Limit(less) Project: Uche

Limit(less) is a documentary photography project by Mikael Owunna exploring the visual aesthetics of LGBTQ African immigrants. For more on the project, follow us on TumblrInstagramFacebook and Flickr

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Uche: Queer Nigerian-American 

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

My name is Uche. I was born in the United States, but I identify with (and my family is from) Nigeria. I am Igbo. My pronouns are she and they. I identify as a queer woman.

Q. How would you describe your style?

My style is something that I’ve struggled with for a while. Between not having the money that I need to look how I want and not having the body that I need to achieve a particular look…I’d say that my style is always somewhere right below where I want it to be.

As of late, I’ve been really trying to understand myself as a femme person. I’m really trying to figure out what femininity means to me and how I can most comfortably exude that. While I do hold privilege in being read as heteronormative/heterosexual I find that I struggle a lot with navigating how my identities are conveyed through my style. I feel like for a very long time I tried to dress and carry myself in particular ways that allowed others to see me as a femme queer woman. Currently, I wonder if it matters how others view me. I still think it does. People hold a lot of power in how you exist in the world.

So…my style…

I’ll call my style Amarachi Taylor. Anne Taylor with a mix of the patterns and textiles that remind me of the clothes my mother would wear. It’s queer to me. People look at me when I wear wraps in my hair or when I try to express my Nigerian-ness. It’s disheartening not because people dislike what I wear, but because they think it looks curious on me. I’m never understood as African. I don’t know if it’s my body, the hue of my skin, my voice…but I find that my expression of my African self is odd because I am understood as the antithesis of my culture.

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

I feel like my style is inherently queer because of how I display my African identity. For a long time I’ve understood myself as queer femme because of my positionality as a Black African person.

I wear the fabrics of my country in ways, in places, and with people that are queer. It’s an assertion of my culture–that it can exist even among what it views unlawful.

When I wear my wrapper around my chest to go to the store, or tie a scarf around my head at Pride, it’s a rejection of Nigerian neo-conservatism that wishes to erase me.

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 college I felt like my upbringing was un-African. I grew up around very few Nigerians, I rejected putting on fake accents (like my peers), I wasn’t raised Christian, and I didn’t come from a traditional nuclear family structure.

It took a while to understand that how other people did their Nigerian-ness has nothing to do with me. I think when I made my way to identifying as queer I also found myself accepting my Blackness. I knew that I was never going to have those experiences. I reflected a lot on my childhood and found power in having an upbringing that no one else could understand. My being Nigerian was for me. 

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

My relationship with my mother is complicated. I don’t feel like I can be as “out” as I want to be. I respect that. I know that I won’t be the woman that family wants me to be because I’m queer. What helps me is knowing that I am happy and proud of myself (accomplishments aside). I love me and I know that I deserve love.

My relationship with my sister is awesome. She has always been supportive. Since high school when I was trying to start a GSA and hold a Day of Silence, she’s been there for me. I know that without her, my life would be hard to handle.

Being accepted means being valued for the person I am. Having not only my professional goals cherished, but my personhood cherished.

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

Your idea of Africa is influenced by white missionaries and imperialists who wanted to eradicate Africans and their respective cultures. Being LGBTQ is not “un-African,” it’s un-imperialist.

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

The shoot was so much fun! I’m kind of an attention hog. I really love taking photos. I felt like I could really be myself.

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

I’m excited for Limit(less) to change the perspective of Africans in Africa, the US, and abroad. I think we suffer from a very monolithic understanding of Africans, and that doesn’t help unify us. It’s really destructive. Projects like Limit(less) are the change makers we need.

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

Follow me on tumblr:

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