Limit(less) Project: Yahya

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.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Yahya: Queer Moroccan (USA)

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 Yahya. I am half-Moroccan and half-American, born in Casablanca, but raised mostly in the United States and visiting Morocco frequently. Racially I am white/arab/north-african mixed. Race and ethnicity is so complicated and interesting in Morocco, I think that most of my dad’s family would identify as Arab, and many would identify Arabs as white. The way white supremacy and arab-centrism plays out in Morocco has led to the erasure of many Moroccans’ Amazigh/Berber/Indigenous ancestry, where if someone can claim Arab identity, they do.

I identify as a second generation radical queer (on my mom’s side), pansexual, and the gender identity that feels comfortable these days is “boi”. I aspire towards a queered masculinity, with tenderness and self-awareness. I like they/them pronouns.

Q. How would you describe your style?

Post-punk business casual? When I called my little brother up and asked how they would describe my style, they said “whimsy-core”. I like glitter, leather, good jeans. I love my boots, leather suspenders, and I just got some leather shorts I plan on rocking all summer. 

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

To be honest, I think I reserve most of my Moroccan clothing for special occasions. I think the examples that have been given to me of powerful queerness have mostly been through a Euro-American lens (which is why this project is so important!). There is something in me that is only spoken to when I am wearing my gandorra and blgha, but there is also so much that feels muted by that.

My beard feels like a connection to my Muslim heritage, and it feels transgressive to wear it with this body, living the life I do. 

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?

As I described earlier, I think many Moroccans have a mixed relationship with African identity. Many feel both Arab and African, but I think because of the cultural sphere Morocco is in, and because of colorism and anti-blackness, Arab comes first, Moroccan comes before both of those, and Muslim comes before everything else. So as a sometimes white passing African from the North, I think I have always felt some amount of awkwardness with my African identity. This is something I am trying to challenge myself on, and I think being in this project is a big step towards that. 

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

I have a fantastic relationship to my mom, who is a Queer Muslim leader, and who in many ways is the reason I am the activist and organizer I am today. I feel like I am constantly in conversation with him (my mom is a trans man) first through my journey to understand my identities. I also have a fabulous relationship with my brother (who I share my mom with), and my mom’s partner. Additionally, I have a core chosen family that I love endlessly and are a big part of who I am today.

I am very closeted about most of my identities with my father. While I have a good relationship with much of my Moroccan family, it is under the guise of being someone who I’m not. Being accepted would mean not having to alter what I say or how I present myself around my family, to be authentic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to experience that. 

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

I would point to my existence and the existence of everyone in this project. I would point to all of the queer Africans. For queerness to be un-African would mean that we should not or could not exist and we do. 

For those who feel like queerness is a product of colonialism, sure words like “gay” “lesbian” and “queer” are western words, and I think many of us come to understand ourselves through those words. However, there is a rich a diverse history of non-binary gender expression in African cultures, and a diverse history of non-heterosexual love and sex. If anything, colonialism has erased many of these histories, and taught us to value heterosexual patriarchal family structures. 

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

It was really fabulous to be a part of the shoot. I felt like a star for a day! If there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for is the vulnerability of having a camera focused on me for hours. It’s rare for someone to spend so much time one to one and for so much of the attention to be focused one direction.

In all seriousness though, it was incredibly empowering to be a part of the shoot. To know that I am telling the story of my Queerness and Africaness through these pictures. 

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

I am so excited to see the diversity of people’s stories, and all the ways people are both Queer and African. I am excited for everyone who gets to see the final product and has their world view expanded a little bit. I hope there are queer Africans that are unsure how to hold both truths who see this project and feel free to be themselves in all their beauty and #queerafricanmagic. 

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

Instagram, twitter, tumblr, youtube: @gsowobblie



Limit(less) Project: Brian

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.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Brian: Queer Rwandan (Canada)

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 Brian, I am Rwandan by my parents but I grew up in Tanzania, Niger, Kenya, Benin and the Central African Republic. I answer to “him” and “her” and I identify as queer.

Q. Quel est votre nom, pays d’origine, éthnicité, votre préférence de pronom pour votre identité de genre, et comment vous identifiez-vous dans votre identité LGBTQ ?

Je m’appelle Brian, je suis rwandais d’origine mais j’ai grandi en Tanzanie, au Niger, au Kenya, au Benin et en République centrafricaine. Je m’identifie aux pronoms “il” et “elle”.


Q. How would you describe your style?

To be honest, my style will depend on my mood. It can be very classic and eurocentric to very much african and ethnic. I love to mix masculine and feminine attire in my style. I like to describe my style as “Non-binary Preppy African”.

Q. Comment décririez-vous votre style ?

Pour être honnête, mon style va dépendre de mon humeur. Il peut être très classique et eurocentrique et ensuite être très africain et éthnique. J’adore incorporer dans mes tenues des vêtements masculins et feminins. J’aime décrir mon style comme “Non-binaire, bon chic bon genre et  africain”.


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

My style definitely conveys my roots and my LGBTQ identity. I have incorporated women clothing in my wardrobe since high school as a statement asserting my denial of the binary gender identities. Later on in college, I decided to reconnect with my continent that I had left behind by appreciating and including African prints in my wardrobe and in my accessories. The evolution of my style explains the evolution of the definition of my identity, be it African or LGBTQ.

Q. Comment pensez-vous que votre style incorpore ou mélange les éléments de votre identité africaine et LGBTQ ?

Mon style retransmet mes origines et mon identité LGBTQ. J’ai intégré des vêtements féminins dans ma garde-robe depuis le lycée et ceci comme une déclaration affirmant mon rejet de la logique binaire de l’identité de genre. Plus tard à l’université, j’ai décidé de me reconnecter avec mon continent africain que j’avais quitté en appréciant et incorporant des pagnes et accessoires africains dans ma garde-robe. L’évolution de mon style est correlé directement à l’évolution de la définiton de mon identité, soit-elle africaine ou LGBTQ.


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?

It has been difficult to embrace these two components of my identity. I have for a long time thought that I could only fully embrace one of the two identities, that they were mutually exclusive. When I decided to embrace my LGBTQ identity, I subconsciously pushed away my African identity. I found myself becoming what some call a “Bounty” or “Oreo”, black on the outside and white on the inside. But prior to that I had already tried to push away my LGBTQ identity. It was complete denial ; I was convincing myself so hard that my LGBTQ identity did not exist that I would ultimately believe it but yet I felt so empty, shallow and incomplete. And then one day I thought to myself why not try embracing both identities, just for the sake of trying. I remember feeling butterflies in my stomach and feeling so light as if an enormous weight was lifted off of me. I never felt so complete and comfortable in my skin.

Q. Vous est-il arrivé de repousser votre identité africaine ou LGBTQ ? Si oui, comment avez-vous surmonté cela ?

Ça a été difficile d’accepter ces deux composantes de mon identité. J’ai d’abord très longtemps cru que je ne pouvais adopter qu’une des deux identités, les deux étant mutuellement exclusives. Lorsque j’ai décidé d’accepter mon identité LGBTQ, j’ai inconsciemment renié mon identité africaine. Je me suis retrouvé à devenir ce que beaucoup appelle “Bounty” ou “Oreo”, noir à l’extérieur mais blanc à l’intérieur. Avant ça, j’avais également essayé de renier mon homosexualité. J’étais dans le déni total ; Je me persuadais tellement fort que mon identité LGBTQ n’existait pas qu’au final je le croyais tout en me sentant vide, creux et incomplet. Et un jour je me suis demandé pourquoi ne pas accepter et embrasser ces deux identités, juste pour essayer. Je me rappelle sentir des papillons dans le ventre et me entir si léger comme si un énorme poids avait été levé de mes éapules. Je ne me suis jamais senti aussi complet et comfortable dans ma peau.  


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

My siblings and cousins have accepted me and I am happy that they don’t see me as queer but just as their brother, my queerness being part of a whole, intertwining with various aspects of my personality. As for my parents and their siblings, they have understood and acknowledged my homosexuality but in their own terms. Inherently, they have accepted that their son is gay but they keep on emphasizing on the fact that they don’t wish to see me acting like a “queen”. Even though I have come far, striving to be accepted as gay in a traditional and Catholic family, it still does hurt to understand that my homosexuality can be accepted only if I act in the most heteronormative way.   Basically I can be gay and it’s fine, as long as it is not visible. It is a bittersweet feeling but if there is something I understand with my family it’s that it all takes time, especially educating them about what it means to be LGBTQ. There is definitely a generation gap between my siblings and cousins and our parents, uncles and aunts and I am blessed to have the full support of my generation. Another sad truth is that my family from the diaspora in Europe and America is more accepting of my homosexuality than my family that grew up and lived in Rwanda. 

Q. Quelle est votre relation avec votre famille, et que veut dire pour vous “être accépté” dans votre famille ? 

Mon frère et ma soeur et mes cousins m’ont accépté comme je suis heureux qu’ils ne me voient pas en tant qu’homo mais bien en tant que leur frère, mon homosexualité faisant partie d’un tout qui intéragit avec l’ensemble de ma personnalité. En ce qui concerne mes parents, mes oncles et mes tantes, il s ont compris et accépté mon homosexualité mais à leur manière. Au fond ils ont accépté que leur enfant était homosexuel mais ils ont continué à souligner le fait qu’ils ne souhaitaient pas voir leur fils se comporter comme uen “folle”. Même si j’ai faut beaucoup de chemin, m’efforçant d’être accépté en tant qu’homosexuel dans une famille traditionnelle et catholique, je suis blessé de comprendre que mon homosexualité ne peut être accptée que si j’agis de la façon la plus hétéronormative que possible. En gros, je peux être homo et il n’y a pas de soucis, tant que ça ne se voit pas. C’est un sentiment doux-amère mais si il y a quelque chose que j’ai compris avec ma famille c’est que les choses prennent du temps, surtout lorsqu’il faut les sensibiliser sur ce que veut dire être LGBTQ. Il y a clairement un fossé générationnel entre mon frère, ma soeur, mes cousins d’un coté et nos parents de l’autre et je suis béni d’avoir le soutien complet de ma génération. Une autre triste vérité est que ma famille issue de la diaspora en Europe et en Amérique ait plus accépté mon homosexualité que ma famille qui a grandi et vécu au Rwanda. 


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

I often refer them to some acknowledged anthropological work on pre-colonial African societies revealing that Africa is intrinsically LGBTQ-friendly and that African homophobia results from colonization patterns, but lately that’s not how I answer to those people. Science will never speak as loud as my heart. I try my best to make them remember what the definition is of the Africa all Africans love. Africa is love, warmth and acceptance. My Africa is one that is intrinsically hate-free, welcoming, comprehensive and protective. It’s not about knowing if LGBTQ is “un-African” or not but it’s more about understanding that homophobia and transphobia are clearly not derived from African values, culture and traditions. I strive to touch these people’s hearts, to revive their inner humanity, to persuade them that behind an acronym like LGTBQ there is a Human Being, a brother, a sister, a neighbour, a friend who did not choose to be different and should be cared for and accepted in the community as anybody else would be. I deeply hope that raising awareness and communicating will eventually lead to a LGBTQ-friendly Africa. That is one of my dearest dreams and I endeavour to make it true day every day. 

Q. Que diriez-vous aux personnes qui disent qu’être LGTBQ est “non-africain” ?

Très souvent je les renvoie à des travaux anthropologiques bien connus sur les sociétés pré-coloniales africaines qui révèlent que l’Afrique est intrinsèquement sympathique à la communauté LGBTQ et que l’homophobie africaine résulte des modèles de colonisation, mais depuis récemment je réponds à ces personnes plus différemment. Aucune science ne parlera plus fort que mon coeur. J’essaye de mon mieux de les rappeler de la définiton de l’Afrique que tous les africains aiment. L’Afrique est amour, cordialité et reconnaissance. Mon Afrique est celle qui est profondément libre de haine, accueillante, compréhensive et protectrice. La question n’est pas en tant que telle de se demander si l’identité LGBTQ est africaine ou pas mais bien de comprendre que l’homophobie et la transphobie ne sont clairement pas dérivés des valeurs, cultures et traditions africaines. Je m’efforce de toucher le coeur de ces gens, de faire revivre leur humanité intérieur, de les persuader que derrière un acronyme comme LGTBQ il y a un être humain, un frère, une soeur, un voisin, un ami qui n’a pas choisi d’être différent et qui mérite d’être aimé et accépté dans sa communauté comme n’importe qui d’autre. J’éspère profondément que la sensibilisation et la communication méneront éventuellement vers une Afrique inclusive de la communauté LGBTQ. C’est un de mes rêves les plus chers que je m’efforce à rendre réalité jour après jour. 


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

It was truly a human adventure. I was very stressed, I wanted the shots to be gorgeous not only for the artist/photographer but also for myself as I will be remembering this photoshoot forever. I was freezing shooting outside with negative temperatures but the final result was all worth it. I participated in other shoots but this one was clearly the one most stressful because the outcome and how personal the project was. 

Q. Comment etait-ce de participer au photoshoot Limit(less) ?

C’était vraiment une aventure humaine. J’étais très stresé, je voulais que les clichés soit magnifiques pas seulement pour l’artiste-photographe mais aussi pour moi-même car je me souviendrais de ce photoshoot toute ma vie. Je gelais pendant qu’on prenait les photos dehors avec des températures négatives mais le résultat final en valait la peine. J’ai participé à d’autres photoshoots mais celui-ci a clairement été des plus stressants à cause de l’attente de résultat et à quel point le projet était personnel.


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

I am so honoured and moved to be a Limit(less) African. I grew up thinking I was the only black gay child, that I was a curse, a pariah, a mistake. I remember thinking to myself “Why am I the only one attracted to my gender ?” And when I learnt about the LGBTQ community, I was so relieved but I still struggled because I couldn’t identify completely to what I saw- LGBTQ being very white. I truly hope teenagers in Africa will see this work and will be positively inspired by each of our paths and story. Limit(less) has been an amazing way to bring African LGBTQ youth together and in the most creative way. I will keep on following the project and will invite everyone to share so as to bring a splash of colour and fresh air to our community. We are beautiful, inside out, creative, human, loving and most importantly connected. It is our duty to portray ourselves a positive and beautiful African LGBTQ community. 

Q. Qu’est-ce qui vous plaît le plus dans Limit(less) ?

Je suis tellement honoré et ému d’être un modèle pour Limite(less) African. J’ai grandi en croyant que j’étais le seul enfant homosexuel noir, que j’étais une malédiction, un pariah, une erreur. Je me rappelle que je me demandais “Pourquoi suis-je le seul à être attiré par le même sexe que moi?” Et quand j’ai commencé à apprendre plus sur la communauté LGBTQ, je me suis senti si soulagé mais je ne me reconnaissait pas totalement dans ce que je voyais, la communauté LGBTQ étant très blanche. J’espère vraiment que les adolescents en Afrique pourront voir ce travail et qu’ils seront positivement inspiré par nos parcours et nos histoires. Limit(less) a été un moyen extraordinaire de réunir la jeunesse LGTBQ et ceci d’une façon très créative. Je continuerai à suivre le projet et j’inviterai tout le monde à le partager pour apporter un jet de couleurs et un souffle d’air frais dans notre communauté. Nous sommes beaux, à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur, créatifs, humains, aimants et surtout très connectés. C’est notre devoir de représenter nous-mêmes notre belle et positive communauté africaine LGBTQ.


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

Feel free to reach me on Facebook (Brian Uwayo : www.facebook.com/brian.b.jones.716) and on Instagram @beedeejones !

N’hésitez pas à me contacter sur Facebook (Brian Uwayo : www.facebook.com/brian.b.jones.716) et sur Instagram @beedeejones




Limit(less) Project: Nolizwe

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.

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

Nolizwe: Queer South African 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 Nolizwe and it means “the nation” in Xhosa.

I recently started to use my full name. Before I went by Lizwe and in some cases Liz. I was ashamed of my name growing up and tired of everyone mispronouncing it, so I figured it would be easier to shorten it and not deal with any of the nonsense. As I continue to learn ways to love myself, I’ve fallen in love with it and value its importance within my ancestral and personal journey. 

I am a Queer South African American and use they/she pronouns.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I couldn’t tell you that I had a style. Defining this has always been a bit of a struggle as all of the images I saw growing up were either of white or skinny people. As a result, I just assumed I didn’t have the right body to name or even define a particular look as my personal style. 

Right now, my style is about comfort. I’ve been able to find creative means of feeling held and loved in my attire. It’s hella beautiful to look at yourself in the mirror and smile back. 

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

My existence incorporates elements of Africa and Queerness. 

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?

My South African and queer identities are not mutually exclusively, but I’ve definitely been in spaces where those assumptions are held. It’s hard. There’s a privilege in having conversations here in Oakland where folks ask my pronoun preference as we’re engaging. That doesn’t happen when I’m in South Africa. I also haven’t been in queer spaces in South Africa so I also want to name that. Additionally, amazing artists such as Zanele Muholi have done a wonderful job in challenging the narrative of LGBTQ identities as a western and/or white “practice” 

Growing up, I wanted to just be an American.  I didn’t want to acknowledge any part of my South African history. I saw the racist and discriminatory acts my parents encountered from being both Black and African, so I thought to myself if I could find the best ways to put forward my respectability politics then I could prevent those encounters. 

Interestingly enough, when I moved to South Africa, I navigated through a lot of space as an American because of my accent. However, when I told folks my name, they would then respond by saying that I am a South African and that I should be proud to be an African. 

I have the tendency to get in my head a lot, particularly when I’m not in spaces where I can comfortably express my full authentic self. Finding an Afro-house playlist and getting lost in my freedom dreams can really help ease my anxiety. I’m also grateful to have found a beautiful community in Oakland. I’m hoping to cross paths and break bread with more Queer Africans in the Bay. I know we’re out here!

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

My mom is supportive, my dad is a work in progress. I went to South Africa this past summer and it was the first time going back in 5 years. Since my last visit, I am more “masculine” presenting so there was definitely a lot of thoughts around how to present myself, especially considering my visit was to honor my mama’s (grandmother) transition. I’m pretty sure everyone knows about my queerness but it’s definitely not talked about. For the few family members I told, they’ve been supportive.

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

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” - Audre Lorde

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

In the beginning, it was a learning experience, lol. Mikael really helped me become comfortable in my skin and towards the end, he was able to capture some really beautiful moments. 

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

The very fact that I get to participate! I remember coming across Limit(less) on Facebook and getting hella emotional. This is definitely needed and I’m hella grateful for this project. 

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

Instagram: @xhosaboi
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wayoftheliz

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