Limit(less) Project: Mai’Yah

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.

Mai’Yah: Bisexual Liberian-American 

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

I am Mai’Yah, I am from Liberia, she/her and I believe my LGBTQ identity is bisexual.

Q. How would you describe your style?

I would consider my style to be afro conscious most of the time, but I have such an eclectic taste; I love everything.

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

I find myself incorporating a lot of African prints within my wardrobe to identify with my ethnicity as well expressing my sexuality and comfortability through my style of clothing–crop tops, head wraps, tailored pants and shorts, and dresses. It’s a perfect balance between femininity and of course being relaxed/ comfortable.  

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?

There were times where I would go to church and they would preach about how homosexuality is a sin and partaking in such behaviors would send me to hell, because it was considered behaviors of the devil. For years I felt so insecure and  uncomfortable with myself until I realized my happiness had to come from within. Pleasing others by living according to their perception wouldn’t bring the results I wanted in my life. I overcame the negative stigma associated with homosexuality by embracing who I am and rejecting beliefs anyone tried to impose on me.

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

I am not out to all of my family members yet, but the ones I am out with, we have an extremely amazing relationship. Not all relationships are perfect and being accepted is still having their unconditional love. And it includes not mattering what my preference is. It does not make me any less of a human being.

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

First and foremost, I define me and what anyone says doesn’t matter. I am still the descendent of my mother who was born and raised in the motherland, my preference will never change that.

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

Participating in the Limit(less) shoot was an amazing experience. I felt comfortable with being my true self and I loved the feeling of being in front of the camera and unlocking my inner Naomi Campbell !

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

I am excited to see my people coming out and standing for what they believe in. I am also excited that Limit(less) gives the people who participate the opportunity to be role models to people who are lost and afraid (like I was once upon a time) and help lead them to the light.

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

Anywhere !!

Instagram: @Lovexeastside
Tumblr: @dwelah 



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

Also please Donate to Support the Project.

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: naijasoulcandy.tumblr.com



Limit(less) Project: Gesiye

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.

Gesiye: Bisexual/Queer Nigerian-Trinidadian (shot in Trinidad)

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 Gesiye, which in Ijaw means ‘someone of truth.’ I’m Nigerian-Trinidadian, born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago. My pgp’s are she/her/hers and I identify as bisexual/queer.

Q. How would you describe your style?

As my friend Gabe recently said, it’s more of a “postmodern Angela Davis.”

I mostly wear neutral colors, with the occasional head wrap or print, staying pretty comfortable and casual. 

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

I don’t limit my African or LGBTQ identity to one form of expression, everything I wear is and can be a blend of these identities because that’s who I am and how I’m choosing to define it.

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?

I grew up in the Caribbean, so my African identity is closely linked to that part of the diaspora. In Trinidad, colourism/shadeism plays a huge role in structuring privilege in everyday life. For me, benefitting from the privilege of having lighter skin in my society also meant that I was constantly being pushed away from my African heritage, growing up being told that I was “not really black,” or that I was “too light to be Nigerian.” 

On the other hand, growing up knowing that I was attracted to both men and women, while also being a cis femme woman, meant that I was constantly struggling to prove my identity to myself and others. Bisexuality sometimes feels less accepted, because people would rather you “make up your mind and just choose,” or “get over this phase” rather that “be greedy” (literally things I have heard). My ability to pass as a straight woman grants me a different level of safety than those who are more visibly queer but can also be the means through which people erase parts of my identity. I had to grow to be comfortable with who I am, and how I choose to express myself outside of what society expects; there’s no way to satisfy what everyone thinks I should be, and no way to be happy living as someone else. 

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

I’m lucky to have a great relationship with my family, being accepted for me means being treated like my sexuality is just another part of who I am as a person, and not as a defining trait that should shape every interaction we have together.  

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

I hear this a lot in the Caribbean, that the LGBTQ experience is un-African or un-natrual. From the homophobic music that we all dance and sing along to, to the fact that it’s still illegal to have sex with someone of the same gender in Trinidad. It’s exhausting. I wish we would accept/understand that gender-fluidity and same sex attraction are historically indigenous and African.

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

Really wonderful! It was so strange being on the other side of the camera, but it helped me learn what that feels like.

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

My instagram is @gesiye and my website where I post my photography and video art is www.gesiye.com


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