Limit(less) Project: PO

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ.

For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

PO: Afro-Queer Congolese (Shot in Mons and Brussels, Belgium)

Q. What’s your name, country of origin, pronouns, and how do you identify in terms of your LGBTQ identity?

My name is Po (Pauline), I was born in Belgium and my parents are from Congo RDC. I use she or they. I identify as afro-queer, genderqueer, pansexual.


Q. How would you describe your style?

My style? Wow – my style changed a lot from childhood to now. I used to receive the clothes from my older cousins, so I used to have a lot of clothes that were not mine. I was often comfortable in them. Since I was a kid, I linked clothes to music. A lot. So, when I was a teenager and started to save money (money for the lunch) to be able to buy my own clothes. I had a punk and hardcore style. But it was coming with white norms that I was not able to fit. Really straight hair to do the haircut properly. Trying to be overly thin and stuff. And even if I had those clothes and that style, people would still tell me at gigs - “what are you doing there?”. Literally. Because I’m black and I’m not supposed to be in the punk hardcore scene. A scene that can be really racist. One time it even turned into a fight… So one day - I think I was 17 - I decided that I didn’t have to fit that norm to prove anything, and I mixed that style with everything I felt comfortable without trying to fit the white norm. I can have piercings and stuff and still look African, because I am you know, and it’s not a problem.

Also, because I’ve always been political, even as a kid, I challenged the punk concept and I asked myself what could it mean for me instead of mimicking the other punks around. Answers came fast. Like, I don’t like cops because it’s cool, I don’t like cops because I feel that me and other black people are over-targeted by state violence, because I saw police violence in my neighborhood from a really young age etc. At some point, I came to the conclusion that I was more punk than any other people from the scene judging me, simply because I’m black and African and queer and disabled and here. My whole life experience genuinely demands to tear down the system. Existing is a proof of it. I don’t need clothes to do it for me. So I feel free to not fit in a box but to feel my own style.


Q. How do you think your style incorporates/blends elements of your African and LGBTQ identity?

The African identity is like… I feel like I don’t have to prove it -  I’m black and that talks by itself. I think because I had this experience of always being identified as outsider because of black - [being] African - made me understand that I am incorporating African identity any way. It’s not enclosed but it’s just in myself. I like to add African accessories but when I look in the mirror I directly see my African identity.

And for the queer part it’s being able to wear whatever I feel comfortable and empowered in. Whatever is masculine, feminine or gender neutral or androgynous without having a second thought about it.


Q. Was there ever a time where you felt pushed away from your African or LGBTQ identities? If so, how did you overcome that personally?

I’ve felt pushed away, and trying to push myself away also, since a young age because of the integration injonction - [compulsion] to integrate - which meant moving away from African-ness, and also by the fact that I don’t speak the african language of my parents, which is Swahili. It made me feel… It’s part of the thing that made me feel like a black Belgian person but not an African. Just black Belgian. But at the same time identifying as a Belgian who is black it’s mindfucking because I have to come from somewhere. I am pushed away from my queer and African identity by being afro-queer, it’s not supposed to go together for many people on both sides. I felt it more hard to affirm my queer identity in queer and LGBT space because people would see me as a straight because I’m black.

I felt isolated and I felt nobody should be isolated as I feel. So if I have to be the first one around, I will be the one showing that some black people are also queer. And so I decided that I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody, and I would never exclude one identity to appease anybody. And when I started to do that, I managed to meet more people in the same situation, and particularly thanks to social networks.

Also being African and queer was two outsider identities and for me it never seemed impossible to combine. In both spaces I was supposed to be fitting a norm that I wasn’t able to fit. Whether it’s the white one or the straight one, and when you say “fuck it” to one it’s easy to say “fuck it” to both.


Q. How is your relationship with your family, and what does being “accepted” by your family look like for you?

*Sigh* That’s complicated. What do you mean by family? My small family - I’m going to focus on them -  never had a queer - haha - never had a clear conversation, but there have been questions about my activism. And so we had more conversations about my activism than my identity. At the end I think that my parents have somehow let me be who I am in general by letting me have space.

I didn’t do a coming out and I will not make one, because for me it’s not the point, because of how our relationship is it’s not the point. I don’t feel the need and they’re not asking for it.

For me being accepted is being able to come back, visit my family, spend time with my parents without being in a state of fear or something. I’m comfortable with them and then they’re comfortable with me. It’s like, what does it look like to be accepted?. It’s knowing that you are still together - me and my family - that we’re still together. That’s it. That’s it. Otherwise we would not be in contact. It’s knowing that we are still together.

My big family - we don’t have much contact, that’s it.


Q. What would you have to say to people who say that being LGBTQ is “un-African”?

Whiteness, that social and political construction and power, is the only un-African thing. As a kid I grew up with people telling me that punk and rock is not a black thing and I know it’s not true, we just get erased. And since an early age I understood that people make us disappear until our identity is represented as a really small tiny box. And I know that culturally African people are way bigger than that. So queerness, besides vocabulary matters, is not a white invention, it’s a reality including for many African people, and African people are many things.

I mean we could debate about history and how anything related to queerness as been erased, as been colonized, but the truth is - even if we talk about it, at the end nothing can remove my Africanness from myself. It can’t be about queerness not being African because it has nothing to do with it. It’s not a fight between both. And I will never support that idea of a really small box for all African people - that’s a lie. 


Q. How was participating in the Limit(less) shoot?

It was intense, and a lot of fun.  I love the fact that my kidbrother came to help and also that I met new people that are also queer Africans in Belgium. I’m always on the move, somewhere in Belgium, Finland, France, Sweden or soon Canada. I don’t have a network as strong as before in Belgium. So it felt really nice to see that things keep on happening and to contribute to it somehow.


Q. What are you most excited about for Limit(less)?

I think that, I’m excited for being part of something that I think my younger self would have needed. I’m excited about contributing to fill this gap - this need. So a kid in the same situation as me at that time could then find what they’re searching for. It’s doing something for my younger self. 


Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media?

I have a facebook page : @Turbonegresse (https://www.facebook.com/TURBONEGRESSE/)

I have a website :  www.turbonegresse.org

I’m on Instagram too -  @po.b.k.lomami

Twitter - @lomamipo


Using Format