Limit(less) Project: Bummah

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. 

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Bummah: Queer Cameroonian (USA)

Listen to Bummah’s cover of Lianne La Havas’ “Green & Gold”, Produced by Stello Clarkhttps://soundcloud.com/budotma/green-gold-cover-produced-by-stello-clark


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

My name is Bummah. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland in the United States, but my family is from the North-West region of Cameroon. My preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his and I identify as gay or queer.


Q. How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as minimalist with a pop of color. I like very simple looks that work well with anything. I’ll rock a t-shirt, some jeans, and sneakers most days, however I love bold colors like red, especially with accessories and shoes. I like patterns too, but when they’re paired with solids.


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

Well I didn’t have a lot of attire from Africa until recently, because I always thought it was relatively expensive to get them custom made, and I guess I never really made it a priority. However, I think the fact that I do try to play around with colors and some patterns is very african and queer. Beyond red, I love yellows, and greens, and blues.


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?

When I was a child I was ashamed of my African roots so I somewhat pushed myself away. I would get teased a lot by other kids growing up, because they could easily tell I was [because my] name was different. I remember one instance at summer camp some friends had called my younger brother and I Timon and Pumbaa. At the time I laughed it off, but I didn’t realize how much moments like that affected my self-esteem. Sometimes when folks would ask where I was from I would just say “I’m from Maryland”. Or one time I told a girl I was from Jamaica. Anything to not be the “African Booty Scratcher”. On the other hand, family members sometimes made it difficult because to them I was not “African enough”. I didn’t know my parents dialects like that, nor did I speak pidgin often, so to them I was more American.

Now I cringe at all these moments, because I’ve grown to really embrace and love my African roots. My parents really did make it clear that no matter what, we were Cameroonian. These days I make sure people understand where I am from and how to pronounce my name correctly. I have one of my Liberian Morehouse Moms to thank for that. Right now I’m really loving exploring my family history and culture more independently as an adult. I’m looking forward to travelling to Cameroon by myself this summer, after having not gone in 17 years.

Identifying as gay or queer is something that I denied at first. I learned to be quiet, and draw as little attention to myself as possible. I was always very reserved, but I think my discomfort with both my African and queer identities heightened that. I first identified as bisexual when I was 14 because at the time I thought I liked girls. I quickly realized that my attraction to them was not the same as my attraction to boys and started identifying as gay when I was 16. By the time I was 18 I was pretty comfortable with sharing that  I was gay. Intertwining both my African and gay identities then became a concern for me. At the time, I had no examples of how to be both at the same time. I overcame my discomfort around being both African and gay as I encountered more and more people who had similar experiences and backgrounds.


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

I love my family dearly, and I know they love me, but I’ve reached a point where I understand that they’re going to have to have their own journey if and when it comes to accepting and embracing that I am indeed gay. I first came out to my 3 siblings when I was 15 and I believe they thought they understood what being gay meant, but not what having a gay brother meant. My parents found out when I was 17, after a family friend was snooping around my facebook and told them that my profile said I was “Interested in Men and Women.” Soon after, we had a conversation about it and they expressed that it was something that they just could not accept. Since then, they’ve been hush hush about it. My mom brings it up every once in a while with the same sentiments as the first conversation. Going away to college took me away from those uneasy moments, and gave me the space and time to grow into myself apart from them.

I would love to have more open and honest conversations with my family members, but only if its actually a conversation, and not someone talking at me without listening. At this point, acceptance for me looks like them realizing that although they may not understand me, they recognize that I will continue to be true to myself. I would like them to recognize, if nothing else, that I am okay with me.


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

I would say that such rhetoric is a result of colonialism. Ironically, we have learned that being LGBTQ is only a western thing, as a result of white christian teachings. At the end of the day you cannot deny the existence of a whole community of queer and trans African people who have been living and loving since the beginning of time. It really isn’t anything new.


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

The shoot just made me very happy. This past couple days after graduating from college, coming home, and preparing for my trip to Cameroon in a week, I’ve been very reflective of how my queerness and africanness have become very integral to my life. I’m really grateful because the shoot was like a manifestation of where my head has been at recently.


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

I’m excited for young LGBTQ Africans, who may be searching for absolutely anything queer and African (like I did), longing to feel like they are not alone. Representation is so critical. Also, I’m excited for the conversations that will follow within the larger African community, on how we can do better by and be better for our queer and trans people.


Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media (include links to your accounts that you’re willing to be shared with each post)?

Folks can connect with me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bummahn) , or follow me,  @budotma on instagram and soundcloud.


Bummah’s Post Limit(less) Cameroon Trip

In June 2016, after completing his Limit(less) shoot, Bummah visited Cameroon for the first time in several years. These were some of his reflections after returning from his visit-

Q. How was your experience going back to Cameroon? Before and while you were there?

Before the trip I was somewhat nervous because I was unsure if I had the energy to deal with a really homophobic or transphobic incident. But I knew I had to go because it would mean so much more for me than perhaps going to some country in Central/South America or in the Caribbean where I don’t have as much of a connection. As time went on I became more excited than nervous. While I was there I felt very reassured in my decision. I felt like I was home. I really enjoyed spending time with family, some of whom I had just met for the first time.

Q. How was navigating those spaces as a queer person?

It was interesting. I think before anything I was read as being different because I was from the US. People would notice things like my hair, my tighter pants, and my voice, but they weren’t necessarily read as “gay”. I had a bit of passing privilege there, so I was never in a situation where I felt like I was in immediate danger. There were moments where I felt uncomfortable if conversations for example turned to me finding a wife, the Orlando mass shooting, or anything related to being gay. I wanted to speak out but I didn’t out of comfort and safety.

Q. Was there anything in particular that was kind of like the highlight  or take-away of your experience?

I would say the highlight of the trip for me was, again, how at home I felt. I smile now, looking back at pictures that captured many moments, as I went around. My only wish is for me to be able to have that experience as my full self. Though I do not expect to be embraced the same way, I do think that I would have a more fulfilling experience as the black, gay, awkward man that I am.