Limit(less) Project: Taib

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

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Taib: Queer Ethiopian-Kenyan (Canada)

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

My name is Taib. It’s an Arabic word meaning ‘good’ or ‘pure’. It was my father’s nickname growing up and he gave it to me.  I was born and raised in Canada. By way of my parents my ethnicity is mixed. My mother’s Ethiopian and my father is Kenyan.

I answer to him/he and identify as queer.

Q. How would you describe your style?

My style is always evolving. I enjoy the freshness it gives to my life so therefore I do not stick with a particular look for long. To describe it now I’d say “Youthful East African going to the market”. 

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

Just recently I have been trying to incorporate more of my African heritage into my attire. Access to African elements from my heritage has always been a challenge living in the ‘great white north’. Besides the occasional gifts from my grandma from Kenya I really didn’t have much to go on. This past year I have had the opportunity to live and work in East Africa and have collected items along the way. I try to mix different elements into both my professional and casual wear.

Given the right circumstances, I like to flirt with aspects of femininity and masculinity. I like subtle accents like a dangly earring on one ear with the occasional application of eyeliner, and accent (s) of colour.

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?

Navigating in all white spaces for most of my adolescence there was always an eerie push to suppress identities that would force me to standout. Sometimes I did this intentionally and other times unconsciously.

As I got older I realized there was a certain power in being ‘different’. I have access to a culture and community that the majority of my peers didn’t. Starting in university I started to embrace all facets of who I am because that’s what I need to survive. I realized running from who I am won’t get me anywhere. I have big plans for my future and in order for me to reach my full potential I need all of me at the finish line not just the pieces that white society can stomach.

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

When my family was formally introduced to my queerness they were scared. Not of me but for me. They knew the cruelty society had towards people like me. Over time there fear has turned into pride. My immediate family is completely accepting of me. Though they are not completely understanding of what it’s like to live as a gay black man, they support me and treat me the same as they always have. I’m so fortunate to have the family that I have.

Acceptance to me is the freedom to talk openly about my sexual orientation, no restrictions on clothing, and 100% unconditional love and support.

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

I would ask them where are you deriving this ideology of Africanism? Is this origin African? The Africa that I know is welcoming, diverse, rich, and free.

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

I have never done something like this so I would like to thank you Mikael for prosing the idea. It was a hot summer day on a rooftop in Toronto and I would not have changed a thing.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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

I’m looking forward to seeing how this project is received. More people should be doing things like this. Representation is key in a society where there is a narrative that queerness is synonymous with whiteness.

Projects like this are explosive because they demonstrate to our elders and children that we are not invisible. Queerness is alive and well on the continent of Africa. Queerness has no borders it has no limits. I’m excited to have an encounter with a bigot who says queerness is un-African then send them a link to your blog and ask them to explain then ‘how all these children of Africa came to be who they are?’  

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