Limit(less) Project: Eniola

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

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Eniola: Queer Nigerian (USA)

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

Eniola, Nigerian raised in US, she/her, Queer: Over the course of my life my expression of sexuality has changed and probably will change more, but all of my lived experiences and the frame in which I perceive sexuality will always be queer. Fuck labels.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I feel the most beautiful in full traditional wear, with gele tied by older African women whom I love and respect. I consider it original beauty; Black beauty dates way back to when beauty became an attribute. Needless to say I love bright colors, so I wear them year-round.

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

I think by nature of being comfortable in my own skin and dressing in ways that feel natural to me, my African and queer identity. I love wearing traditional clothes or accessories with bright African fabric.  

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 haven’t been home since I was 5 years old. Shortly after coming out to my mother, we had a conversation. She was visiting Nigeria and wanted me to come home with her to visit her church. She hoped that with strong deliverance, I would no longer be queer. She even used the laws and consequences around suspected homosexuality in Nigeria, as justification that she was right to try to rid of my queerness. It was a literal ultimatum.

It hurts to think about not feeling safe in returning home, especially with my mother. My relationship with my mother has definitely hurt my relationship with home. But now that I’m a bit more independent, I hope to visit home with my father, to rebuild the relationship with the home I haven’t know in so long.

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 has always been a bit complicated. I was raised in a religious household, Mormon to be specific, and before I could love myself unconditionally, I had to settle my qualms with what I’ve always been taught about my relationship with God. Being an active member in the Mormon church I inherently internalized so much self-hatred around being Black, queer, a womxn, and outspoken but leaving wasn’t easy. The only interactions I’d had with God were through the context of the Mormon religion and I knew I wasn’t ready to let go of my relationship with God altogether. Eventually I started attending a Baptist church with my aunt, and was so happy to interact with God in a space that supported more of my identities.

I’m in a good place on my journey of self-love and I recently opened up to my family about my queerness after having an intense conversation with my mother about her expectations of me. These included submitting to a man and having children like “the Bible says,” all while being a doctor. She promised that only then would I be happy. She begged to take me to Nigeria to deliver me from what she saw as “demons destroying my destiny.” I knew my mom would be upset but her extended reaction was a stark contrast to the comfort with sharing my queerness with everyone else in my life for years. My parents were hurt initially but things have calmed down since we don’t talk about it much. I think their hope is that if they ignore my queerness, it will go away.

In most aspects of my life, I longed for “acceptance” from my family and have recently decided to live for me. As much as I love and appreciate them, I can’t go to medical school for them or ignore my own happiness to make them more comfortable. My parents will probably never be happy to see me in a loving relationship or building my own little family, but that will have to be okay with me. I do have family members who continuously extend unconditional love and for that, I am so grateful.

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

Do more research. I’ve heard arguments that queerness is a product of colonization. In reality, hatred of queerness is a product of colonization and to say LGBTQ identities don’t date back to the beginning of humanity as we know it, is simply false. Hearing this narrative as a child, made me fundamentally believe that I was the only one. It was so lonely and scary feeling like I was going against God, my family, my country, and my people. I would tell anyone and everyone to open their minds to all of the different identities that are encompassed within “African.”

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

I was so nervous to shoot. I looked at past shoots to see what was okay or how I should be. But as soon as I started trying on outfits, I felt comfortable in my skin and was really excited. The shoot, more than anything, was really fun. I got into listening to the background music and let my body do what it wanted. Most of the time I wanted to laugh but couldn’t. Overall, it was an amazing experience that allowed me to be in so many of my identities at once, and that I appreciate. 

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

The first time I met another queer African person was indescribable, and reaffirmed my identities in ways that nothing else could have. I hope that Limit(less) reaches people who benefit from this affirmation. Too many of us think we’re the only one.

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

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