Limit(less) Project: Kaamila

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

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Kaamila: Queer Somali (USA)

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

My name is Kaamila. Currently, I use she pronouns and they pronouns. I am Somali American, biracial, and Black. I identify as a bisexual queer dyke and a fluid femme and, at the moment, a womxn. I claim my identities loudly and proudly, my small personal acts of political resistance against the ways in which biphobia, femmephobia, and misogyny show up in my life and in society. And simultaneously- maybe it’s because I grew up in a biracial, bicultural household, constantly remolding myself to survive; maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini and the stars said it would be so- it’s hard to feel like any word holds all of me or I fit quite right in any place or space. I’m always busting out binaries and sliding along spectrums and gallivanting across the vast galaxy of gender and desire and identity.

Q. How would you describe your style?

My style is eclectic and all over the place, manifesting the multitudes within me. I rock my fro, I pile my headwraps high, and I consider myself a part-time hijabi. I occasionally do the dapper look, with the bowtie and the oxfords to match. But I love my tims and my kicks, sometimes paired with a snapback. At times I am channeling an earthy flower child, or mermaid queen, or warrior womxn, or goddess healer, at times the ancestors and aliens and afrofuturism. I can be hello kitty cute in pink and I can be all black everything, black lipstick and black combat boots. Walking this world as a Black queer femme womxn, it is sometimes a struggle simply to survive. Some days, makeup is my war paint and accessories are my armor. Some days, I decorate and adorn myself in a ritual of affirmation of all that I am. Not simply surviving, but thriving! I could be described as gaudy, often dripping in gold, and maybe a little bit gangsta. My style can be big and bold, taking up space in a world that tells me to be small. I make myself art in a world telling me that who I am is not beautiful. But I am not above leaving the house in sweatpants and uggs. It’s wack that women’s worth is wrapped up in whether we are considered appealing to others. My style is personal, political, playful, practical. It is a mix-and-match and mashup of all of the above.

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

Girls and women in this society are trained to be insecure and to be consumers, fueling those who capitalize off of us hating their own bodies. In my adolescence, I had deeply internalized those messages. Add on top of that my internalized anti-Blackness, my suppressed sexuality, and the alienation I felt as a young Muslim from a mixed, immigrant family, and I was pretty much crushed by feelings of shame and self-loathing. A lot of that got channeled into how I felt about my body and how I looked. In elementary and middle school, I was mimicking my classmates’ ensembles from Limited Too, religiously plucking my eye brows and shaving my body hair, begging my white mother to take me to get my hair relaxed, attempting to lighten my skin, counting calories in the hopes that my curves would melt away, all in an attempt to distance myself from my own brown Black body.

For me, coming into my identities and becoming politicized were not just about understanding and challenging dynamics outside of myself. There was so much I had to unlearn about how I saw myself and treated myself. Even now, I have to constantly be aware of and push back against the way society’s messages show up in my own self-talk. It is work to cultivate self love in this world when living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. And for people of color, queer folks, women, femmes, our very bodies are the sites of so much oppression and violence. So my style- the way in which I adorn and present my body- very much becomes a tactic of survival, a political statement, and a way to celebrate my identities.

I intentionally incorporate elements into my style that I feel are aesthetically African. I dangle outlines of the continent from chains or earrings. I love beaded accessories, especially the Masai beadwork that takes me back to the handful of years I spent in Kenya as a small child. I adore African patterns and prints, and my life is so full of fabric and scarves upon scarves. I feel my femininity in particular must have been very much formed by the Somali women of my childhood and my ancestry. I love bright colors, like the dirac my aunts got decked out in for weddings, I can be very matchy-matchy, and I go absolutely gaga for gold jewelry.

The queer aspect of my fashion feels a bit harder to pin down. Maybe it’s difficult because the dominant images of queer fashion seem so limited in terms of race, class, body type, and ways of expressing gender. Certainly the way I move between masculine and feminine presentation or blend the two is part of my queerness. But even when I’m expressing full out feminine, my queerness doesn’t disappear just because someone can’t “see” it. I’m here and I’m queer, regardless of what I wear.  

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?

In my life, my queerness fragmented me from my father, from my Somali family, from my tribe, from my blood line. With my inability to speak the language and a lack of Somali community, I often feel insecure in my Somaliness. It is the identity I hold that I feel most most disconnected from, and I can’t claim to have overcome those feelings. I mostly affirm my Africanness in a nonspecific way, a diasporic, panafrican, postcolonial, mythological, futuristic, romantic connection to The Continent.  But nevertheless, I am specifically Somali. My Somaliness is infused throughout my childhood experiences, in the way I scoop up food in my hand when I eat, in my large forehead, in the fierce loyalty and love I show my chosen tribe.

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

I was born in Somalia, but my family left very soon after that because of the war. I can only imagine what it must have been like for my father to witness his own life unfolding in this way he could not have foreseen. To be forced to leave his home, to see his world destroyed by violence, to enter into the racism and xenophobia of this country, to be a foreigner in his own home, to be unable to speak to his own children in his mother tongue, he must have held so much pain.

The ripple effects of imperialism and violence are deep and they are destructive. Their survivors, immigrants and refugees, cling to notions of homeland, sometimes real and often imagined. Colonialism has robbed them of control of their own lives, so they take control of their children, especially their diasporic daughters. It has been four years since I have spoken to my father, and at this moment, his acceptance is unimaginable to me. On some days that is more present for me. Most days, I hold that pain somewhere inside of me, deep under the surface. And so it ripples on…

I want to heal myself. To love myself as I would family or friend. To practice more gratitude for my mom and my mom’s family and my brother, because they are still in my life, and that is something that is not small. To continue to share love with and grow my QPOC and queer Muslim chosen family. To continue to build a beautiful Black queer family with my partner and one day bring beautiful Black babies into the world. I want to heal my lineage.

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

We exist. We have always existed. Need I say more?

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

It was both an empowering and incredibly vulnerable experience. 

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

It is critical that we tell our own stories, rather than be made invisible or be misrepresented through other people’s narratives of who we are. Through this project we can be seen and speak our truths, through our style, through our stories, through these images. This is important and powerful work.

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

I am on instagram @kaamoh

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