Limit(less) Project: Em

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

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Em: Trans Nigerian (USA)

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

Em, America, Nigerian-Efik, they/them, agender/genderqueer

Q. How would you describe your style?

Oh god, when I’m not looking like a tired college student, my style is kinda all over the place. One day I’m femme hood nigga (coined by Zoe Samudzi), and another day I’m masc with some jeans a graphic tee and beany/hat. Right now, I’m really experimenting.

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

Some days I’ll wear traditional attire and mix it with cute tops. Suit pants with traditional tops and a head wrap. I really want to go home and a get bunch of suits and pieces made. I really need to save for that, damn. 

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 definitely think I’ve pushed away from my African identity in a way. I haven’t been able to be both because I don’t really feel safe to be African and LGBT or like it’s possible. That’s something I have to explore and really understand. The LGBT identity is really new to me, so I’m really trying to understand what that means also as Nigerian. I feel like when I find out what that means to me, it’ll be revolutionary. 

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

My relationship with my family is just like many. I’m the “Black Panther” in the family, and I’m too radical. They keep telling me that if I keep this up, I’ll never get a job. It could be true, but I don’t really care. I’ll just have to create my own jobs and become a Radical Ass IR theorist (that would be my literal professional title) that’s constantly destroying the white cis heteronormative patriarchal capitalist discourse. All of that. That’d be kinda awesome.

With my identity, I haven’t come out to my entire family, and I have no intentions to either. They’ll probably never understand nor accept it, and I have no time or energy to try. I’m perfectly content not telling them either. I’m safer with that, and that’s okay.

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

You’re un-African for believing that all Africans are this monolithic group of people, cis and heteronormative. We are dynamic, bold, and beautiful, and queer. Our Africanness is only stronger with this identity because everyday we breathe, especially for African trans folk, we are resisting and revolutionary. That’s pretty damn African to me. 

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

It’s a liberating experience to be able to confirm who are you. These are two identities that are extremely important, but they are always framed as antithesis to each other. I get to be a living example with many others that they go together perfectly. 

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

I’m excited to understand the complexity and beauty of my identity as a queer African, and I’m also excited to embrace it visually with my attire. I’m reaffirming myself in a world where I’m told not too. 

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

Reach out to me through twitter @femme_meme 

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