had come and gone. “Don’t show them this page,” he repeated and handed her back the passport. “Go in,” he said and we all breathed. You know that breathing you do when you don’t know you’ve been holding your breath? When you finally breathe, it’s like the breath of life coursing through your nose into your lungs and back through your nose again. A breath that unfreezes you and unclenches your stomach. Once again, we went through the line. Once again, I was patted down. “It’s my wallet,” I said to another bouncer who was kneading the bulge in my coat pocket. Inside the club, drinks in hand, our eyes feasting on the other dancers, our bodies already moving without us having to command them. But she, the lithe one, was stiff, her long narrow fingers grasping the straw in her glass, stirring the ice cubes around and around. A stern look fixed on her face, a faraway look in her eyes. “Are you all right?” I asked foolishly. It was clear she wasn’t. “I would have been fine going back to the hotel,” she said. Then I got it. I saw the detention centers where she’d be lumped with cis men, the way she’d been shoved into a room of them at the men’s shelter when she was homeless. I saw the endless waiting for immigration proceeding after proceeding while waiting, unvisited, in detention. Denied legal representation. Denied hormones and other necessary gender-affirming medical care. Locked away in 24-hour solitary, supposedly for her protection. 21 • June 2017
But let’s do away with the niceties and call detention centers what they really are, prisons. I saw the days bleed into weeks into months, where she’d be praying for an end, no matter what it was, so long as it got her the hell out of that jail cell. Then I questioned my part in this ridiculous game of trying to free our people, trying to fight when there was so much that was insurmountable. When a night of clubbing could result in this: a bouncer judging you based on your immigration status. a group of friends deciding to fight for you without your consent. Knowing that they were really fighting for themselves didn’t really make it okay, but when do we stop going back to the hotel room and start pushing? I have the luxury of asking this question. “It’s okay,” I said. “You’re here now. You’re safe,” I said and almost bit my tongue because safe is bullshit. She said her lawyer was going to file for asylum the following week. I urged her to get that process started right away, just as I’d urged my friend back home in Oakland to get his citizenship process started right away. “What are you waiting for?” I had asked him. As I type this, I’m awaiting my naturalization interview date, which still hasn’t come and I find myself waking at 5 am in a start, wondering what the hold-up is, wondering if something has been found in my history to waylay the process, wondering if now that Trump is officially president all immigration processes have come to a halt. An hour later, lithe one was down low, inches from the ground, spreading her legs then bringing them back together, an expression of rapturous wonder on her face as the beat reached the sweet spot – that frenzy of cascading rhythms. I smiled at her though she didn’t see me. I wiped sweat off my forehead and unbuttoned my shirt because this dancing had hold of me too.
BY BARBARA MHANGAMI-RUWENDE PHOTO BY SIPHUMEZE KHUNDAYI FIRST PUBLISHED IN GUERNICA
is how she imagined they would find her body: in a black winter coat and short boots. They would shake their heads as they pulled her out of the shallow murky water. So young, the rescue officers would say to one another. They would look at her face—placid with gray undertones to her dark brown skin—and notice the mole slightly to the right of her lower lip. As they lay her on a stretcher they would note her long braids framing a wide forehead that sloped gently to meet an unassuming nose. Her eyebrows were expertly arched, her eyes close-set. They were closed as though in sleep. After a preliminary exam, they would put her body in a black bag. This one was going straight to the pathology lab. They would drive slowly. No fanfare and sirens for a dead woman. They would place her on a steel-surfaced table under a glaring light, pull off her boots, and put a tag on one of her big toes. They would struggle to pull off her coat and would just cut the damn thing off, then they would stand there mesmerized by her black and red teddy and red panties, which they would discover were a thong when they rolled her over to look for signs of trauma. They would examine her head for bullet holes or broken skull. No, they would say, shaking their heads. Definitely a high-class call girl, probably ran afoul of one of her clients or her pimp. They would prod and poke, comb her pubes for foreign hair. They would clip her fingernails, noting specks of blood that had not been washed away in the water, and the lacerations on her arms. They would collect these for DNA tests. They would try to draw blood from where it was not frozen to test for drugs that might have sent her careening off Waterloo Bridge to her death. They would eventually conclude that indeed she had done herself in, and they would wonder what had pushed such a gorgeous lass over the edge. After all their tests they would cover her in a white shroud. Issue 13 • 22
RATI WALKED INTO THE
apartment and found Thato sitting on the couch. On the side table next to him was an assortment of empty soft drink cans, a signal to Rati that he had been sitting there all day. He had not bothered to open the blinds so the room was depressingly dim. He looked up from the magazine on his lap and smiled at his wife. The TV emitted the oceanic sounds of spectators in a soccer stadium. Hey darling, she called out, her smile giving way to a frown. Sweetie, you have not been writing. She headed to the kitchen where she set her Marks and Spencer shopping bags on the table. She shrugged off her coat and hung it in the hallway. She hated that she sounded reproachful, but coming home day after day to Thato parked on the couch, surrounded by empty cans and junk food wrappers, did not stir warm feelings. She walked into the living room and placed her bag and phone on the side table next to the couch. She sat down, sighing with relief as she leaned against the backrest. I can’t write for shit. Nothing is coming. Well, maybe if you sat at your computer long enough things will start to flow? She thought that Thato looked glum and disheveled. His unkempt hair was peppered with gray and rogue tentacles from his mustache teased his upper lip. I should just give this crap up, grow up, and get a real job so you don’t have to work so hard. Writing is a real job and we’re doing OK. Besides, you would be miserable doing anything else. Well, I’m miserable as a writer. Rati leaned over and stroked his cheek, noticing with sadness how his chiseled facial features were softened by a layer of fat and his belly protruded visibly under his checkered shirt.
23 • June 2017
What we really ought to be doing is getting out more, just to live a little, you know? Maybe you’ll get some inspiration. Thato pulled away from her hand. Mama called. Oh. The soccer fans exploded into a frenzied chant. A goal had been scored. Thato’s face lit up and he was transfixed, buttocks raised off the couch, ready to jump. Rati inhaled, feeling her neck muscles tense. She stood up and walked past Thato toward the kitchen. She hummed quietly as she placed the fresh loaf of brown bread into the breadbox, deciding that the call from Thato’s mother would not ruin her mood. The pasta went into the cupboard along with the jar of Waitrose’s Hot Cocoa Mix, Thato’s favorite. Rati felt something akin to contentment as she piled the paper towel rolls into the cupboard under the sink. It was a tepid sort of happiness, the kind that one concocts out of the accumulated fragments that might have been joy in the relationship. She was never really sure whether these fragments were real or whether she had simply conjured them up and infused them with hope
so that she could get out of bed each day. Whatever it was, Rati guarded this happiness as she might have protected a child. If she had one.
shook their heads and clicked their tongues in wonderment. Powerful juju and her looks were what she had used to trap him, they whispered behind cupped hands.
A childless marriage is like an empty storage barn, the womb a desecrated tomb. Ten years of marriage and no issue. Rati loaded the yogurt into the side compartments of the fridge, flicking her long braids out of the way. At thirty-seven, she knew she looked good and took care of herself. She hummed, feeling thankful that Thato had not abandoned their union despite the pressures from home for a child, and without the smallest sign of a possible pregnancy. Nothing. A dry womb, they diagnosed, that needed fattening up along with her thighs and the rest of the body.
Thato had stood by her when his family questioned his choice of spouse. She knew he tried to spare her the taunts and the callous comments from his sisters in particular. In the early years their passion for each other had been enough to shut out the extraneous noise, but with time, the pressure had started to take a toll. Emotional blackmail was deployed to the fullest extent and the demand for grandchildren was often accompanied by copious tears and threats that they would be cut off from the family. Offers of visits to ngangas, anointed men of God, and prophetesses of the Njuzu Spirit, and even offers of special herbs one chewed to awaken a dead womb, were made from across the seas.
Rati stopped humming momentarily, savoring her longing for a child. Like an itch on a phantom limb, there was nothing she could do about it or the randomness with which it crept up on her. She wondered, as she placed bags of potato chips into the snack drawer, if her desire for a child was all hers or whether some of it was the wishes of everyone else who thought she needed one. Everyone had an opinion on the issue of her childlessness. Spoiled eggs, they concluded, what with all those men that had passed through her like trains passing through a station. Poor Thato was the unfortunate train that had stopped. They
Rati and Thato had both undergone all manner of fertility tests and enrolled in all kinds of studies, and both of them had been declared physically capable of having children. You both need to relax, her doctor told her time and time again. Rati smiled as she ripped open a bar of Cadburyâ€™s chocolate and bit into it. Her doctor was a kind, elderly woman who insisted that the baby would only come once she was relaxed enough for her womb to get ready to receive it. It will happen when you least expect it. But Dr. Silverman, how does one not expect something one has waited so long for? You simply forget that you are trying to get pregnant. That was easier said than done, Rati thought, as she licked her fingers and placed the chocolate on the table. Especially when so many people were eager to remind you of the ticking biological clock. She felt slightly irritated. Many of her friends were popping babies out and she was tired of the WhatsApp group messages with pictures of cherubic newborns or birthday parties of older kids. Her colleagues at the bank had pictures of their young, all gummy smiles and painted faces, on their desks, Issue 13 â€˘ 24
like good-luck charms. She sighed, feeling a little sad for herself but more so for Thato. Over the years she had come to realize that she was very lucky. Some of her friends had less than supportive husbands and many were philandering goats prepped to mount anything that remotely resembled a woman. Siphiwe, her friend in Birmingham, was a caricature of her former self. She had gained over a hundred pounds since she’d married Emeka. She had misguidedly decided to marry a Nigerian, believing that the clamor of culture would be less of an issue than if she had gone with a Zimbabwean. Her mother-in-law had come to stay nine months after their festive nuptials. Six years later she was still with them, listening in at their bedroom door to ensure that the activities that would yield fruit of the womb were being carried out judiciously. Siphiwe was a depressed mess, eating her way through each day. Emeka had taken to drinking, which, in the amounts he imbibed, was not conducive to procreation activities. Rati slipped out of her boots and pushed her feet into her pink slippers. She padded over to the fridge and pulled out a tuna casserole. They would have leftovers for dinner. Thato was nothing like those others. He had not heeded the family’s bleating for children to carry on the name and secretly gone back home to marry a second wife who could give him an heir. Simba, Munya, and Darlington all had “small houses” in Zimbabwe. Thato had stopped buying his mother an annual ticket from Harare to London to visit them after a huge quarrel about a second wife. Rati knew that Thato had come to accept that he was no longer close with his family because of her. However, she also knew that this saddened him deeply and his sadness affected their relationship. They no longer nurtured their bond with rich conversations and affection. They hardly did things together. She tried, but Thato was not able to shake off whatever it was that paralyzed him. From the outside, he seemed content, but she knew that his body padded itself with layers of fat to keep unhappiness in and the world out. Attempts to talk about what was bothering him were met with silence, or he would leave the room. If she pushed him they would argue, cruel things would be said, and invariably she would end up in tears. So to avoid this they exchanged only small talk and day-to-day banalities. 25 • June 2017
Rati turned on the small CD player on the windowsill and glanced at the photograph of Mbuya, her maternal grandmother. The haunting voice of Simpiwe Dana drowned out the soccer fans. Melancholy settled on her shoulders, a shawl that swaddled her in the pain of her loss. It had been six months since Mbuya passed away. Rati picked up the picture and willed Mbuya to speak. She gazed at her face, a parchment of wrinkles and furrows. Her mouth was unsmiling and the mole on the right, next to her lower lip, was visible. Kind brown eyes looked back at her and she felt tears welling up in her own. On her head Mbuya wore a red scarf wrapped simply. A saxophone wailed her sorrow and Rati touched her fingers to Mbuya’s face. She sensed that Mbuya’s death had changed her in ways that terrified her, though she had no idea what those changes were or what they signaled. She wished she could share this with her husband. Thato had flown with her to Zimbabwe for the funeral. He had been her rock, there for her in her time of sorrow. But soon after they got back to London he retreated into his shell, leaving her to grapple with her loss alone. All the groceries in their rightful place, casserole in the oven, Rati lowered the music. She placed Mbuya’s picture back and walked to the fridge. Want a drink, babe? She closed the fridge slowly and walked midway between the kitchen and the living room. From where she was she
Rubbish! Not as fabulous as you, skinny thing. Love the braids. Rati laughed, glad that she had decided to come. Hi there. The woman with the huge afro sauntered up to Manana, eyes on Rati. Oh, let me introduce you two. Manana adjusted the tray of drinks so she could free one hand. Xoliwe, meet Rati, who was a classmate for all of primary school in Zim. Rati, Xoliwe is a solicitor at our law firm. could see the back of Thato’s head resting on the seat. He sat so still she thought he might have dozed off. Then she heard the sound of her own voice mutated, a sultry tone with breathy phrases and whispered questions. You like what you see, sugar? Come on, baby, you know you want it. Rati’s stomach growled as the contents scurried frantically in search of an exit. Thato did not flinch. She did not need to see her iPhone 5 screen to know what he was watching.
with a huge afro in a long red gypsy skirt and black tank top smiled at Rati. She was standing in the living room among a group of women chatting incessantly as they waited for the book club meeting to begin. Rati shrugged off her damp coat and hung it up in the hallway. She made her way down a short stairway into the parlor to join the others. A chorus of greetings went up as Rati exchanged pleasantries with everyone. Rati, darling, how are you? Manana came through from the kitchen carrying a tray of drinks. You look fabulous, as usual! Rati kissed Manana on both cheeks.
Xoliwe nodded, eyes sparkling and red lips framing even, white teeth. Rati smiled back and took her outstretched hand. Nice to meet you, she mumbled, drowning in Xoliwe’s unwavering gaze. Xoliwe spoke softly. Thank you. Likewise. Rati’s voice quivered slightly and she retracted her hand nervously from Xoliwe’s. I detect an accent, where are you from? Xoliwe threw her head back and laughed, a rich sound that made Rati’s skin break out in goosebumps. You sound so English! I bet if I tell you I’m from London, you’ll say: No, I mean, where are you from originally? Rati laughed, mock horror on her face. Please, may I never become like that! Both women laughed. Xoliwe winked at Rati and sauntered toward the living room where everyone was taking a seat. Rati waited a few moments, thrilled but confused, then followed her into the cozy room with brown leather settees arranged in a semicircle. A Issue 13 • 26
log fire blazed in the ornate fireplace. Rati took a spot between Manana and Nneka, a regular at the meetings. They were discussing Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, but Rati was totally distracted by Xoliwe’s afro-haloed face. She sat across from her. Rati could not take her eyes off Xoliwe’s mouth, which gave her glimpses of a tongue piercing. She was mesmerized by the silver stud Xoliwe held between her teeth every so often and swept across her teeth as she spoke. Xoliwe’s presence dominated the small living room, her aura so radiant it made the other eight women in the group seem like fireflies beating their wings frantically to stay alight. Xoliwe seemed unaware of her beauty as she argued goodnaturedly with the others.
Xoliwe looked directly at her, quizzical brown eyes probing. Then she smiled knowingly. Rati looked away and swiftly turned the pages of the book in her lap, frowning with fake intent. The writing is accessible and I like the insights into Dominican culture, Manana quipped, taking a sip from her glass. It doesn’t seem much different from many African cultures, especially the heterosexual relationships. Rati looked up surreptitiously to find Xoliwe still looking at her. The heat of her arousal was so intense she gasped. This had not happened to her in years and never with a woman. Sex with Thato had long ceased to be the joyful, spontaneous act of mutual pleasure that it once was. It was a bodily function that seemed necessary for him, but for Rati, it was a chore she executed dispassionately, with the requisite moans at the appropriate moments.
sex with thato 27 • June 2017
Rati noticed a tiny stud on Xoliwe’s nose and her eyes lingered. Xoliwe grinned at her, red painted lips peeling back to reveal the beautiful teeth. She did not hide the fact that she was staring openly or care that Xoliwe was laughing at her. Shakespeare’s sensuous gap-toothed woman was Rati’s first thought. Xoliwe’s gap was a sexy sliver between her two front teeth and Rati wondered what it might be like to caress it with her tongue. See you around, Rati. Everyone was packing up to leave and Rati busied herself collecting empty glasses and placing them on the tray. She purposely kept her head down. Xoliwe was already in her coat, hands buried deep in the pockets. It was nice meeting you. Xoliwe did not move or respond for what felt like minutes to Rati. Here, let me take your number. Maybe we can
get together for drinks or something? Rati looked up into those magnetic eyes. Sure. Rati recited her cell number, lifting the tray of glasses. Take care, Rati. Xoliwe adjusted the purse on her shoulder, already on her way to the door.
XOLIWE CALLED ONE Saturday morning in June.
Rati, hi. It’s Xoliwe. I just called to ask if you would like to come over for cocktails this afternoon? Rati hesitated just long enough to convince herself that she was meeting a new friend for drinks and nothing more. This is what she told Thato, who nodded distractedly, eyes fixed on the soccer match on TV. As she stepped out into the bright sunshine she felt a little uneasy, but the thought of spending another Saturday afternoon in the apartment with Thato and all the unspoken things wedged between them strengthened her resolve to venture out.
FOR SIX MONTHS,
Xoliwe lit up her body to the soft crooning of Nina Simone, Anita Baker, and Sade. Always there was music to rock and vibrate with on those afternoons. They hardly called or texted. Rati would leave work and simply show up almost every day around three in the afternoon. Xoliwe frequently had some new lingerie for her to wear; pink bras and panties were her favorite. Rati liked teddies and thongs. Xoliwe wore slight variations of shorty panties and a bustier with boots. Their time together was spent in exploration and experience, playing at the border between pleasure and pain. She forgot about spoiled eggs and sepulcher-like uteruses. In-
laws and the cacophony of cultural expectations were barred from entry into this sanctuary of her bliss. Her marriage was the heavy coat she took off at the door, when she entered into a place where no questions were asked, nothing was demanded or expected, and then reluctantly put back on as she headed home to Thato. He noticed some changes. When he mounted her, she was moist heat, pliable and accommodating. The contours of her body molded themselves softly to his angular frame. He was perturbed when she asked him not to turn off the lights, gently pushed him onto his back, and straddled him, or when she guided his hand between her legs so he could feel her pulsating. He was perturbed but cautiously responsive. He was still sullen and emotionally distant. Rati would retreat into her thoughts of Xoliwe. She felt guilty sometimes but knowing that Thato was oblivious eased her conscience somewhat. It had never occurred to Rati that she would ever find herself attracted to a woman, the same way it had never occurred to her that she would not be able to have children. Until, of course, she found herself in a place where she wanted them and they did not come. She longed for Xoliwe in the way someone longs for something that they know or have experienced. She was confused by the deep nostalgia that thoughts of Xoliwe evoked, because nostalgia by definition was longing, based on memory. Mbuya would know what all this means. Mbuya was the one person Rati was not afraid to tell anything to. She told her about the first boy she slept with, about the pranks that would have had her expelled from school had she been found out. She even told Mbuya about her first job in London, the one that had provided money for her to go to school. Mbuya had never judged her.
IT WAS XOLIWE AND she in Xoliwe’s bohemian-styled studio apartment.
Florid curtains and bedroom décor in varying shades of pink and purple. It was an airy and welcoming place whose walls seemed to hold only the sounds of laughter and lovemaking. Xoliwe cooed like a contented pigeon. Issue 13 • 28
I love that shocking pink thong and bra, babe. Just twirl those hips for mama. Rati made a desperate move toward the couch. Don’t move! Thato’s voice was ice as it penetrated her panic. That’s right, baby, spread those cheeks for me. Yeah, you’re a natural. What the fuck? Thato exploded. Rati cringed. The sound of their voices from the video was a dirty intrusion. Thato’s voice shredded the air. Rati, why would you do this? He was looking at the video, shaking his head. Rati crumpled to the floor, gasping for air. She willed herself to pass out and to never wake up. She gagged and swallowed hard to stop her stomach from spewing its contents onto the floor. Her nose dripped as she sat there, rocking back and forth. She wrung her hands, crying. She had cried many times in this apartment, but even the walls contracted with unease at the frightening and unfamiliar sounds she emitted. Thato did not move. He continued to watch. Finding her voice, finally, Rati choked. Thato, I don’t know how it all happened. Please listen to me. I am so sorry. I am confused—all I want is to make you happy, have kids, be a family— Shut up. Just shut up! Thato screamed, ire propelling him off the couch. Rati, now on her knees, continued ranting as though she had not heard him. Thato, please give me a chance, I will go to church. I will give you my paycheck and I am so sorry I don’t wear a dhuku on my head in front of your parents and I will kneel when I serve your food and give you water to wash your hands and even go for Clomid injections so they can harvest eggs for our babies and my womb won’t shame you anymore please forgive me Thato remember everything 29 • June 2017
we’ve been through together we can get through this please. Rati wiped a trail of slime from beneath her nostrils, her breathing shallow. Thato paced back and forth, dwarfing the space with his rage-filled body. Rati looked on, pleading. But he did not seem to hear her. The aroma of tuna casserole drifted in from the kitchen. She whimpered, feeling defeated, as her tongue lay limp and heavy in her mouth. Suddenly she retched and vomited onto the floor. If time is simply an idea, then the present is eternity. For Rati it was the worst kind of hell. Thato threw her phone on the floor. She watched him as he turned to look at her, His face a contorted mask, his lips folded into a sneer. Years of pain, regret, and contempt spilled out of his eyes and usurped the air in the apartment. Rati felt faint and she cowered away from him. She could smell the rancid vomit on the front of her blouse and feel its on her skin. She looked at the gray hair at his temples and longed to stroke it and soothe him. But the flaring of his nostrils made her shrink back. You’re cheating on me. With a woman. She felt shame at the disgust in his voice and she shook her head, vigorously refuting the condemnation in his eyes. Rati’s voice was raspy. She saw me. I wanted to be seen. Thato looked at her, uncomprehending. I wanted to be desired. So you had to go and do it with a woman. She’s a human being! Rati wailed. I just craved another human being. Oh, so you fuck every human being you crave? No, it’s just—
Who are you, Rati? Who the fuck are you? I am still the same person, the same Rati. Your Rati. I can’t compete with a woman, Rati. I don’t love her the way I love you, Thato. She can have you, Thato said quietly. Thato, don’t say that— Rati reached out to touch his leg and Thato stepped out of her reach. He spat and a frothy white spot landed on her cheek. Rati snapped and she began to scratch, excoriating her arms with her fingernails. The ferrous smell of blood filled her nostrils. Thato’s face receded. The pain in Rati’s chest was suffocating her. No tears came. She let go of the last thread of hope that tethered her to him. Her body slumped over.
where the following would happen when Thato got the call from the police: He would have come home to an empty apartment. The smell of burnt tuna casserole would greet him as he opened the door. He would rush to the kitchen, switch off the oven, and crack open a window. He would walk through to their bedroom, and he would look at the rack of shoes neatly stacked, their bed made with the gray and black comforter and decorative pillows. He would look into their closet and Rati’s clothes and bags would be sitting in companionable silence next to his ties, belts, shirts, and pants. He would pick up the faint aroma of egusi soup, almost imperceptible. His cell phone would ring, vibrating against his thigh, and he would pull it out of his pocket gingerly, expecting to hear her voice. Yes, he was Thato Ngwenya. No, his wife was not home. Yes, he would come and identify the body. In her mind, Rati saw him make his way to his favorite couch in the living room and sit, carrying his heavy head in his hands. He would be dizzy from a mix of confusion, anger, lack of sleep, and shots of single-malt whiskey taken on an empty stomach. He would take his emotions out and struggle to unravel the jumble that threatened his sanity.
Rati imagined he would eventually get up and drive his red Fiat to the police station. The thought of her dead would, at last, bring tears to his eyes. He would regret spitting at her as she sat on the floor covered in vomit. He would wish he had not gone into her phone. Then he would not have seen the video clip that had turned his life inside out, exposing parts that had no business being in the open. He would haggle with his ancestors; he would be an attentive husband. He would cook for her sometimes or surprise her with a warm bath as she walked in from work. He would take her out dancing and much more, if they brought Rati back to him. At the police station, he would walk into the cold formaldehyde-drenched room in which one wall was lined with white body bags on stainless-steel trolleys. He would be ushered to a trolley in the center upon which a body lay covered in a white shroud. He would will the body not to be that of Rati even as he recognized the familiar rise of her breasts, her narrow waist and full hips outlined against the white sheet. He would catch his breath as the officer pulled back the fabric. He would see Rati in a black and red teddy and red panties, wisps of clothing made of delicate lace that he had never seen. He would gingerly touch her cold cheek, made puffy by having been in the water. He would trace the bridge of her nose with shaking fingers and touch her lips, stiff like wax. That’s enough, the attendant would say officiously. He would nod to the attendant to cover her up, and as he did so, Thato would catch a sparkle from the diamond-encrusted wedding band on her left hand that lay neatly folded over the right hand on her chest. He would sign some papers and answer a few questions from the police. Sorrow would rip at his being as he recalled how scant the times they had not fought were. He would remember arguments over issues outside of themselves, which had no bearing on the life they were building together far from the self-appointed custodians of culture. He would curl his mind around those few moments of harmony, humor, and tenderness, and stretch them out until they became all that there had ever been. He would caress the memory of her total devotion to him, the perfectly laundered and ironed shirts, lightly starched. He would inhale deeply, remembering the aromas of her panAfrican culinary delights—egusi soup, jollof rice, sadza and Issue 13 • 30
spicy beef stew, kpomo and fish stew with fresh yam, kenke and okra soup, homemade chicken pies, chin-chin, fried plantain, atyeke with fresh fish and sweet sorrel juice—and exhale the perfume of her body between crisp white sheets. As the tears blurred his vision he would shuffle like a sleepwalker to his car, onerous thoughts slowing his strides. He would have to make phone calls to family and start to make arrangements for her body to be flown home for burial. He would have to answer questions from friends and acquaintances. What, when, and how did it happen? Had she left a note? Were there any signs, a cry for help? Were they having problems? Rati visualized him walking out into the insipid morning light. He would catch a glimpse of the headlines on several dailies. The Daily Telegraph: Woman Found Dead in the Thames, or the Daily Mail: Dead Call Girl in the Thames. And many others he would not bother to read. He would fold himself back into his car, collapse over the steering wheel like an empty parachute, and weep.
WHAT THATO DID NOT
know was that after he left the apartment, banging the door with a force that turned the TV off, Rati scraped the pieces of herself off the floor with tear-soaked fingers. She calmly made a decision to end it. The loss of Mbuya was a terrible blow that had sent her to the edge. Death still lingered on the periphery of her consciousness, and now, lying on the floor, it had opened a portal through which Rati felt she could dive to escape the unbearable. She had lost Thato and this was unbearable. Now death asserted itself tenaciously as the only option. She stripped in front of her dresser mirror. She pulled open the bottom drawer and reached underneath the neatly folded panties to pull out a black and red teddy and thong still wrapped in soft pink tissue from Victoria’s Secret. She thought of Xoliwe but quickly folded her and tucked her back into a corner in her mind. She started to get angry but she knew Xoliwe had nothing to do with her current situation. She had never coerced her into anything and she had never made her any promises. Xoliwe knew she was married and that was all she cared to know about her life. Rati had wanted to ask her if she had other lovers, but she knew she had no right to. Their relationship had been solely about the two of them. There was no point in calling Xoliwe. 31 • June 2017
This new complication, her attraction to women, she thought as she fiddled with the pink tissue, was another reason to die, so she would not have to deal with the implications. She put the lingerie on and then looked up at her reflection in the mirror. She studied her face, looking for any change. A bad person. A cheat. A lesbian. A cheating, barren lesbian. Hollow eyes stared back at her. She felt light-headed as thoughts of her father crowded her mind. She whimpered as she imagined the look of horror that would settle on his quietly authoritative face when Thato recounted what he had found on her cell phone. She thought of her mother, a supercilious woman, who carried her piety the way other women carried a Gucci or Fendi purse. Rati cringed, as she visualized her mother’s mouth puckered like an anus, her sharp eyes brimming with judgment. Her sister Mavis would understand. Who knows, she might even find it hilarious and admire her guts for doing such a thing. Rati picked out a pair of ankle boots and slid her feet into them. She walked back into the living room and grabbed a piece of paper and pen from Thato’s desk. In red ink she wrote: Thato, I am sorry. Good-bye. She rummaged through her purse for some money and stuffed a twenty-pound note into the pocket of her long winter coat, put it on, and stepped out into the cold. She hailed a taxi and gave her destination. As the streets of London flew past her like a film reel on fast-forward, Rati felt and thought nothing. The clock in the taxi read 9:30 as she paid the cab driver and got off at the corner of Redding Street and Cornwall Avenue. She marched past the pubs, laughing groups, and couples making out as they casually walked to the tube stations to head for Central London, where the nightlife was. Rati forced herself not to think of Thato, Xoliwe, or anyone else. Instead, she looked at the alcohol-flushed faces, the smiling mouths and sparkling eyes. She took the wool hat from her coat pocket and pulled it over her ears. Her teeth chattered, protesting the vicious cold. She strode up the incline on South Way toward the foot path to the Waterloo Bridge. It was congested with people and traffic, but she made her way to a quieter spot and stood there. Rati started as she heard herself wailing, an endless echo reverberating in a void deep inside her. She felt nothing. She
was numb to the tormented woman in the abyss who held her hands behind her head as though she had received news of the worst calamity. That is how women back home cried when someone died. And bizarre as it seemed, here she was mourning her own demise. She stared out onto the undulating blanket of water. From where she stood the river was an endless oily expanse laced with froth. The wind picked up. It ripped at her wool hat, inserting its cold December fingers under the fold. Her ears were covered but she could hear the hysterical howling, much like the desolate cry echoing inside her. In the distance, across the water, the city lights of South London blinked, as if waiting to bear witness to yet another life extinguished. At least that was what Rati thought as her abdominal muscles clenched against the cold seeping into her body. Rati recalled her sister-in-law Viola, with her vicious tongue. We will place a dead rat in your coffin if you die childless. That is what happens to barren women and witches. Rati had been livid but had never given Viola the satisfaction of knowing how much she felt insulted and hurt. Viola challenged her. Prove that you are not a witch and get pregnant. Viola was forty, fat, and unmarried. Rati smirked at the irony. She let her eyes wander over the water, feeling exhausted. She shivered and shoved her hands into her pockets. A barge squatted on the water like a fat woman relieving herself behind some bushes, bobbing up and down to shake off drips of piss from her ample bottom. Rati sniffed as a single silvery stream made its way from her nose. She wiped it off with the back of her hand, smearing it across her cheek. Her lips felt like sandpaper and they stung. She stood perfectly still, buffeted by the wind. As the night air became more frigid, she began to lose sensation in her fingers and her feet prickled with pins and needles as the blood started to cool. The crowds on the bridge had thinned out; only one or two people intermittently walked by. They looked through her.
This death by suicide is a lonely business, she said to herself, looking around. But what manner of death was not lonely? Mbuya’s death by cancer was lonely. I need sleep, she thought, feeling drowsy. I need Mbuya. Mbuya. She mewed through vocal cords so tight with sudden grief that they were ready to snap. She hoisted herself onto the concrete ledge. It was damp and slippery. Rati found her balance and crouched, ready to spring. Her heart thudded against her rib cage. Mbuya, she wailed this time. Rati turned her head toward the sound of a car. Headlights searched and found her. She panicked, frozen in the dancing glare. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt close to where she stood on the ledge. Mbuya was taking her off the ledge. Mbuya pulled Rati into her arms and soothed her. Rati crumpled against her generous chest and took comfort in the smell of Mbuya—wood smoke and Irish Spring soap—a smell she had known since childhood. She felt the leathery skin of Mbuya’s arms around her and she closed her eyes, finally peaceful. It’s all right. Everything will be all right. Mbuya bundled her into a car and sped toward the city. Rati was wheeled into the Royal Infirmary on a stretcher, covered in blankets so heavy, she felt as though someone was pushing her down into the metal of the trolley. She struggled to sit up, looking around wildly for Mbuya. Calm down, dear, you will hurt yourself. She could no longer see her grandmother. She was surrounded by nurses and doctors, all milling around her, their hands crawling over her body like ants. She hated ants. They held her down as she tried to get up. She felt a pinprick in the crook of her arm. She heard hypothermia and jump and other words as she thrashed her head from side to side, screaming for Mbuya. A needle punctured her arm, delivering a warm, soothing calmness that made her coo contentedly and giggle. Somewhere, through the haze and fluffiness that surrounded everything, she picked up the word pregnancy before she succumbed to the velvet darkness. Issue 13 • 32
about the Author Born in Kenya in 1991 as Mwende Katwiwa, FreeQuency aka FreeQ tha Mighty is a spoken word artist, organizer and youth worker living and loving in New Orleans, LA since 2009. The daughter of two lifelong educators, FreeQuency was raised believing in the power found at the intersection of education, arts and activism. A two-time member of Team Slam New Orleans (Team SNO 2014 & 2015), FreeQuency is also the co-editor of the website Winnovating.com (a site dedicated to profiling women innovators around the world), a founding member and co-chair of the New Orleans chapter of the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100.org) & a co-founder of the New Orleans Youth Open Mic.
this is her first book of poems. you can find her other written work and contact information on her website
B E C O M I N G // B L A C K
the u.s questions garissa BY FREEQUENCY
if a gun is shot, and both trigger and bullet have only known the taste of strange fruit and the seeds they grow from,
tragedy? or will we wolves open our Tartarus throats, howling thanks for this daily feast, pick the coarse coils of your lambâ€™s wool hair from our teeth use them to clean the barrel of the gun we gift wrapped and left at your baby shower and call it thursday
35 â€˘ June 2017
Illustration by John McAllister (endotica.org)
will the world call it
Issue 13 â€¢ 36
a moon memory of you
BY TAI ROCKETT Since that quiet night on the bench, when you brought your body close enough for me to know we had crossed the distance from friendship to another thing and the sky brightened, while the moon raised its head to look upon lovers more clearly, and I knew the night would always remind me of you ten years ago I kissed you, it was the last and it is lasting, the way the hair falls along the hairline of the actress brings you into my room again
how thankful I was for the secrecy of bedroom walls how that year we didnâ€™t hold hands in public yet you were here, always beside me your yes your hair your skin how we slept while not sleeping how I came to your body holding on and never braved it As it is I often think of you as the moon rises for all that love we had to tuck into night. 37 â€˘ June 2017
Photo by Siphumeze Khundayi
takes me on the road trip we took, back to the room we rented us not touching and young, then your hand alive and my breathing bundled
“The Revival: Women and the Word” (2017) THE REVIVAL: WOMEN AND THE WORD DIRECTOR: SEKIYA DORSETT CAST: JADE FOSTER, ELIZAH TURNER, JONQUILLE RICE AKA SOLSIS, T’AI FREEDOM FORD, BE STEADWELL
BY VALÉRIE BAH
“There are forces who are trying to attack us, and they won’t win.” - Jade Foster
Stills from “The Revival: Women amd the Word”
The Revival is a documentary about the urgency and importance of queer black art. It opens with a scene in which Jade Foster, who leads “The Revival,” a crew of five queer black womyn who travel across the US and internationally to perform their music and poetry. is twisting her hair and describomga memory from when she was 18—how her mother died shortly after being diagnosed with AIDS, how wielding the pen saved her life in the fallout. Foster’s mission is straightforward and poignant: “I believe in this holy trinity of sorts--the poet, the people, and the poem, and the people are missing. I believe it’s my work to reach the people.” Directed by Sekiya Dorsett, a queer filmmaker from the Bahamas, “The Revival” reinforces the continuity that exists between Foster’s mission and Audré Lorde’s call from decades earlier to engage with black womyn’s writing: “where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.” 1 1
Excerpt from a speech delivered at the Lesbians and Literature panel of the Modern Language Association on December 28, 1977 .
Issue 13 • 38
Dorsett lovingly frames the Revival, the tour, and the artists within a tradition that dismisses the idea that Foster and her crew represent a first, an exception, or an oddity. There are nods to Alexis Deveaux, the Salsa Soul Sisters, and other queer black women artists and thinkers who have been in the business of reminding everybody that we are here and queer. This is valuable work that lets black queer womyn artists reach the internal logic of our experiences and dreams without having to explain to outside observers what we are doing or why. Give thanks. The five artists in “The Revival” address the material-spiritual nexus of writing, the one that says, I carry pain, I carry joy, I have to pay my bills, but I’m going to sit here at this bus stop and compose a poem that will snipe back at silence, and it’s going to be magical. Writing is only ever as far away as a pen and paper for those who don’t have access to studio space and grants. (I’ve brainstormed and drafted bits and pieces of this review in my head while standing in the shower, washing the dishes, riding Greyhound buses.)
39 • June 2017
The Revival is a musical, moved along through the music of Be Steadwell, the crew’s singer, who produces repetition and spoken word through her loop pedal. The musicality of the film also manifests through the voices of the poets—as they travel by car, from city to city, raising questions about livelihood, motherhood, and sex—questioning what can they ask of those things in a world that wants to say it wasn’t made for them. These sounds are produced in the “homespace”, the warm interstices where black queer folks can go, know that they are wanted, and be. The Revival is a road movie that breaks away from white boy tropes on travel. Rather than being driven by the spirit of conquest, it explores the possibilities of being, resisting, and thriving when the world wants the contrary for you. The crew’s first show takes place in a bar in Brooklyn, at the center of a familiar story of gentrification. Despite this, one of the Revival’s supporters affirms that there is a “mini-renaissance that hasn’t been named yet” happening in this very Brooklyn. This despite antagonists that lurk throughout the film: gentrification, colonialism, white supremacy.
The encroachment of space continues right into the midwest of the US, where the crew rides into a small town in Ohio and is visited by the police, called by a family with a confederate flag in their window. It’s a reminder of black folk’s relationship to space and the overt hatred we often face, as well as the whole infrastructure of laws and culture that want to erase us. The Revival is a movement that works on two levels: the Revival, the tour, and “The Revival,” the film that documents and reenacts it. Wscreened “The Revival” at Massimadi, a small Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ film festival in Montreal, and held a panel discussion afterward. Ironically, we found ourselves, as queer black folks, drowned
out by the physical space, a venue in Montreal’s “Gay Village,” i.e. an enclave of entertainment and “bourgification” for white men. During the screening and the panel, we found ourselves having to strain to hear the film and each other. Though the organizers had booked and paid for the space, the white patrons of the bar still lurked in the periphery and spoke over us – deliberately, it seemed. It makes total sense that some of us, brows raised, looked at each other and calculated the feasibility of organizing our own tour. The Revival (both the tour and the film) demonstrates the alchemy of the creative process – how it can transform pain into beauty. The Revival is everything. Issue 13 • 40
Trans* Visibility in
Feminist Spaces an exhibition at the 13th awid international forum on feminist futures
BY MARIAM ARMISEN PHOTOS BY IRANTI-ORG & MARIAM ARMISEN Issue 13 â€¢ 42
An interview with Jabu Peirera, co-founder of Iranti. org. Jabu had a video and photo exhibition on trans* and gender non-confirming Africans in the lobby of one of hotels during the recent AWID Forum in Brazil. I know Jabu and his organization well, so seeing him present an exhibition at the Forum got me excited. I wanted to know more. This is an edited version of our brief conversation. Mariam Armisen: Hi Jabu, it’s great to see you here at the Forum! Can you introduce yourself to our readers? Jabu Peirera: Hi, I’m Jabu Peirera. I’m one of the co-founders of Iranti-org based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Yes, I’m here at the AWID Forum on Feminist Futures. It’s my first AWID Forum, so I’m, really, really excited about being in the space! We have a little exhibition we’re showing on our documentation work, and I’m also on the Forum panel addressing transgender violence. AM: That’s fantastic! Can you tell us something about the exhibition? JP: We were asked to show some of our work, which focuses on trans* and lesbian rights in Southern Africa. 43 • June 2017
We work mainly in South Africa, but some part of our work in media development is regional. Because we have four years worth of documentation, I decided to select work that speaks to a couple of specific issues only. One is on trans* visibility and the growth of trans* visibility in the region. For this, I selected a series of portraits that resulted from a workshop we organized on the depathologization of trans* identities. As you know, trans* health is still classified as a “gender identity disorder.” The portraits explore trans* bodies, trans* visibility, and trans* identities in West, East, and Southern Africa. The other issue is our documentation work – the media tools we use in relation to movement building, capacity strengthening, and hate-crime reporting – with the aim of providing evidence-based work on our lives and also to find more tangible ways of creating visibility through new media such as online platforms and so forth. AM: I was delighted to see the installation, especially coming right after the two fantastic days we had during the Black Feminist Forum, to see that
that wasn’t an isolated moment. Although there are more black people at the AWID Forum as a result of the BFF, to see images of black bodies, specifically black trans* bodies in this lobby stopped me in my tracks. What have been the viewers’ responses to the exhibition? JP: It’s a small exhibition, but people have really valued it. And I think to be able show it alongside AFRAKenya’s exhibition of images is really beautiful. To be able to have conversations with viewers around trans* identities is the key thing. For many here, it is quite new information, particularly for ciswomen, who are not necessarily familiar with trans* issues. I got questions on why trans men are here in a women’s space. Such questions are really important – it’s about educating people on the connections we have on so many levels, the right to contraception and the right to abortion, the right to freedom and bodily autonomy and so many other issues that intersect in our lives. Sometimes the idea of medically-assisted transition just translates in people’s minds into a binary. That binary is that “Oh now you’re a male!” It’s good to be talking to people about not making assumptions about people’s identities based on how they look. Assumptions around identity, indigeneity, disability. Making the point that we are far more than our bodies. I also think it’s good to present a continent that has less privilege and access around trans* health and care – access to legal recognition, access to genderaffirming care, etc. You know, things that maybe the northern hemisphere and some Latin American countries take for granted, Argentina being the leading country on these issues in Latin America. I think for us on the continent, especially outside of South Africa, these things are really a challenge. South Africa has many legal privileges. In fact, maybe I’m not
even the right representative for Africa, because my body represents a particular legal privilege. So for me these images are very important! It’s about talking about bodies that are always oppressed and “in prison.” And not having that access legally. And the trauma people embody based purely on gender identities and expression. The exhibition really ignited these conversations. AM: At the BFF, I know some of the participants were hearing about the word lesbian and/or being in a room with lesbians for the first time. For us queer activists, we more often than not also operate from a place of assumptions – that others must have heard about our issues. So if you come to me with certain basic questions, I might get hurt and/or be Issue 13 • 44
shocked by them and react by either going on the defensive or ignoring you all together. So it’s fantastic that this exhibition is providing people with a space to have some of these conversations around images rather than sitting on a panel or around a table, which enforces a more formal interaction and where people might be too intimidated to ask burning questions. Especially around trans* issues, where the fear of being branded transphobic is also there. Some of the people who are coming to you with questions might have refrained from this outside an art space. So bravo to Irant-org and AWID for creating this opportunity for dialogue. Outside of the exhibition space, what have been your experiences of the Forum as a whole both on the overall theme of Feminist Futures and also on trans* inclusion? What are some of the conversations that have been happening and what new conversations were you looking forward to? JP: I must say that, prior to coming, I had some anxiety about being in the space, because this is my first AWID Forum and because I had encountered transphobia from feminists who do not understand pronouns like they and who are very binary in their positions. But being here has been incredible – to see the diversity of the community, to see trans* inclusion, however small it is, but also the presence of intersex activists, who have been less visible up to now. For me, I must say that the main challenges have been around language. The absence of an inclusive language. You know, language is really powerful. It can include and exclude at the same time. For example, to hear many presenters exclude trans* people and intersex bodies in their understanding of terms like sisterhood or womanhood. The theme of this conference is Feminist Futures, and I think that’s a very important title. As you curate and drive that content. I must say, I’m not sure if it was intended, but the outgoing Director, in her opening speech, said we welcome women, lesbians, and other people. I remember we trans* in the room looking at each other and wondering, “are we the other people?” It might have been an unintended exclusion, but that is the whole power of language. Isn’t it? When you are vulnerable, 45 • June 2017
Issue 13 â€¢ 46
"it’s about educating people on the connections we have on so many levels" you listen for your inclusion. You want to feel included in someone’s talk and words. We also had some other challenges. For example, a trans man was menstruating. We went to an organizer to ask for sanitary pads, and she didn’t understand why he needed them. It took a few moments of education. She was grateful and agreed they should have planned for this. Not only for trans men but also for women who cannot afford sanitary pads. So there are those challenges, but we always get better when we learn things. I was placed in a shared hotel room with a cisgendered man. That was sorted out, but it shows the assumptions of binary thinking. So it’s been challenging but it’s important to use such things to create dialogue for change. 47 • June 2017
AM: What’s your wish for Feminist Futures? After this Forum, if you were to return to the next one in four years, what would you like to see changed and/or built upon from here? JP: I want to see trans* leadership in the movement, in curating the content, etc. I think that’s a key wish for me – to ensure greater inclusion around content, greater inclusion around intersex content – to see those shifts happening in meaningful ways. I think it will always be a space for a majority of ciswomen. That’s clear, and it’s great, but I do think that shifting the focus, making it more inclusive, will make this about everyone’s futures. And make it about collective solidarity, collective ways of building common grounds in common struggles against poverty, violence, and inequalities. Also, for many of us, we also come from former colonies. That is also another connection we can make.
metaphor of a deceptive love
BY RUTH LU ILLUSTRATION BY LORD SLUMP Strictly speaking, there is no real sorrow, There is no truly completed quest, There is also neither hatred nor anger That once urgently erupted from the crater, The abyss of a violated subconscious, What do you wish for? Grief, and shuffle your fears. Suffer, bark, and lick the earth, like dust, For from your womb was born my disdain, I no longer cry out my loathing nor my sorrow But I weigh the existence of those like you, If lies and spirit are but one, honestly The world is well and truly on the brink Worshippers, believers, crooks, act purely from devotion Veiled by loyalty, by joy – What is yours? – Manipulation? Curious to know what happened to others, Those who crossed paths with you before I did? A testimony is worth 1000 translated narratives. Unholy? You are, without a doubt, but that arrogance Of yours is matched only by your impotence. Out of love, we accept to taste a loved one, But your flavors…those never found favor in my eyes. Political correctness gained from my education Helped me put an end to my inquisition… It became forbidden, yet it is all about your seed… It is probably rude to even write about it now, And then comes the night when we lay ourselves out cheerfully, Without any complex, to whoever, with ingenuity, Catching a glimpse of your intimacy, does not commit the blind, Would I have drunk, then blushed or yelled? You guessed it, I have loved you without bitterness… Today, I pity myself for having done so, Loss, abandonment and sadness, an orphan’s earnings, Am I still linked to you? Yes, but I can break free. Issue 13 • 48
dressing up on new year day in bobo dioulasso, burkina faso PHOTO BY MARIAM ARMISEN
49 â€¢ June 2017
stories of us LeGaBiBo publishes botswana’s first anthology of lgbtq-themed life stories BY JOHN McALLISTER PHOTO BY ENDOTICA.ORG
Issue 13 • 50
It’s ironic– though regrettable – that a lot of African LGBTQ writing has been meant, not for Africans, but for outsiders. Like me. The reason is simple. The movement for LGBTQ acceptance in Africa, which is still less than twenty years old in most places, has been driven mainly by Western ideas and Western money. So the audience for writing about LGBTQ issues on the continent – at least, the audience that mattered – has mostly been “out there.” In fact, until recently the most common types of African LGBTQ writing have been funding proposals, project reports, and sectoral studies meant for donors in the West. African activists have had to tailor most of their writing to Western expectations and interests. This is finally starting to change. Thanks to years of pioneering work by community-based organisations like Botswana’s LeGaBiBo, there is a growing audience in Africa for texts that tell stories of the lived realities of LGBTQ Africans. This audience wants stories that reflect (and reflect on) African cultures and sensibilities. Since 2011 Q-zine has been helping build this audience, and recently organizations like LeGaBiBo have joined us by publishing their own local anthologies. LeGaBiBo isn’t the first organization to publish local LGBTQ stories. Similar collections have appeared in South Africa, Uganda, and Kenya, and more are in preparation in other countries. Films and videos are also starting to be made, and a welcome trend is emerging: LGBTQ Africans are telling their own stories boldly and creatively, building a new cultural industry, and making the rest of the world listen. 51 • June 2017
LeGaBiBo is known as one of the pioneers of authentic, indigenous approaches to LGBTQ activism in Africa. From workshops with health workers, police officers, teachers, and many others – even traditional leaders – to radio interviews and talk shows to the annual Batho ba Lorato film festival featuring mostly local and regional productions, LeGaBiBo has designed events and messages that have built pride and solidarity in the LGBTQ community, reached out to the straight community, and challenged the myth that LGBTQ identities are “unAfrican.” Botswana is usually considered a minor country, but when it comes to African LGBTQ culture it punches way above its weight. Dipolelo tsa Rona is the latest initiative by LeGaBiBo to challenge homophobia and transphobia and tell the simple truth about the Botswana LGBTQ community. It’s a very important step in the Botswana LGBTQ community’s journey. It’s a book for Batswana. It’s not tailored for donors or foreign journalists or international human rights NGOs. It doesn’t harp on injustices, but it doesn’t sugar-coat how the LGBTQ community lives either. It just gives us honest, unpretentious accounts of the lived realities of LGBTQ Batswana in their own words. Dipolelo tsa Rona is a first for Botswana, but we hope it will be the first of many more publications and, in the future, audio and video productions telling the true stories of LGBTIQ lives for everyone willing to understand and appreciate them. You can download your free copy of Dipolelo tsa Rona from https://legabibo.files.wordpress. com/2016/10/dipolelo-tsa-rona.pdf
The palm presses roughly against the soft flesh. Compliant, shapeless flesh Where nothing has been engraved yet The infant does not utter a word She coats her with invisible wishes, Shapes her to her love The infant does not utter a word Her palms and her hands, Soft, Patient and loving, Loving for the eyes of her who feels Her palms and her hands, Symbol of forgotten affections, Useless, Since “where we come from, it is not done that way” The infant does not utter a word Crying is pointless Where we come from, “that” does not exist
potter mothers BY EVA BOUILLON
With those hands made to love, She rubs the pubis Since they “love that” Without me loving them. Inexpressible sufferings. Behind, She digs slowly, Deeply, With both fingers, Two holes Two holes in the lower back Two holes that respond with “They like that”, Without me loving them. Issue 13 • 52
cab ride BY SOLANGE A. MUSANGANYA PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN POLL
53 • June 2017
Issue 13 • 53
The moment I stepped into the cab, Diallo started getting aroused… Till today, as I am telling this story, I can’t explain the reason for this sudden erection. What could have caused Diallo, the cab driver, to be in such a state? It could not have been the basic black leggings I was wearing, nor the round collar t-shirt that entirely covered my breasts. Unless it was the absence of a bra! But I have not worn a bra in two years of having boobs. After my surgery, the few times I did wear a bra, it made my breasts stick out oddly and indecently. Bras were obviously not for me. Could my nipples have caused the oversized bulge in Diallo’s pants? I will never know. Shortly after his penis started bulking up, I asked him for his number. Don’t get me wrong, I was not asking for his number because of his enlarged genitals but because of the quality of his service. You see, the moment I got in his car, Diallo was thoughtful enough to roll up the windows and turn on the AC. I was impressed, more so since the cab was new and clean, both inside and out. Diallo drove silently, and he was probably the only taxi driver in Abidjan patient enough to let other taxis go before him without losing his temper or insulting anyone. He was a great driver. I later learned that Diallo had more than fourteen years of driving experience. He was eighteen the first time he got behind the wheel. The condition of the car, his control of the wheel, the courtesy with which he addressed me, his appearance, all these things attracted me to him like a magnet and made me want to have him regularly at my service. But if I were honest, I would admit that seeing his penis taking on such enormous proportions also influenced my desire to stay in touch with him. You see, I felt doubly appreciated! It is quite far from Deux Plateaux to Yopougon, yet despite the dense traffic at that time of day, Diallo accepted without hesitation my offer to pay him just 2000 fcfa. We had a good
one-hour trip together, and the conversation flowed progressively. He told me about himself. I listened attentively. He was a devout Muslim. a Dioula from the northern part of Cote d’Ivoire. Married. Two children. He was an ordinary guy. But in the midst of our conversation and for no apparent reason, he confessed that it had been two months since he last had sex and that this abstinence was causing him to have unusual reactions around women. Especially, he added, when they were beautiful. I pretended not to hear this intimate confession. Other than offering a sympathetic ear, I could not think of any available solution to his problem. I managed to steer the conversation towards the condition of the road, the history of the buildings we were driving past, and the names of the neighborhoods we were going through. Diallo was tall and had broad shoulders. His person as well as his cab easily stood out from the other drivers. His French was perfect, his demeanor very close to western standards. I was willing to believe that he behaved like this with everyone. He seldom raised his voice, but his eyes and facial expressions betrayed this calmness. In fact, it seemed that his body as a whole did more speaking than his tongue. - Are you married? he asked with a smile. - No, not yet, I answered, returning the smile - Can you drive? he inquired. - No, unfortunately, I replied. Issue 13 • 54
He then offered to put my hand on the gearshift and guide me. His car was manual, like most cars in Abidjan. - I am going to shift gears. You will feel it in your hand, he said, sounding professional. He put his hand on top of mine. - This is the fourth gear. It’s light. The ride is smooth, soft … like your hand, he commented, caressing my fingers. I looked him in the eyes. He smiled as if to say “I really want you. I want to have you right here, right now. But I know I can’t. You are out of my league.” It was a smile of seduction but also powerlessness. He shifted gears again. - This is the third gear. It’s harder. More masculine. The car is gaining in strength, becoming cocky. It was a pleasant feeling. I was letting this Ivorian taxi driver hit on me. I made myself naïve, child-like. I was listening. I was smiling. I was saying very little, allowing him to have the upper hand. When he dropped me off at Yopougon Toit Rouge, in front of the restaurant Prestige, he said: - I’ll stay in this neighborhood to wait for you. Call me when you’re done. Your next ride is free. I was strongly tempted. My errand was not going to take long. I was done in twenty minutes. I called my Diallo and five minutes later, he was there. Even though I was no longer handing myself over to be touched, the return trip was just as pleasant. - Your hand is so soft. I can only imagine what the rest of your body must be like… Diallo took me back to my residence, at Rosier Programme 6. The following week, I saw him three or four times. He called me even during his days off. I paid him as much as I 55 • June 2017
could. Sometimes, he would refuse any payment. He soon knew the way to my place like the back of his hand and would pick me up right in front of my house. He was punctual and always available whenever I needed a cab. Yesterday was a work day for him, but I had not needed a taxi. That night, he called me, asking why he had not heard from me. “I did not need a cab today”. He asked if he could come see me, if we could have dinner together. I was hungry. I accepted his invitation. We went to Riviera 2, a spot that was lively at all times of the day but especially at dinner time. I ordered grilled fish and soft drinks. Out of respect, I did not have any alcohol. During our conversation, he opened up to me: - Aicha, you know I never got a western education, but I can read and write. All the texts I send you, I write them myself. My father put me in a Koranic school. My little brother was the one who went to a “French” school and taught me how to read and write. In return, I taught him Arabic. I am a hard worker. I earn a decent living, and I do so honestly. I am a chair in my mosque, a team leader in my neighborhood … But you…I don’t know why, but my body reacted the moment I saw you. I was listening to him. He was going on and on. I had never seen him talk like this before. This monologue seemed to come straight from his heart. From his facial expression, I could tell it was not premeditated. And I am telling you this from experience. I have met straight men who could sweet talk a woman. Diallo was nothing like them. He did not need to tell me that he had not gone to school. He knew that admitting something like this would not play to his advantage, but he confessed it nonetheless. So I decided to be honest with him as well.
- I also have something to tell you. It’s very simple, but difficult to say. - We can finish eating first. After we were done eating, I continued: - As I was saying, I have something to tell you. I am not a woman. I am a man. Well…let’s just say, I have male sexual organs…a penis. I don’t have a vagina… I did not know I could be this straightforward, but because of what he had just shared, I knew I had to be simple and forgo complicated terms. His answer surprised me. - I already knew. I have known since the first time I saw you, and I had already made up my mind: it does not bother me. You are beautiful, nice, smart, and fascinating. No man could resist you, even knowing the truth. You know, I met someone like you once. In my job, I come across all kinds of people. For her, I did not know until she told me. The only difference with you is that she wanted to sleep with me the minute she told me the truth about herself, but I did not want to. With you, it’s different. I never perceived any interest from you. I have always made myself available for you in that way, but nothing.
He paused. - You were the one talking…I’m sorry I cut you off…, he concluded I did not have anything else to say. We remained silent. Typical Ivorian man that he was, he took care of the bill. As we were walking down the stairs, he took my hand. This time, when we got inside the car, he did not leave my hand on the gearshift. He guided it to his lap, between his legs. He made me touch his penis, which was fully erect. In silence, I stroked this huge cucumber that stretched to his knee. Whenever I took my hand away, he firmly put it back. He is a Muslim from the North. A Dioula, cousin of the Hausas from Cameroun. So the myth is true …. His ardor had a similar effect on me. No surprise there. It had been a year since I had been intimate with a man. When we arrived at my place, he asked if he could use my bathroom. He knew exactly where it would be. He knew he would have to go through my bedroom. You can imagine the rest. You are adults, and I am a grown woman. I can still smell his scent on the towel he used after the long shower we took together. I still shiver when I think about last night. This towel will remain unwashed for a long time. Eh. Diallo. Eh, Allah… God is indeed great, and we can appreciate His greatness through His creation. Issue 13 • 56
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LIMIT (LESS) 59 â€¢ June 2017
BY MIKAEL OWUNNA
Issue 13 â€¢ 60
QUEER/BISEXUAL IVORIAN (CANADA) Have you ever felt pushed away from your sense of African or LGBTQ identity? I never felt pushed away from my African identity except by the religious-predominant aspect of it. Whenever people have condemned my LGBTQ identity it has come from quoting the “white men’s religion” (Christianity or Islam) butI always felt like my Africanity was beyond that. I’m black, I’m African. My ancestors, my roots, have nothing to do with this hate culture of homophobia that the colonizers brought. I might be lying to myself, but I feel like I truly embraced my African identity onlya couple of years ago, by educating myself and understanding where we come from, what we have been through, and how brainwashed our continent is. That made me realize that the hate we encounter is not coming from within our roots but from years of colonization and education in self-hate by other people. Concerning the LGBTQ community, I would say that when you are young and just discovering and learning about the LGBTQ community, you feel at home and so welcomed. You think everyone loves you and you love everyone. But as the years go by, I’ve realized more and more that, being black and African, I don’t really have much to say or do in that predominantly white gay male community. So yes, often I feel pushed away, like I don’t have my place there or when I do it’s to be objectified. I do push that identity away because I feel like the agenda is so different and doesn’t reflect what I need as a black queer man. For example, knowing that none of the huge Canadian LGBTQ media (white-owned media) didn’t talk about the arrest of DeRay McKesson, I really felt a gap. But as I do with my African identity, I like to think about the roots of the community and remember that it was black folk who created Pride back in the 70s. I believe we had more voice in the LGBTQ community back then and, when I think of these times, I feel like there is room for me in the LGBTQ community after all, but it will take work to decrease this gap and take back our voice and put it on the front line again. 61 • June 2017
Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. Support the Project: Contact email@example.com
internalized those messages. Add on top of that my internalized anti-Blackness, my suppressed sexuality, and the alienation I felt as a young Muslim from a mixed, immigrant family, and I was pretty much crushed by feelings of shame and self-loathing. A lot of that got channeled into how I felt about my body and how I looked. In elementary and middle school, I was mimicking my classmates’ ensembles from Limited Too, religiously plucking my eye brows and shaving my body hair, begging my white mother to take me to get my hair relaxed, attempting to lighten my skin, counting calories in the hopes that my curves would melt away, all in an attempt to distance myself from my own brown Black body.
QUEER SOMALI (USA) I am Somali American, biracial, and Black. I identify as a bisexual queer dyke and a fluid femme and, at the moment, a womxn. I claim my identities loudly and proudly, my small personal acts of political resistance against the ways in which biphobia, femmephobia, and misogyny show up in my life and in society. And simultaneously- maybe it’s because I grew up in a biracial, bicultural household, constantly remolding myself to survive; maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini and the stars said it would be so- it’s hard to feel like any word holds all of me or I fit quite right in any place or space. I’m always busting out binaries and sliding along spectrums and gallivanting across the vast galaxy of gender and desire and identity. Girls and women in this society are trained to be insecure and to be consumers, fueling those who capitalize off of us hating their own bodies. In my adolescence, I had deeply
For me, coming into my identities and becoming politicized were not just about understanding and challenging dynamics outside of myself. There was so much I had to unlearn about how I saw myself and treated myself. Even now, I have to constantly be aware of and push back against the way society’s messages show up in my own self-talk. It is work to cultivate self love in this world when living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. And for people of color, queer folks, women, femmes, our very bodies are the sites of so much oppression and violence. So my style- the way in which I adorn and present my body- very much becomes a tactic of survival, a political statement, and a way to celebrate my identities. I intentionally incorporate elements into my style that I feel are aesthetically African. I dangle outlines of the continent from chains or earrings. I love beaded accessories, especially the Masai beadwork that takes me back to the handful of years I spent in Kenya as a small child. I adore African patterns and prints, and my life is so full of fabric and scarves upon scarves. I feel my femininity in particular must have been very much formed by the Somali women of my childhood and my ancestry. I love bright colors, like the dirac my aunts got decked out in for weddings, I can be very matchymatchy, and I go absolutely gaga for gold jewelry. The queer aspect of my fashion feels a bit harder to pin down. Maybe it’s difficult because the dominant images of queer fashion seem so limited in terms of race, class, body type, and ways of expressing gender. Certainly the way I move between masculine and feminine presentation or blend the two is part of my queerness. But even when I’m expressing full out feminine, my queerness doesn’t disappear just because someone can’t “see” it. I’m here and I’m queer, regardless of what I wear. Issue 13 • 62
TRANS BURUNDIAN (CANADA) I think I blend my queer identity and my african identity in my style through storytelling. I love reading east african stories about warrior princesses and powerful witches (who are often trans and queer) leading their army in wars against the colonizers and slaying. I think of those women when i’m walking down the street, bracing for a comment or a look or finger pointed at me, i think of how they fought to keep their lands and bodies. Everytime i step outside of my house, i am at war with white supremacy so my looks are some sort of armours that i wear. 63 • June 2017
QUEER MOROCCAN (USA) My name is Yahya. I am half-Moroccan and half-American, born in Casablanca, but raised mostly in the United States and visiting Morocco frequently. Racially I am white/arab/ north-african mixed. Race and ethnicity is so complicated and interesting in Morocco, I think that most of my dad’s family would identify as Arab, and many would identify Arabs as white. The way white supremacy and arab-centrism plays out in Morocco has led to the erasure of many Moroccans’ Amazigh/Berber/Indigenous ancestry, where if someone can claim Arab identity, they do. I identify as a second generation radical queer (on my mom’s side), pansexual, and the gender identity that feels comfortable these days is “boi”. I aspire towards a queered masculinity, with tenderness and self-awareness. I like they/them pronouns. I think I reserve most of my Moroccan clothing for special occasions. I think the examples that have been given to me of powerful queerness have mostly been through a EuroAmerican lens (which is why this project is so important!). There is something in me that is only spoken to when I am wearing my gandorra and blgha, but there is also so much that feels muted by that. My beard feels like a connection to my Muslim heritage, and it feels transgressive to wear it with this body, living the life I do. Issue 13 • 64
QUEER SOMALI CANADIAN AMERICAN Wiilo in Somali means girls who dresses like boy. It’s a nickname that I was given by my elders when I was younger. It’s something that has always comforted me when I was going through my process of discovering my queerness and helped me to overcome the shame and the feeling of being pushed away from my culture. When I was first reflecting on my queerness it was hard for me to reconcile it with my Somalinimo. Growing up any deviation from the norm was stamped down. This has to do with living in a refugee community surrounded by whiteness and you think to hold onto your culture means defining it in very limiting ways. Many try and hold Somalinimo constant by ascribing certain behaviours and ways of dressing as authentic and other behaviours as inauthentic. The binary limitations are to survive oppression and trauma that we faced but another effect is it excludes anyone who is different or questions their narrow definitions. How I coped with it was by reflecting on how my Somalinmo cannot be separated from my queerness. Varying gender and sexuality are not abnormalities that come from whiteness but are in our culture, language and stories. 65 • June 2017
BISEXUAL/QUEER NIGERIAN-TRINIDADIAN (SHOT IN TRINIDAD) I grew up in the Caribbean, so my African identity is closely linked to that part of the diaspora. In Trinidad, colourism/ shadeism plays a huge role in structuring privilege in everyday life. For me, benefitting from the privilege of having lighter skin in my society also meant that I was constantly being pushed away from my African heritage, growing up being told that I was “not really black,” or that I was “too light to be Nigerian.”
On the other hand, growing up knowing that I was attracted to both men and women, while also being a cis femme woman, meant that I was constantly struggling to prove my identity to myself and others. Bisexuality sometimes feels less accepted, because people would rather you “make up your mind and just choose,” or “get over this phase” rather that “be greedy” (literally things I have heard). My ability to pass as a straight woman grants me a different level of safety than those who are more visibly queer but can also be the means through which people erase parts of my identity. I had to grow to be comfortable with who I am, and how I choose to express myself outside of what society expects; there’s no way to satisfy what everyone thinks I should be, and no way to be happy living as someone else. Issue 13 • 66
4 QUEER AFRICAN WOMEN MAI’YAH
Country of Origin: Liberia Age: 18 Pronouns: she/ her, They/ Them How do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ Identity: Queer Instagram: @mai.yah Tumblr: @Dwelah
67 • June 2017
Country of Origin: Nigeria (Born in the US) Pronouns: she/her Identity: genderqueer-queer- androgynous Age: 18 Instagram: @kidandfro
Country: Born and raised in NYC African background: Ivory Coast Age: 20 Pronouns: she, her Identity: pansexual, androgynous Instagram: @baduizm_adu Tumblr: @needstoescape
Name: Yéwándé (Yéwá for short) Country of Origin: Nigeria (USA-born) Age: 18 Pronouns: she/her, they/them How do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ Identity: Queer Instagram: @therealyewande Tumblr: @blkpoetress-ye Issue 13 • 68
QUEER NIGERIAN-AMERICAN (SHOT IN TRINIDAD) These identities are inextricably linked for me, and I have never necessarily felt like they were/are opposed. However, I have often felt pushed away from my Blackness and Africanness in LGBTQ spaces in the US, which can be very white, sometimes racist, and erasing of QTPOC perspectives. There have been a few situations where I felt like my queerness did not fit in certain African spaces, but I have encountered the former much more than the latter. I feel most at home among other queer folks of color, especially Black queer people, and that has helped me overcome any lingering feelings of dissonance between my sexuality and my heritage. I resent Western notions of “coming out” and unconditional “acceptance” pushed as the ideal narrative for all LGBTQidentified peoples. These are very white, mainstream concepts that do not allow for the dangerous, destructive effects colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have had on brown and black countries that are often lambasted as “homophobic” or “intolerant” without context. I have never “come out” and my family already accepts me as their daughter, niece, goddaughter, sister, etc. For me, my sexuality does not necessarily change the strength of our bond, even if they don’t always embrace it wholeheartedly. It’s also something that looks so different for everyone, especially among the diversity of queer folks of color. Sometimes 69 • June 2017
“acceptance” means baby steps, hard conversations, silences, inside jokes, undiscussed topics, tears, laughter, probing questions, explanations, leaps and bounds, and other times it feels like nothing has ever changed. At the same time, it does not mean it is easy when the people you care about most don’t understand or reject part of who you are or how you live/love. So I don’t focus on being “accepted” by others in a traditional sense, including some of my extended family. I know who cares about me no matter what and I am secure in that knowledge.
an elegy for the heterosexuals in medical school BY MAYA PILLAY PHOTOS BY JOHN MCALLISTER
Issue 13 â€¢ 70
A leans across the table towards me and asks, “What would you do if I said I identified as an attack helicopter?” This semester, A and I have been assigned to the same Problem-Based Learning group. Problem-Based Learning is common practice in medical schools all around the world. The idea is that everyone studies all the Pathology and the Histology and the Physiology and so on individually, and then meets in groups to discuss the problems. Problems are anything we don’t understand. The Problem-Based Learning sessions happen in the Anatomy building in small stuffy rooms with blue walls and windows that never open all the way. Our ProblemBased Learning room is particularly small. This is why A and I are in such close proximity. When he gestures his hand is too close to my face. His eyes are too close to mine. A has a problem that he’s brought to the Problem Based Learning session for someone to help him with, and the problem is this: he would like to know what I’d do if – hypothetically speaking – he said to me that he identified as an attack helicopter. Sometimes when I speak to the other medical students there are dead bodies lying between us. As second years, all of us know what a dead body looks like from every conceivable angle. We know the muscles, pinkish and startlingly meagre when the skin comes off, and the pearly surfaces of the bones when the connective tissue is scraped away. We know the sheets of yellow fat, coarse and unyielding under our knives, and the dark smooth surfaces of the organs underneath. We’ve heaved corpses over to get at backs and shoulders, fingers grasping 71 • June 2017
dead thighs, dead shoulders. But even though we spend hours with the bodies, up in the labs on Levels 4 and 5, even though – to be honest – tstudying medicine is just a roundabout way to study death, we don’t talk about death very much, except as an abstract thing. The case fatality rate of so-and-so virus is 35%. The use of such-and-such drug may decrease levels of mortality in severe cases. Once the patient develops full-blown AIDS, there is a life expectancy of five years or less. And we certainly don’t talk about the people who have died. Once someone’s dead, they’re not really our problem anymore. For example, A’s question has brought bodies onto the table. Several of them are now lying between us, having appeared quite suddenly with a gust of formalin. But in keeping with how things are done here, I won’t talk about them, the way their limbs are splayed, the ways in which they have been opened up, the ways in which they died. “But why would you say that at all?” I ask. “That’s not ….” B, who is sitting on the other side of A, leans in. “But you can’t say that,” he says, pointing a hand at me, all fingers extended. “You’d just have to accept it, wouldn’t you? See, this is the problem. You don’t know where to draw the line. Like, some of these things that people say they identify as … you have to draw the line.”
2 When I was around twelve or thirteen there was a hairdresser my mother would always take me to. She lived in Verulam, the little Indian town where my parents had grown up and where most of my family still lived. This woman – I don’t remember her name, so let’s call her Mrs W – was considered the best hairdresser around. That is to say she was very good at doing those terrible haircuts that were fashionable in the mid-00s, jellyfish-like ones with layers and flicks and unexpected streaks of blond and red all over the place. She ran the
salon out of her own house, which was down the road from the temple and opposite the garage, but she was thinking of moving her business to Johannesburg in a year or two. Also, her daughter was a lesbian. Everyone knew this. I knew it too, although I can’t remember how. It was just something that hung around in the air in that town. I probably learned it in an incident like this: my aunt leaning over to my mother and saying something about the hairdresser’s daughter having cut her hair short, not in a bob but short short like a man’s, dressing in her brother’s clothing, never having brought a boyfriend home. Something like that. You know how these things go. Anyway, when it was time for my appointment my mother took me into the little back room in the house where Mrs W was going to take some length off, give me layers, maybe even some brown streaks if I was lucky. The room smelled of bleach and dye. The hairdresser herself had dyed her own hair a brassy sort of colour. She sat me down in the big fauxleather chair and put a cape over my shoulders, and just then the lesbian daughter walked in. She really did have her hair cut so short it was clinging to her scalp in round curls. She really was wearing men’s clothing: baggy black pants in some shiny material, a green shirt that hung over her like a curtain. She’d come to tell Mrs W something about the garage door not closing properly. Her mother spoke to her in a hurried, hushed sort of tone. It was a summer day, with sun coming in thickly through the windows, and it bathed her in gold. It shone off her face so brightly I couldn’t make out her features. I had never seen a lesbian before in my life. So this was what one looked like, then: a mass of dark fabric swaddling a golden mirror. After she left the room, I didn’t know what to say or do.
3 B said, “There has to be a limit. There has to be a line.” When something is infected, you’ve got to cut it off.
On the other side of B, C – who had always struck me as an okay sort of person – asked him, “What do you mean? Say it, what do you mean?” “I mean,” B said – he was visibly distressed, and at the same time A. was trying to say something to me, but I was too distracted by the way that B’s face was changing as he went on speaking – “you can’t just … like, it’s fine to say these things, you identify as whatever, you can say that, it’s fine, but you can’t … go out in the world and expect people to just … listen to you, and … do what you tell them, and …” This was the strange thing I was seeing in Bs face and hearing in As voice: they were hurt. Something was hurting them. Probably it was the bodies that were steadily piling up between us. I was fairly sure I wasn’t the only one who could see them, and besides, the formalin smell was being replaced by another, stronger smell, and the wounds on the newer bodies were more pointedly placed. It was becoming impossible to ignore whose bodies they were. I had to shift slightly in my chair to see B at all, because there was an ashen foot in my way that had a little mortuary tag around its big toe. It could have been the bodies but it could have been something else too, something smaller. This is the strange thing about heterosexuals. They remind me a lot of over-ripe pears, in that their skin yields easily, in that they are swollen with something soft and mealy which slides easily back over itself, which bruises and exudes at the slightest impact.
4 In high school I had this friend who we’ll call D. D wanted to study fashion design, although in the end his parents didn’t let him. For our matric dance, he glued the rhinestones to his suit himself. It took him an entire night. I say we were friends, but it was a funny situation, because we didn’t really like each other much at all. He thought dark skin was ugly, and he’d fawn over white girls as if they were a different species from us. He didn’t like me because I was a sullen girl with a bad haircut who’d call him a cunt from time to time. But we had to be friends because we were both queers, Issue 13 • 72
although we never said that word out loud. One day in Physics class, sitting next to him, I wrote on the corner of a page of my workbook: I think I like women better, or something like that. And he drew a wonky heart next to it, or something like that. It’s hard to remember. It was a long time ago. Because of that, it was sealed: we had to be friends until we graduated, whether we liked it or not, because there was no one else. D came from a conservative sort of family. He told me once that when he’d tried to come out his parents had threatened him with conversion therapy so he’d shut his mouth. Another time, he came to school with his face drawn tight with fear
because his little brother had spotted the Grindr app on his cellphone. Another time, he slapped me right in the face, the way a child does – I forget over what – but I forgave him. I forgave him because in high school I really did feel myself to be the most alone person in the world. I forgave him because of his parents, and the boys in our grade who’d call him a fag, and the girls in our grade who’d call each other dykes (each other, never me; I was careful). And because of those tense moments of nakedness in the PE changeroom, staring desperately down at my own feet, in the fear that my eyes would stray and settle, like flies, on the bare skin of another girl. I didn’t like him at all, but when we sat together in class and whispered to each other about getting away to UCT where there was a whole student society just called Rainbow, to Cape Town where we’d be completely free, I felt something like comfort. After we graduated I stopped speaking to him, but I heard a strange rumour from a family friend. This family friend told me that D’s mother was in denial, that she’d been going around telling everyone that the reason all D’s friends were girls was because we were all in love with him, and that I was the most besotted of all. After I stopped laughing I thought about it a little harder and I realized it was true, or at least partly true, or true depending on what you meant by love. Because there was a part of D that I was very deeply in love with, simply because I was too afraid to love its double in myself.
5 It’s probably important to know how this whole unpleasant Problem-based learning situation started. One of our assignments for the semester was to get into pairs and design posters spreading awareness of HIV, targeted at what are called “high-risk groups.” High-risk groups are groups with a higher-than-average risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. Every lecturer would give their own mumbling overview of the high-risk groups, although these varied. Generally, though, they included: -young black women -older black women 73 • June 2017
-pregnant black women -black women -sex workers -MSM. MSM stands for “men who have sex with men.” It’s a useful acronym, although it’s repeated so often I think our lecturers have been taught to say it to avoid saying other words. A few minutes before A asked his question, E, the girl who was paired with me, said “Oh, we’ll do sex workers,” and this prompted F – who was wedged uncomfortably at the corner of the table between me and A – to turn to A and say “Oh, in that case, we’ll do L-G-B-T-Barbeque.” I was surprised to find that something like that, something it feels silly even to write, hurt me. It still hurts me. You’d think that over the years I would have toughened up a bit more. But I’m like some sort of apple, something hard to the touch that punctures easily under fingernails or teeth or knives, something frail-cored. I said to F, “I don’t understand why straight people are so offended by people identifying as what they’re comfortable with being.” Then there was a lot of noise. There were a lot of hands thrust very close to my face. G was saying timidly from across the table, “Well, she’s trying to say that it’s only straight people who’d be offended by something like that, because queer people are—well, they’re …”, and then B was saying “Who’s offended? Who’s offended?”, and the whole time I could feel something bright red crumbling to pieces in my chest in my chest. And F was saying, wildly, “No! No! You can’t generalise like that! You, generalising about heterosexuals, is just as bad as if I generalised about homosexuals, don’t you understand that?”
6 In high school I thought I was in love for the first time, although it’s hard to be certain. It was a long time ago, and I suspect I’d been trying to convince myself I was in love because it would make a good story. I won’t go into too much
detail here. She was a friend of mine and she was straight, and I knew that, and I appreciated her all the more for it because it hurt a lot and I was only just learning about pain, and also it meant I didn’t really have to do anything because there was no chance anyway. Once, we were sitting on the clover patch behind the Physics classroom, and I was talking to her about the first time I’d ever seen porn. I told this story a lot in high school because it made people laugh. The first pornography I’d ever seen was a sidebar ad on some website I’d found myself on when I was about ten or eleven years old. I don’t remember what website it was, but it was somewhere I probably shouldn’t have been. At that age, the Internet really did seem like a physical space, a place with rooms and corridors I could move around in. I’d already learned how to instantly minimise whatever I was looking at when one of my parents came into the room, because they were bound to find something wrong with it. I was always good at doing the wrong thing. In the sidebar ad someone was fucking themselves with a dildo. Even though I had a vagina, I’d never really taken a good look at it before, so when I saw the ground-meat colour of the inside of this pornstar’s labia it terrified me instantly. And the movement, the way their wrist was twisting around the black plastic of the dildo, I’d never seen anything more frightening. I stared at it for a long time, fixated. Between the redness and the violence of the movements, I thought they’d hurt themselves. For some reason everyone always found it hilarious when I told this story in high school. Maybe I was better at telling stories then. When I told the story to my crush behind the Physics lab, she laughed and laughed and told me how fucking stupid I was. She often told me I was stupid. It hurt a bit, but as I said, I was just learning how to feel that sort of pain. I came out to her in confidence halfway through matric, and after that, strange things would happen. She’d touch me more often. Or did I just imagine this? Maybe it was just wishful thinking. It was a long time ago. One night we went to a bar and I remember her boyfriend saying things to me, shouting really, but the music was drowning him out. He was telling me what it was like to have sex with her, I think. I nodded and smiled and pointed to my ears and shook my head. I drank my rum and coke and it was vaporous in my mouth. Issue 13 • 74
At the bar a much older man stood behind me and put his hand right on the top of my thigh, his fingers sliding very slowly forwards, and she congratulated me on this. Afterwards I slept over at her house. She had a single bed. I lay awake next to the warm mass of her and thought about pain for a long time. That night I realised that pain wasn’t something external that was visited upon me. It was something I had been born with. It existed as a reservoir inside me that, in adolescence, was just beginning to crack open.
7 This is A’s next problem. A said to me, “Ok, so what if – what if an old man, a forty-year old man, identified as a little boy so that he could have sex with little girls?” I said, “What the fuck?” There were so many bodies cluttering the table now I had to sit up with my knees tucked under me just to see his face. They were wearing all kinds of different things. Some of them were wearing those horrible 80s shirts with the bright colours and patterns. Some of them were wearing saris and some were wearing dresses of sweshwe fabric and some were wearing army uniforms and some were wearing school uniforms and some – most – were wearing nothing at all. Some of them belonged to people who weren’t dead yet but soon would be. All the eyes, which were still open, glazed or weeping something or other, were fixed on me. B looked at me, and then he said to A, “Don’t you ever think before you speak?” “You couldn’t say no,” A said. His hands were shaking. A is going to be a doctor soon. All my classmates are. A wants to be a psychiatrist. “You’d just have to accept him, because by your logic, that would be okay. You couldn’t say no to him.” The dead queers were watching me to see what I’d do. My 75 • June 2017
classmates were watching me to see what I’d do. What I ended up doing was nothing. My mind had gone blank as if preparing for another, an impending blankness. There was nothing left for me to say, and if I’d opened my mouth again, I don’t know what would have come out of it – semen, blood, vomit, someone else’s voice. Because the silence went on for too long, someone said, “Okay, let’s just move on to the next question.” That afternoon, F sent me a message, apologising. I have the message open on my phone now. It says I just wanted to apologise for today. The remark I made was immature and culturally insensitive. I shan’t do anything like that again. I hope that we’re good though. I replied right away. I said It’s all good! I’m glad you understand what’s up and I’m always here to discuss these things if you’re unsure. Sorry if I got a bit deep, I know you didn’t mean any harm, it’s just very frustrating to hear these things. See you Friday! It’s all good! Sorry if I got a bit deep! I know you didn’t mean any harm! Halfway through a panic attack, I sent that message on the 22nd of August, 2016. On the 4th of December that year, I read about what happened to Noluvo Swelindawo, in Khayelitsha, with the gun. I’d look up from my phone and see her body before me, on that footbridge, in the dark, and I’d recognise her face. And then I’d reread those messages, and become senseless with rage. We grew up apologising after all. Actually, now that I think of it, our whole lives are long apologies, long prostrations, long pleas for forgiveness. Being born as something so off, smelling of something dead, leaking fluid onto the carpets, you’ve got to start saying sorry as soon as you learn to speak. I saw the bodies and I knew what they wanted from me and yet there I was, telling the straight man: it’s okay, I’m sorry, it’s okay, you didn’t do anything wrong.
Because I didn’t want to go too far.
was a long time ago.
Because you have to draw a line somewhere.
F messaged me to ask if I was OK. And I thought … I don’t know what I thought but I said to him, That past incident of queerphobia made it fucking hard for me to be in PBL. That message I sent to you saying “all’s good” was sent in a spirit of fear and panic. . .y’all’s bigotry dragged up a lot of terror regarding my queerness. . .so I’ve been frightened and panicky about being in PBL since I know what you really think about queers.
8 When I was very young, about seven, my mother was driving me home from my friend H’s house. In a friendly voice, she asked me, “Did you know that H knows what gay means?”
And F had this to say in response:
“H. Her mother told me that she knows what it means for someone to be gay. Did you tell her that?”
I think I’ll leave you be rather than upset you further.
“No, I don’t think so.” “She must have found out from someone else then,” my mother said. “Her mother asked if it was you who’d told her that. It’s ridiculous, don’t you think? Everyone should know what gay means. It’s the twenty-first century.” And then she kept right on driving. It was in the car on the way home from my last matric exam that I told her I was bisexual. The word turned to a rock in my mouth. For a long time, she was quiet. When she started speaking again, it was to tell me that she’d support me, even if she didn’t understand. But it was already too late. She’d missed a turn, she’d gone too fast, I’d made her run a red light, or something like that.
9 I told myself that today (28th of January, 2017) I’d finish this whole mess of a piece, but that doesn’t look like it’s likely to happen. On Friday, there was a Problem-Based Learning session that I didn’t attend. I couldn’t. I could barely get out of bed on Friday. Or maybe I’m not remembering correctly. It
I can’t defend myself for past bigoted actions, but I do hope you feel better in the future.
10 Apples and pears, apples and pears. Apples and pears and every other fruit. This is what queerness is: carrying a smashed thing around inside you forever, only you’re not sure if you were born with it broken or if someone broke it for you so early that you may as well have been born with it broken. And you don’t know what it is, a broken vase, a splintered window, a torn garbagebag, nestling in the curve of your aorta, but you know you’ve got to keep a close hold on it in case someone – a stranger, your neighbour, your brother, your doctor – catches a glimpse of it. For the record, A, if you told me you identified as an attack helicopter I wouldn’t begrudge you a fucking thing. I’d fill you with any fuel you wanted, I’d kiss the scratches from your paint. I’d lick the dust from your body. I’d pick the glimmering down from between your spinning blades so you could fly higher and higher. I’d load you with ammunition and I’d watch you leave for work every morning, ascending, a great golden corpse in the sky. What a mess. What a fucking mess, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Issue 13 • 76
I. my girlfriend calls me little sky. she sees my smile a rising sun, my depression a dark cloud always looming over my horizons, my fear a fog that creeps in and blinds me before I realize how thick it has become. she doesn't know how much it means to be seen as the whole sky when my entire life others have only loved me as the sun. how they have come to me for warmth but shied away from the shiver of my sadness, how they have loved me when the summer breeze is in my laugh but have sheltered against my heart’s howling winds. I’ve spent so much time shining for them, I’ve forgotten I should be loved even as a storm, making oceans of my sadness, when I am the darkest of nights forgetting that I have always held the North Star.
II. My ex girlfriend used to call me little sky.
but when you start to see yourself as the sky, it is hard to come back down to Earth without feeling like a crashing comet, an armless Atlas who can't carry the weight of being the sky, cannot even lift her head to see the beauty of all she holds
77 • June 2017
Photo by Mariam Armisen
I started to believe her.
III. my ex girlfriend still sometimes calls me little sky. it's harder to hear her now through the hurricane of hurt I long ago learned to see as daily forecast. Sometimes, when we speak, I am in the eye of my storms, and in those moments, I am reminded that she too has always been sky. that we are both just weather. each emotion another page in the almanac of this thing we call life. I wonder if her gray skies make her forget they also had a radiant sun like they do for me. I want to remind her, but it has been so long since I’ve felt the warmth from my own rays. so long since I felt like a sky that could hold a sun,
or a sky at all. Issue 13 • 78
79 â€¢ June 2017
23 IN AUTUMN 2012 TAMPERE, FINLAND THE TREE
ree BY PO B. K. LOMAMI
I drew my family tree. It was long and painful. I applied the definition of family and the general rule of the family tree I learned at elementary school - where I had already had to do this exercise. I was taught that family was about blood, marriage, and sometimes adoption. I complied. This time the task took me longer to complete than the other students. The first reason was my perception of the family. When I heard the word “family,” I understood a big representation of connections. A tree is supposed to be big, so my family tree should include each individual I am related to, which is a great number of people. Secondly, I didn’t have enough information about all those individuals. This fact was disturbing because it made me remember that I didn’t know my family, also that I had never tried to but really wanted to know it. This didn’t make me feel good about myself. In fact, it made me feel selfish and self-absorbed. My nuclear family is isolated in Belgium, and the rest of my family is in France, Sweden, Canada, and several countries in Africa, but most of them are in the “Democratic” Republic of Congo, where my parents come from. I have never been to Congo as an adult or met these people, so the distance is a hard fact in the absence of connection that I am feeling. To be precise, I went to Congo once when I was six months old. Finally, to complete the task, I had to call my parents in Belgium and talk to them for almost two hours just to collect enough information to draw my family tree. I was impressed by their ability to give all this precise information. I admired all the knowledge accumulated during decades. I
had to stop them after a while, because it was too much, really too many people. We focused only on my grandparents, my parents and their siblings, me, my siblings and my cousins, so three generations. They mentioned the husbands or wives, but also actual and past partners when they had a child with one of the relatives mentioned before. After giving me details about each individual (year of birth, year of marriage, year of divorce, year of death…year of everything) they told me it had been an excellent exercise for them; they hadn’t realized that the family was that big or that their knowledge of it could disappear with them. After this, they began planning to draw an entire family tree using special software. Once I had all the information, I managed to place every single individual my parents mentioned on my five-sheet family tree. Yes it was that long, I couldn’t believe it. I represented 112 individuals, me included. My father and my mother have eleven and nine siblings. I only know two of these people – one aunt in Paris and another in Stockholm – and their nuclear family, and I only like one of them. That means that ninety-six other people represented on my family tree are total strangers to me. I needed time to get over the fact that this was my family tree. At least, that was what I thought I should think. What I really drew was the family tree of my parents. All these people are there because they are important to my parents, not to me. The simple fact that they had all this information about more than a hundred people and wanted to tell me even more about each individual demonstrates the attachment they have for their big family, but these strong links are getting weaker. The Issue 13 • 80
tree didn’t get wider; I didn’t want to use more than five sheets of paper and my parents couldn’t remember or didn’t know the information about the more recent relatives who are principally the children of my cousins. Also, the newest information about some people on my tree is incomplete. This seems to be due to changes in my parents’ perceptions of the family. The time, the geographical distance, the change in culture and their personal projects has affected what family means to them. The connections have been getting weaker during of years of physical distance. My parents never went back to Congo. They used to perceive their family as all the blood and in-law relatives, but now they tend to privilege only the descent line to me and my two little brothers. New information is no longer memorized as thoroughly as earlier information. I began to wonder who my family was from my own perspective, not to mention the theoretical and anthropological ones. If I don’t feel close to most of the people on my family tree, I wondered, why are they are represented at all? I came up with three reasons. The first one is just the need for knowledge. After drawing the tree, a lot of shadows were finally gone, and I finally had the big picture in front of me. All these names and dates look like precious information that time would otherwise disintegrate. Secondly, it seems like the future of the connection between here (Belgium) and there (DR Congo) depends on me; I am the eldest child, a huge and stressful responsibility that I don’t want and for which I am not prepared.. But I can’t resign. I am black. The existence of these strangers explains why. If the connection is turned off, how will future generations know where they come from? How can we build a future without the past? Finally, the third reason is that my feelings are not reciprocal, and I feel guilty for that. For them, I am a child who lives far away. They knew who I am, or what my parents told them about me, and consider me completely part of the family. This changes everything. Alone I can be anyone I want but, seeing this little black circle on the paper that is supposed to situate me on this big family tree, I feel trapped in a structure where I am powerless, where elder expectations are the frame of respect. But I don’t meet these expectations, and they just don’t know that yet. It’s not as if I would pay a lot of attention to what they think of my sexual and affective orientation or my gender expression, but I am concerned about the trouble this could bring my parents. 81 • June 2017
I was born with a vagina, and my gender expression is too feminine to cause any doubt about the gender role I should have in family and in society in general. This situation creates a particular oppression about the path I should take. It is impossible to walk away from gender because people and society will label you anyway. And I am not trying to throw gender away. I just don’t want it used to identify me, myself and I. I don’t want to be a circle. But I am a circle. In the tree, I am just a female body with a female role. In fact, it is more than that: if the tree has to go on growing, this suggests that I represent a way to produce this growth by meeting a triangle outside the tree and having little circles and/or triangles with it. The family tree is claiming out loud that I am available and that my future is already planned, I just have to look at what happened to the older circles to know this. Sad stories. Everything is organized by the specific relations represented in the tree, and all this just oppresses me. I and the other circles are supposed to meet some triangle men outside the tree and have children. Suddenly I have a reproductive function. A lot of things are assumed about the circles, which are the “standard units of our genealogies.” This is how it goes, this is how the tree grows. And it has to grow, otherwise it means it’s sick! There is another possibility, of course: adoption. There is one case of adoption in my family tree, and it is very discrete. You can’t know about it by looking at the tree. In any case, this other mode of reproduction doesn’t challenge the tree and the plan it has for me. Reproduction (or adoption) are the only rules of my tree, the only ways to draw lines and add people. In other words, my family tree suggests that reproduction and adoption are at the core of all this structure and of all family life. The family tree says that I am destined to have a male partner for at least long enough to have one or more children, “biologically” or not. In everyday life, it means a lot. It means taking care of those children, supporting the household, being a mother and all that people expect from this label. This dreamy picture is definitely bigger than a small circle. But what if I don’t want this plan? Does it mean I am rejecting my family? Am I the sick branch that contaminates the whole tree? Heteronormativity is violent. This violence is everywhere and so it’s at home too.
Finding a loving partner is supposed to be something good, but for me, a queer, a pansexual, it might be not that positive. The risk is not in the way I could build a relationship with a partner but simply the gender of this partner. Coming out stops people from being able to take for granted the old adage that family is forever. Rejection highlights the fact that kin ties can change but blood relations are permanent. Kinship is not only about blood but also about love, commitment, loyalty…. Nature is not sufficient.
27 IN SPRING 2017 – METZ, FRANCE ROOTS AND LEAVES Am I an end ? The end doesn’t come, so maybe I am an end. Might it be as simple as that ? I can’t be. I can’t be more. I have nothing to offer that would fit, that would make sense, profit. What could I say to that kid ? They were not really a kid anymore. They did, they saw, they created, they ran, they screamed, they said. They wrote. Four and a half years later, I’m more confused than ever. I don’t even want to be. That what I could answer that kid. I think like this sometimes. Many times. But it tends to go away more and more. I have better things to say. That kid had more certainties in 2012 that I do now. They were a pansexual genderqueer Belgian Congo descendant who didn’t know what to do with the family dimension. They were avoiding, they were afraid of anything too close that would transform their life into family shame or danger. They felt threatened. They were anxious about romantic and sexual relationships, and didn’t believe it would happen to them anyway, ever. That kid was away, in Finland. They were already traveling into masculinity and femininity. They hung with the local queer trans feminist anarcho vegan punk community there.
It became a kind of local family. They found a space to let it be, to feel, to write, to question themself without any consequences or responsibility but themself. It was still a white European framework, but they could disconnect from people by simply not understanding the language. They could reflect on being. Just being. Including being a black queer disabled body read as female in Europe. They also started to feel their body for other reasons than the disability. They considered just feeling. They also considered getting information for top surgery. Race, diaspora, nationality, Europe, citizenship, family. All these were not clear yet. How they connected to everything more than they thought. Everything they experienced. The kid could feel that the gender thing, the words to describe it, Issue 13 • 82
the theories and politics around it… something was always sounding wrong, false, imposed, fake, irrelevant. And when they tried to embody it, they felt ridiculous or like an impostor. As early as they could remember, they had always felt they were not a girl because they were not white and that they were not a beautiful girl because they were black and disabled. Everything was different. Girlhood, womanhood had always felt like something they couldn’t achieve or perform properly because they were black. They grew up thinking they were an ugly smart unable black girl. Moreover, they’d had suicidal thoughts since primary school. Their medical experience was full of physical and mental pain, abuse, racism, shame, objectification, self-hatred, powerlessness. Then things started to change. At 14, they unconsciously started to consider that they might not be a girl, but especially, and consciously, that they didn’t want to meet those norms and expectations. At that moment, they also decided to be black, even if they obviously were. That’s how it felt. In fact, they decided not to be ashamed of their blackness, their negritude, to stop playing the white tricks, complying with the white rules. They were not embracing it yet, but they stopped feeling sorry for it. They were following the punk and hardcore scene for years, and around 17 they decided not to try to prove anymore that they were part of it. As a black kid, they would never be punk enough for the white gaze, but in fact they couldn’t be less punk than the whites because of their condition and their story and their actions. They didn’t hate cops because it was cool, but because they knew what it is to be a black body confronted by police power and abuse. They also told themself that nobody has the right to disrespect them, not even themself. They realized that their mother transmitted to them the foundations that led them to a point where they could start to understand that even suicidal thoughts didn’t have power over their value. It takes time, I’m still processing, progressing, ten years later. At 22, they were still processing all aspects of their life. They/I’m from African histories, but they/I’m also a product of Europe. They/I was born in a space-time where they/I’ve been taught to be ashamed or scared of myself, and thus of everything that could be a continuation of me, of everything that they/I’m a continuation of. Including family, heritage, transmission. They/I’ve been hurt, brutalized, and disabled. They/I 83 • June 2017
got scares. And they/I’m the memory protector of the scares of my ascendants. They/I’ve been taught to be ashamed of them. I was born and raised in Europe, in the colonizing country. I can’t answer for that kid in the autumn 2012. I see and feel with a very different perspective now. Processing. I’m learning Kiswahili and I plan to go to Congo with my mother to meet some members of my family before I turn 30. Processing. I started a relationship in autumn 2016. It took time. I didn’t expect it. It feels good. Processing. I don’t experience femininity as something weak anymore. In fact, when I enter the POWER MODE, I become instinctively more feminine. Black and African femininity became my armor and my army. A state of self-confidence. Processing. But when I hang out with my inner self, when I am for myself only, I feel genderless/genderqueer, and I walk and chill with that kid. Processing. It appears to be easier for me to stand in front of a white world while wearing my black femininity, but sometimes it leads me to the feeling of losing myself. Processing. In my relationship, I still think, overthink, and sometimes, when I have the courage to do so, talk about my insecurity. I’m scared that I would not be, that I would be less loved and attractive if I let myself explore and be whoever I am. And at the same time, I can’t say what that means. Processing. I still don’t really relate to the term “femme,” but I can identify with “meuf.” As a “meuf noire queer.” I use “they” and “she” for myself, but I let people use “she” because I don’t have energy. Processing. My top surgery project is in a box. I have more things to overcome first, and I might need money to take care of my disability instead. Processing. At the end, regarding my experience of gender and family, I cannot come with clear points and facts as I was doing years ago, mainly because I acknowledge and integrate my black experience now. It’s not that I’m confused, I’m processing. I’m not scared of my family tree anymore. I embrace the roots and feel the wind of self as a leaf. When I think about that kid at any age, I want to do anything to help them to access what they deserve. I want to help that kid to unlearn all the painful rules and tricks they’ve been forced into to fit a little, to be more in this society. I want that kid to feel the tree differently. It’s easy to love that kid. And if I really want to love that kid, I have to love myself.
Lyc Zou of t
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cinais Jean, or When uk Music Comes out the Closet! BY HOMOSENEGALENSIS PHOTOS BY MEGGY THERESINE
ike many people, I am a big music enthusiast, and I try as much as I can to vary the music I listen to. Recently, I’ve been reconnecting with good old Zouk. A musical movement originally from the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, Zouk is popular in many francophone African countries. It is distinguished by its rhythmic, sunny melodies that will make you believe in pure and eternal love. However, there is one thing Zouk has in common with most other musical genres: its rather heteronormative view of love and the world. So you can imagine my surprise when, a few months ago, I came across Lycinais Jean. Songwriter and composer, with a breathtaking voice and an androgynous style that the queer woman I am would not have found unusual, except that I was discovering her through a musical genre like Zouk! From her looks to her audiovisual creations, everything about this young artist from Guadeloupe and Martinique says “I like women and I am comfortable in my skin.” If Issue 13 • 86
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you don’t believe me, check out Mwen enmé-w, the song in which Lycinais officially comes out to her public, a first in the world of Zouk, where only love between men and women has been the norm. My interest was aroused, and I decided to further explore this exceptional talent. Born in a family of musicians, Lycinais Jean developed her passion for music very early on. Her covers of popular songs, which she shares on her YouTube channel, LYCINAIS JEAN TV, first put her under the spotlight, but her career took a new and dramatic turn after her single, Aimer, which the public immediately fell in love with. Can we blame them? Love makes people dream, and in this song the young woman’s talent is practically hypnotizing. But it wasn’t until 2015 that this artist really stood out with her track Mwen enmé-w. Here, in her determination to stay true to herself, Lycinais Jean uses the most beautiful melodies and the most passionate words to rekindle an old love with, not a man, but a woman! Later, she released another track, Sex Therapy, which was even bolder. By the time her most recent track, Entre Nous, was released in 2016, the young woman’s talent and authenticity had nothing left to prove. Listening to a song is one thing. Being able to picture oneself in it is a completely different experience. That Lycinais Jean is talented is undeniable, but what makes all the differ-
ence – and makes her work even more fascinating – is the authenticity and courage that shine out form it. So allow me to share some of my impressions. First, I felt that the marks of affection in her videos were rather moderate, almost timid. Even in Sex Therapy, the track in which the singer alludes to physical love between two women, the scenes remain sensual without ever being sexual. Always, this message of love, sensuality and passion. Could this be interpreted as a compromise to the public its social pressures? A way of not “flaunting” it? Of emphasizing the message of love rather than the physical aspect of a relationship between two women? Or do these videos simply reflect the artist’s personality? Whatever the reasons, I must admit that as a queer woman, being able to see and hear myself in contemporary music productions is a much-needed change. The last scene of Entre Nous is by far my favorite. The clip ends with the two women embracing each other and beginning to kiss. This causes a comical reaction from a male passerby. I am not fluent in Creole, unfortunately, but the young man’s disapproving fuss is clearly a reaction to the homosexual love being displayed in front of him. Indeed, we can see him looking offended and saying over and over “mariage pour tous!”Marriage maybe not, but we wouldn’t say no to love for all! Going over comments left on the artist’s YouTube videos can be helpful in evaluating people’s reactions. It was interIssue 13 • 88
esting to see the number of comments along the lines of “I’m not gay but…” Other than a few unfortunate homophobic remarks and some criticism regarding acoustic transformations of the artist’s voice, the comments were generally positive and encouraging. In the music world, we don’t often see proudly and openly queer artists, and for good reason. Many critics are quick to brand them with “you-are-promoting-homosexuality-and-immorality.” But this artist does a really good job at defending herself against observations that imply that her work “promotes homosexuality,” always the homophobe’s favorite argument against any positive representation of queer people in the media, or anywhere else really. Indeed, Lycinais Jean reminds us on Facebook that her songs do not aim to promote any sexual orientation but rather to talk about love and passion while simply staying true to herself. The comments read as follows: “Follower: I am not homophobic, I’m just saying that she has way too much talent to only focus on homosexuality. Otherwise, I have no problem with anyone’s sexual orientation as long as they are happy. Lycinais: Hello! If I may, allow me to point out that the song does not talk about homosexuality. If I am always featured with 89 • June 2017
women, it’s because I’m illustrating my reality and not others’, while taking inspiration from life. I stay true to myself, I sing about love and not homosexuality… Just like in “Mwen enmé w”, if we only listen to the song, we only hear a love story…Love inspires me every day so I try to take advantage of that, just like many other artists evolving in my world. I believe you simply did not understand my approach, but you are forgiven. Having said that, I will remain true to myself till the end, even if it bothers some people. Because yes, I am authentic, without any pretention. Have a great day! <3” I have found this message particularly important not only because of the significance of staying true to oneself as a queer artist, but also because this type of mediatic representation is a solid argument against homophobic rhetoric according to which queer relationships would be purely sexual and unfit for love or any other profound feeling. Of course, there is no denying the fact that there is a certain privilege in being able to “illustrate one’s reality” and staying true to oneself so publicly. In the world, the number of people who can freely do so are still in the minority. However, for artists like Lycinais Jean who want and can do it, it is very much appreciated.
seductive BY RUTH LU
Photo by Mariam Armisen
The sensuality awarded to red, A color so aware of its power, Stranger with the scarlet lips, Do you know that you capture souls when you walk? Are you not aware of the candor that comes out of it, you, so perfect? My writings are not connected but the imaginary is delighted, I don’t wait for you to turn around, The world stops dead, the light is red, You and your lips are even more red, My ancestors would scream for I am no longer pious, Does it even matter these days? The young lady executing a sprint, Would have touched me and lit me back up, In the momentum, I am not the only one she struck, Others did not escape, But, to only me did she smile before turning back, I felt my heart and my face wrapped in an embrace, On my face, a smirk With which the Golden Gate’s length could not compete, Excuses, hands, polished nails, A distance quickly bridged by glances, Through a stranger, you sent me a note, On which you made me promise to wait for you, I scanned the room and rushed through this note, From afar, I could feel your eyes in the depths of my being. Someone was coming my way, you maintained your gaze on me, He came closer, you were fuming, And the only thing I could think of was my kettle, So, you came to me, embraced me with your suspicious kindness, One too many glasses and I was conquered, your smile widened, We wanted it, we have been waiting for it ever since you touched me, Thus we recreated the mid-day scene, she brought me to her chest.
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in between p AN INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA IBO
Cynthia Ibo is an Afro-Caribbean activist living in France. She is passionate about poetry, documentary, rap and photography. With her, we kick off a new segment on literature. . .
What book are you currently reading? I am reading « Crépuscule du tourment 2 » by Léonora Miano and « Sirena Selena » by Mayra Santos-Febres which I had first read in English a few years back and that has just been translated into French.
How do you choose a book? I am usually bouncing from author to author. At times I can be obsessed with certain themes. Other times, it’s just by chance, at the library. I always read multiple books at a time. I also feel the need to alternate between books that have very little in common. A book must stir me, stimulate me, disrupt my comfort.
What is your favorite genre? Honestly, it’s hard to decide between novels, essays, and poetry. What I can tell you for sure is that I read a lot of novels… But it is the “hegemonic” form. I like it when it’s challenged, shaken. I also read a lot of essays and I find them very interesting when they have a narrative quality like Bell Hooks’ or Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s. 91 • June 2017
pages Which book have you read more than once? If I must choose one, I will say “Solibo Magnificent” by Patrick Chamoiseau. This novel, like a few others he wrote at that time, is at the core of every personal fulfillment and emancipation strategy I have ever come up with. It really talks about a very particular relationship with the world, both strong and moving. And even though with Chamoiseau, it never translated into ambitious and interesting political propositions, even though it remains very manly, very straight, the paths that he draws in his narratives are rich, politically rich. And it’s also a very funny book even though he talks about death and police violence, among other themes. It covers an inexhaustible number of topics.
Photo by Siphumeze Khundayi
Are you one to get books from the library? Yes, always. I love spending time at the library for all the surprises there are to find. I like the prospect of the unexpected. To be hooked by a title or an edition that I particularly like. At my favorite library, they regularly get rid of books that no longer get borrowed. They give them away. Those abandoned and forgotten books entice me. I tell myself they must hold some type of treasure, tiny or huge, that escaped “the public.” Those are books on the margin; I love taking a different path, scavenging…
How do you organize your books? They are arranged in alphabetical order, but there is an Africa section, a Caribbean one, a French and a Rest-of-Europe.
There is a section for everything that’s Anglophone and white, so mainly the U.S., the U.K. There is a place for comics, for essays. Well, there is also always a priority pile for books that I want to read first, but it does not always work out as planned.
Where is your favorite place to read? I love reading on public transport – the bus, the tram, the train. I love that sensation of interweaving worlds, of a multiplicity of movements. Otherwise, I also read in bed a lot. To help me fall asleep or to keep my insomnia company.
Do you ever make notes or underline words in books? No, I don’t like writing in books. I always have a bookmark. I leave little to no marks on books. I like when they bubble up in me and remain secret until I write, or not, about them.
What three books will you give away this year? I don’t know… I rarely give recent books as gifts. I’ll probably give away a Buchi Emecheta, because she passed away and left us with a wonderful piece. “Red Dust” by Jackie Kay because I am obsessed with that book. And that great graphic novel, “The Zabime Sisters,” by the Guadeloupian writer Aristophane, which I got as a birthday gift. It really is a masterpiece. It was really moving to discover this book, whose great author passed away about ten years ago and whom I did not know anything about. Issue 13 • 92
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WEAR BY TANLUME ENYATSENG PHOTOS BY GIANCARLO CALAMÉO LAGUERTA
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rowing up, I was never a formal kind of guy. As early as ten, I preferred to wear neon green, latex tights with a tie-dye T-shirt and flip flops – usually with disastrous results. I envied the more put-together boys, effortless in their tailored pants dressed up with crisp golf shirts. But at heart, I was a hipster, always rooting through bargain bags at flea markets for, say, a snakeskin vest, which for some reason I just had to own. There was never a point when I wasn’t experimenting with clothes, hence a certain photo of me as a two-year-old in a garish, ill-fitting 80s prom dress, yes, DRESS! My mother was complicit in that stunt; she loved dressing up my older sisters and me in a variety of ridiculous get-ups. I believe she hadn’t come to terms with having a son. Not until my younger brother was born. I honestly think there have been times when my sanity may have abandoned me completely. Allow me to take you on a brief tour of my fashion disasters…. By 1999, I was a carefree, Spice Girls-obsessed eleven year-old. Was there ever a time when knee-high Nike logo socks looked
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good with denim shorts and a pink Lacoste polo? I may have been satisfied with myself, but in a photo taken at the time, I’m skinny and awkward. My hair is in a Shaft-style Afro, my newly adolescent face is oily, and my stick legs bow out at bizarre angles, sort of like Bambi’s when she first learned to walk. Two years later, I was making my ascent up the hellish mountain that is teenagedom. In other words, I was a total dick. My clothing reflected this. I was also transitioning from private to public school, and the alpha guys at my new school were rigorous in their enforcement of the social pecking order. If you weren’t big and brawny, you were a target. You were an outcast confined to the dark recesses of the lunchroom – or worse. Somehow I managed to slip through the cracks and avoid both being teased and being labelled a nerd. With the fear of being bullied gone -- and no ambitions to be popular – I explored my sartorial whims in the fashion department. My style references now were Kwaito music videos, and this brief period prowling the Manyora subculture had an interesting effect on my style. Gone were the checked shorts and
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"Th poi exp clo
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here was never a int when I wasn’t xperimenting with lothes" Nike accessories. In their place arrived the Dickies two-piece ensembles, Converse high-tops, and bucket hats. I was that guy that “kind of overdid it a little” and was trying to get attention through his clothes. I mean, I wore a silk robe and torn sneakers (a la Trompies) to school once.
Last year, I discovered fashion blogging and the wonders of sharing my writing on the World Wide Web. My style began to reflect the lifestyle I (thought I) was leading.
Thankfully, I soon moved on to experimenting with a more toned-down look. By around 18, I was alternating between mod and hippie (inspired by a new obsession with new wave French cinema). It was a schizophrenic approach to dressing that ended up yielding some fairly fashion-forward looks and often required ransacking my mum’s closet for the perfect vintage sweater or floral shirt. I really thought I was Serge Gainsbourg.
I overdid the skinny jeans, boat shoes and Amish hat look. I wanted to be so cool so bad. I cringe whenever I come across a photo from that period. It got to the point where I thought I could start a range of Third World Hipster dashikis.
But in 2008, Gossip Girl was the new shit. This spawned my metrosexual phase – and another era of bad fashion. When my friend Tshepiso and I woke up one morning in Johannesburg clad in matching baby-blue skinny jeans and polka dot bowties, I realized we’d taken the joke way too far. “Damn that Mother Chucker!”
Just not in a good way.
Now I have ditched the everyday-is-a street-style-shoot vibe and focus on comfort, taking key looks from whichever era interests me and working them around my own style and body size. Sure, I may look like a total idiot at times, and to the delight of many, some of those moments have been “immortalized” on film. But fashion should be funny and silly, joyful and irreverent. So when I look at those priceless photographs, I can’t help but smile too. Issue 13 • 98
children are born of these wars BY TAI ROCKETT
Children are born of these wars. They come wide-eyed, bloodstained and thirsty. migration. I am out of breath barely following. Her spirit spirals as it sprints. What I remember of childhood is: legs, between legs, and the difference between running and running away, between hiding and disappearing. Look at her body in a room. Notice how difficult it is to quiet into peace. She is pieces. Even as she sits upright as the teacher suggests she mends and minds the places where the glue is no longer binding this edge with another. Even while sitting still there is work to do. When she is sitting and still she reapplies Elmer's glue.
The glue has dried and she is gentle with herself. The tough edge of her nail lifts the rounded plate of glue from a fingertip. How many of her fingerprints can she collect before the teacher notices? And why arenâ€™t there more opportunities to collect these pieces of herself ? Cannot run anymore to myself, or from what I was intended to be. Cannot run from a self and at the same time be this self without that running being worked in. Between her, the runner, and me we happen to stay in shape.
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Photo by John McAllister
How fascinating the games adults never had time to teach us. The games not really games but empty space between supervision and neglect, between haphazard instruction and unbridled curiosity.
Congratulations to Farah Ahamed and Sarah Waiswa, joint winners of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award The Jacana Literary Foundation, and the Other Foundation, are delighted to announce the joint winners of the Gerald Kraak Award 2017: Farah Ahamed for ‘Poached Eggs’ and Sarah Waiswa for ‘Stranger in a Familiar Land’. The winners were announced on 25 May at the official launch of the first in the Gerald Kraak Anthology series, titled Pride and Prejudice. The kaleidoscopic collection comprises the most exceptional written and photographic entries for the annual Gerald Kraak Award, which was established in 2016 by the Other Foundation, in partnership with the Jacana Literary Foundation. Price and cover subject to change
ISBN 978-1-4314-2518-1 GENRE Anthology
Offering important African perspectives gathered from the continent, this inaugural edition features works of fiction, journalism, photography and poetry. The pieces are multi-layered, brave and stirring. They represent a new wave of fresh storytelling that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality.
FORMAT Trade Paperback SIZE 235x155mm EXTENT 200pp PRICE R260 RIGHTS South African Rights RELEASE May 2017
FOR ALL MEDIA ENQUIRIES, REVIEW COPIES OR INTERVIEW REQUESTS, PLEASE CONTACT:
Neilwe Mashigo Jacana Media 011 628 3200 firstname.lastname@example.org Tendai Thondhlana The Other Foundation 072 168 3148 email@example.com
The winners were selected by a judging panel made up of distinguished gender activist Sisonke Msimang (chair of the panel and series editor), prominent social and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser, and leading African feminist, Sylvia Tamale. Farah Ahamed, ‘Poached Eggs’ (Fiction, Kenya) A subtle, slow and careful rendering of the everyday rhythms of domestic terror that pays homage to the long history of women’s resistance. Written with wit, humour and grit, the story also sings of freedom, resistance and the desire to be unbound. Sarah Waiswa, ‘Stranger in a Familiar Land’ (Photography, Kenya) This collection of photos showcases the best of African storytelling. The images take risks and speak of danger and subversion yet, at the same time, they are deeply rooted in places that are familiar to urban Africans. Submissions for the Gerald Kraak Award 2018 will be open from 25 May to 25 June 2017. For guidelines and the entry form please visit: http://www.jacana.co.za/awards/gerald-kraak-award-and-anthology
Beyoncé’s “Love Drought” Video, Slavery and the Story of Igbo Landing BY MIKAEL OWUNNA
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Beyoncé in the music video for “Love Drought” marching into the water followed by a procession of black women
B Still from "Love Drought" by Beyoncé
eyoncé’s LEMONADE is filled with incredible artistry and stunning imagery. For me, one of the most striking images on the visual album occurs in the video for “Love Drought”. Much has been said about how LEMONADE draws influence from Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, but less has been said about how the story of Igbo Landing is central to Daughters of the Dust or about how the story of Igbo Landing – an act of mass resistance against slavery – also shows up in a very pronounced manner in the “Love Drought” video. For those who don’t know, Igbo Landing (or Ebos Landing) is the location of a mass suicide of Igbo slaves that occurred in 1803 on St. Simons Island, Georgia. A group of Igbo slaves revolted, took control of their slave ship, grounded it on an island, and rather than submit to slavery, marched into the water while singing in Igbo, drowning themselves. They unanimously chose death over slavery, and their act of mass resistance against the horrors of slavery became a legend, particularly among the Gullah people living near the site of Igbo Landing. Not only is the story of Igbo Landing one of the key themes of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which influenced LEMONADE, but its imagery also appears to be central to the “Love Drought” video. In the video, Beyoncé marches into the water followed by a group of black women all in white but with black fabric in the shape of a cross on the front of their bodies. They march deeper and deeper into the water before pausing and raising their hands toward the sunset. Issue 13 • 102
Donovan Nelson’s depiction of Igbo Landing in charcoal. It shows the Igbo slaves marching into a body of water with the water already up to their necks and their eyes closed.
Beyoncé on a beach leaning backward, resisting the pull of a taught rope
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Still from "Love Drought" by Beyoncé; Image via Valentine Museum of Art
Beyoncé marching into the water followed by other black women
This scene – and the video as a whole – occurs in a marshy landscape matching African-American folklore descriptions of the location of Igbo Landing. This is combined with imagery of Beyoncé physically bound in ropes and resisting their pull, which directly evokes slavery, resistance, and the events at Igbo Landing. The action of raising their hands towards the sunset symbolizes how the act of mass resistance at Igbo Landing has been mythologized in many African-American communities as either “water walking” or “flying.” In one version of the myth, the Igbo slaves walked into the water and then flew back to Africa, saving themselves. In other versions, they transformed into birds and Here is how Wallace Quarterman, an African-American man born in 1844, reold the legend when he was interviewed by members of the Federal Writers Project in 1930” Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and … Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good…. Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that
hoe in the field and then … rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa…. Everybody knows about them. (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/ebos-landing) Seeing Beyoncé and a group of black women marching into the water and raising their hands collectively toward the sunset reminded me specifically of this last interpretation of the story of Igbo Landing where the slaves flew to their freedom. There are lots of potential interpretations for this video and the visual album as a whole but the core imagery of the “Love Drought” video - marshy landscape matching folklore descriptions of the location of “Igbo Landing,” images of Beyoncé bound in ropes and resisting their pull, a collective march into the water and holding their hands out toward the sky as if they were about to fly away togetherbasically screamed out to me as the story of Igbo Landing as I watched the video. It’s such a powerful act of mass resistance against slavery and as an Igbo person living today in America, it was moving to see imagery which reminded me strongly of it in LEMONADE as well. Issue 13 • 104
bus stop corner of adeline and market street. oakland, california
PHOTOS BY MARIAM ARMISEN
105 â€¢ June 2017
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good bye my love FROM THE DIARY OF HOMOSENEGALENSIS PHOTO BY SIPHUMEZE KHUNDAYI
107 â€¢ June 2017
Dakar, February 26th, 2017 It’s 2 a.m. I’ve had three slices of pizza to suppress my anxiety, to no avail. My belly is full and my spirits are low. I’ve been reading Walking the Tightrope and one of the poems made me want to write. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Yeah, yeah, me too, I thought we were passed that. But it seems to be coming in waves, the missing and the longing. I can’t help it. And the fact that everything around me – literally everything – makes me think of her does not help. I want to kick myself every time I think about her. It’s about time I got over it.
at night. Things would have been so much easier if we had stuck to the platonic friendship we had. But our hearts had to find each other. To lose each other just as quickly. Soulmates, now perfect strangers. How is it even possible? I am in so much pain I am scared to love again. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do this again. But if there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that I want, I need, and I owe myself a clean slate. And for that to happen, I will have to do a few things.
Lately, I’ve had this urge to clean up my life. Or at least the one I had with her. Pictures. Gifts. Memories. It must all go! Wipe it clean and finally let go. I’ve realized how much of her is still part of me. Here and there, bits and pieces of our past maliciously tormenting my soul, reminding me of all the things we will no longer be. Should I be to blame for the state of chaos my heart is in? Hard to say. I don’t know how I got myself into such a situation.
The first is to finish my scrapbook. You know, the one where I recorded all the important moments of our life together. Pictures. Love notes. Movie tickets. Even candy wraps. All these little memories I promised to immortalize, but procrastination always got the best of me. Well, I will finally get to it. I will finish carving these fragments of our past. A last stroll down memory lane, so I can finally shake this feeling of unfinishedness that has been haunting our relationship, or what’s left of it.
I don’t regret the time we’ve had together. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when memories of her keep me awake
Next, I will need to delete all our pictures. As if things were not complicated enough, Google keeps reminding me that Issue 13 • 108
the places we’ve been to and the different pictures we took are memories worth celebrating. But I will delete them one by one. Everything that can remind me of us. The fear of losing images of what we once were has prevented me from taking this step. But I think I am ready now. Then, I will need to get rid of the last drops of Aveeno I’ve been holding onto since we broke up. Why, I’m not sure. It’s the first shower gel we bought and used together. Completely silly I know, but I have always been afraid to forget the scent of our baths. But I think it’s time. I guess this means I am allowed one last nostalgic shower with it. Finally, I will write that goodbye letter. The last one. The one I never had the strength to write. You know, the one where I really say goodbye and never look back. Without any promise of remaining friends or keeping in touch. Proper goodbyes. To the friend and the lover. It’s time for me to come to terms with the fact that I have lost them both and move on. For real, For good.
We promised to be always there for each other. To preserve our friendship no matter what happens. Why do you think it was a little less painful for me to get on that plane? I kept telling myself that no matter what happens, in you I would always find a friend. Always! No matter the distance. No matter the pain. No matter what happened.
But this silence… As if to say: “It’s over baby. Move on.”
I wasn’t done loving you.
An explanation would have been nice. More civil. More humane. More respectful of what we had together. But I now understand that things don’t always turn out as planned. I mean, I knew that, but I didn’t realize the natural order of things also applied to us. I guess I was a little too convinced that we were special.
I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to lose you. I didn’t expect to lose everything. Everything that was you. I don’t know if I am more hurt or disappointed. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at the absurdity of the situation. There were a lot of things I was ready for this year. But if there is one thing I did not expect, it was losing your friendship. That, I would never have imagined. 109 • June 2017
Well, know that I have learned my lesson. I am finally ready to let you go. I am ready to wipe you off my life and begin healing. It will take time, I know, but I no longer doubt it. One day, I will be free. Maybe not from all my shackles, but at least from those that are you. I am finally ready to reclaim the peace of mind I am entitled to. Wherever you are, whatever you do, I wish you nothing but the best. Goodbye my love!
where do we stand? BY PAMINA SEBASTIÃO
Where do we stand…? Where do we stand when being anonymous becomes your part in a whole that considers you a shadow Where do we stand when being yourself questions not only heteronormativity but also the sense of belonging in your own community Where do we stand when being bi is standing on the edge of feeling not quite anywhere when being too binary and apolitical is what people make of who you are
Photo by Sister's Project
Where do we stand when becoming vocal is a far distant reality What happens when you add more….? More invisibility More voicelessness Where do we stand when being bi and poly questions all the sense of “normativity” either homo or hetero
Here do we stand…then? We stand! In being In voice In politics We stand as part of a whole shouting out from the silence We stand as politically active as possible We stand in visibility when being seen means being We stand in transforming ourselves The institutions The politics The whole We stand as a single being with our own voice and struggle We close the gap by fighting the masks and pushing to become us We stand on being bi and poly once again Everyday Issue 13 • 110
A DISREP BY EMMA PHOTO BY JOHN MCALLISTER
111 â€¢ June 2017
never intended to hurt my husband. I loved this man in my own way, but I loved him nonetheless. Of all the women I met, none were ever able to love me the way he did. For that I was very grateful to him, but I couldn’t help it that my love for women was stronger than anything. My husband was becoming increasingly affectionate. One evening, I came home and was amazed to find that my husband had cooked, set the table, and only his little family was missing for it to form the perfect dinner picture. Adele, I have wished to love my husband. He deserved it more than anyone. I have hated Kenar. I have hated God. I have hated the devil. I would look at my husband, and behind his smile I would see fear. Fear that one day I would leave him for a woman. He would stroke my wedding ring, take my hand, kiss me and remind me how much he loved me. Some days, I would tell myself that I could at least have done Edoukou that favor: remain married to him. But I chose to follow my heart, to follow my desire to wake up by my wife’s side, to have a real family life. That’s what I have preferred to the happiness my husband never ceased to give me. Adele, battling with all this was not easy.” Auntie Dohoun was gardening when I arrived. I helped her plant and get rid of a few weeds. We then went to the kitchen, where she brought out some yoghurt for Merveille, who she then settled in the living room. - Keisha, thank you for marrying Edoukou and for making him a happy man. I honestly did not believe you could do it. You are a strong person and no matter what one might say, no one in the family has as much courage and guts as you do.
- Why are you telling me all these things, Auntie? - Please, don’t interrupt me. You made different choices when you thought you were displaying your attraction for people of the same sex too openly. I will tell you something that no one, beside my spiritual father, knows. She remained silent for a minute. Tears rolled down her cheeks, then she continued: - She was beautiful. I met her during a mission in Italy. We called her Maria because of her astonishing beauty, but her real name was Anne. Between this girl and I was born a friendship that nobody could explain. We grew closer and became inseparable. One evening, she offered her lips and I did not turn them down. That day marked the beginning of something unique. We had fallen deeply in love with each other to the point where it was practically impossible to keep us apart. I stayed in Italy for three years, and during all that time she and I maintained our passionate romance. Everything ended when I returned home. She also went back to her country. I came back sad and deeply pained by our separation. I wanted to stop everything, leave religious life, and go find Anne, so we could live our love. But I knew what the consequences would be if I were to disclose our affair. Me, usually so happy, I had become withdrawn. I had become another person. I knew I could not reveal what Anne and I had. I started sinking into a depression. I knew I needed to talk. Your grandfather would never have allowed me to leave religious life, so I turned to a priest I knew to be very discreet. He helped me a lot, and little by little I came out of that depression. I severed all ties with Anne. I never stopped loving her, but out of principle I stopped talking to her. Issue 13 • 112
you say You say it’s wrong You say God doesn’t like it Yes you. You fornicating sinner Well, guess what else God doesn’t like? Fornication. You say they should not get near you You say that you hate those faggots Yes, you holier-than-thou hateful Christian You forgot to revise your notes on the most important commandment. You say they’re spoiling your children You say they should be arrested But you sit back and laugh about gender-based violence You say “those are their issues.” You foolish Galatian. You say “Black Lives Matter” You say “Donald Trump is racist” But you say “If they were not that way, they’d never have been shot” That God was angry at them You’re now God’s self-appointed spokesperson You say it’s a blessing that THAT show got canceled That your religion says it’s evil Doesn’t your religion also say that watching pornography is evil? Yet you have folders and folders of it. You applaud the inhumane shootings You say, “I’d kill them myself ” You’d kill? You forget the sixth commandment, my friend You judge, judge, and judge You refuse to unlearn your rigid, mindless teachings You forget to be tolerant and claim you do it for Jesus The same Jesus who ate with tax collectors and let his feet be washed by a prostitute. You say. You don’t think. At all. 113 • June 2017
Photo by Brian Doe
BY EDNA NINSIIMA
115 â€¢ June 2017
Queer African Creative Writing