Limit(less) Project: Carol Chibueze

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr

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Carol Chibueze: Queer Nigerian-American (shot in Trinidad)

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

My name is Carol Chibueze. I was born and raised in the United States. I am Nigerian-American and biracial (half white). My pronouns are she/her/hers. I don’t really identify as anything in particular, but I feel most comfortable with the label “queer.”

Q. How would you describe your style?

My brother from another mother, Gabriel, once described my style as “Erykah Badu in ‘95 mixed with Maya Angelou” and I think that is pretty accurate. Black auntie swag and Black Femme Power are also terms that describe my style pretty well. Another friend, Richie, has called me a “Naija Eartha Kitt” when describing my clothes, which I would love to think is true, since Eartha Kitt is a personal hero of mine. 

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

I don’t purposefully incorporate my sexuality or my African heritage into my look. I usually dress based on the weather and the events of the day, with an emphasis on feeling good in what I wear. I love to wear lots of colors and interesting patterns - often these can be Nigerian cloth that I wear in the form of dresses, shirts, and lots of headwraps. I wear a lot of African jewelry that I bought when I visited Nigeria as a teenager.

Recently I have felt a lot more at ease wearing stereotypically feminine clothing as I explore my identity as a black femme woman. When I was younger, I used to be a lot more concerned with being read as “not straight” through how I dressed, but as I’ve become more comfortable with myself, I stopped caring about that. I’ve tried to move away from coding myself or others as queer through something as subjective (and often racialized and gendered) as fashion. Still, I have always liked to incorporate more tomboyish accessories like snapbacks, blazers, bowties or men’s shoes into my wardrobe, and I like playing with stereotypically feminine and masculine attire, occasionally at the same time. I sometimes like to dress more masculine when wearing formal attire; other times I will wear full Nigerian traditional clothes, especially my late grandmother’s headscarf. But overall I don’t consciously think about how my sexuality and my culture inform my style - I just wear what I want.

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?

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 African-ness 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. 

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

This is a difficult question for me. I resent Western notions of “coming out” and unconditional “acceptance” pushed as the ideal narrative for all LGBTQ-identified 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 “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. 

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

I don’t really have anything to say to that kind of bigotry. Go read a book, I guess?

Just kidding: I feel that while this is an unfortunately common sentiment among many contemporary African peoples who are influenced by Western Christian evangelism, neocolonialism, religious fundamentalism, and nationalistic conservatism, it is such a tired, ignorant statement. Anyone who has studied African history or read about pre-colonial indigenous peoples on the continent knows that diversity of gender and sexuality has been present from the start. To view African LGBTQ folks as “un-African” is to fall into the trap created by white supremacy centuries before. Gender binaries and heterosexuality are imperialist social concepts created, in part, to regulate and differentiate black and brown peoples from white people. In reality, intense homophobia and transphobia are the true “un-African” sentiments. They are directly connected to leftover European anti-buggery laws created to control and dehumanize African peoples during colonization. That comes from non-African white people, not us.

Anyone who doesn’t know all this can read this Guardian article by Bernadine Evaristo or this blog post by Colin Stewart on the website “76 Crimes” to begin to learn more.

So, seriously: go read something and then we can talk.

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

It was really fun! I had a good time collaborating with Mikael to get a multitude of shots and looks for the shoot. It was fun to think about different ways to capture my style and heritage while also referencing different artists and artworks that I love. 

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

I am excited about the ways it is expanding the popular images of LGBTQ folks. In the US and globally, people often imagine white people when thinking about queer aesthetics or the LGBTQ community as a whole. Limit(less) directly combats these invisibilizing and often anti-black stereotypes by putting queer African people at the center and showing all viewers that we exist on our own terms - racism, colonialism, religiousity, imperialism, queer-antagonism and patriarchy be damned. It is a visibility project that is very necessary and needs to be told by Africans for other Africans, and by extension to the rest of the world. I am very grateful to Mikael for doing it and I am glad to take part. 

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

Tumblr: deathwalkingbackwards.tumblr.com

Instagram: carefreeblackauntie