Limit(less) Project: Tyler

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

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Tyler: Queer Kenyan-Somali (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 Tyler. I’m a Kenyan-Somali-Canadian. Pronouns, he and him. I identify as queer. 

Q. How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as mysterious. Not mysterious in terms of being confusing to others, although that very well may be the case. Rather, my style is mysterious to me. I’m always surprised by what I end up leaving the house in, but it also almost always puts a smile on my face.

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

As the cliche goes, my style is a way for me to express myself - and my multiple identities, those discovered and undiscovered, all play into that. When I wear my kikoy I feel like I am on the coast of Kenya being enriched by the sun and bewitched by the aroma of spices. When I wear my Kenya bracelet, I feel connected to the growth and prosperity of home. When I wear my traditional necklaces I feel the halo of my ancestors resting around my neck and upon my shoulders. When I wear my yellow bracelet, I feel connected to the dirt road near my home in Nairobi where I found it abandoned.

As per my queer identity, my style is not regulated by arbitrary gender norms. If I want to wear short shorts and a dashiki then I do. I guess my queerness, in part, fuels my ability to transcend the expected. And that is what I try to do with my style, transcend the expected and, in many ways, come home to myself.

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?

During a conversation about queerness, African(ness), and identity a good friend of mine made a statement that has stuck with me ever since. He is also a queer East African man, a Black body, living in Canada. He said that one difficulty in being a queer African man in the Canadian diaspora is that within our own African communities we are expected to be hyper feminine, as a consequence of our sexual orientation while within the Canadian queer scene we are expected to be hyper masculine as a result of our Blackness. I couldn’t agree more.

In many ways we are pushed out of both communities in unique and specific ways and pulled in in just as complex ways. For me, this is a source of power. When we are neither here nor there, we are free to carve out and customized space for ourselves through community, art, and self-exploration. It’s both agonizingly isolating and indescribably freeing to live on the margins of the expected. It is at this crossroads that we make our home, and brick by brick it becomes ever more immaculate.

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

Family is who you come home to. Who you call in tears. Those who call you in tears. Those with whom sharing a simple look can substitute for a whole conversation. To me, family is not only nuclear, not even only genetic, but also includes those whose hearts have shared a kiss with our own.

My heart has been known to kiss rarely, but passionately. 

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

We don’t believe in the same Africa. 

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

I’m always willing to support Black art. Glad I could be a part of the project. 

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

Being a part of the visibility of our people. Often, visibility is underplayed in terms of contributing to the empowerment of any marginalized group. I am excited for my narrative to resonate with folks who can not only understand my words, but also feel my story. I’m excited for you to hear my story.

I’m excited for my kinfolk to know that they are not weird or misunderstood, they are just levitating on a different level than some people. I need them to know that they aren’t levitating alone. We’re Black. We’re African. We’re queer. And we are most definitely in

Q. Where are you comfortable with people reaching you on social media (include links to your accounts that you’re willing to be shared with each post)?

Instagram: @tmonaayyy 


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