Limit(less) Project: Carol Chibueze

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.

Carol Chibueze: Queer Nigerian-American (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 Carol Chibueze. I was born and raised in the United States. I am Nigerian-American and biracial (half white). My pronouns are she/her/hers. I don’t really identify as anything in particular, but I feel most comfortable with the label “queer.”

Q. How would you describe your style?

My brother from another mother, Gabriel, once described my style as “Erykah Badu in ‘95 mixed with Maya Angelou” and I think that is pretty accurate. Black auntie swag and Black Femme Power are also terms that describe my style pretty well. Another friend, Richie, has called me a “Naija Eartha Kitt” when describing my clothes, which I would love to think is true, since Eartha Kitt is a personal hero of mine. 

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

I don’t purposefully incorporate my sexuality or my African heritage into my look. I usually dress based on the weather and the events of the day, with an emphasis on feeling good in what I wear. I love to wear lots of colors and interesting patterns - often these can be Nigerian cloth that I wear in the form of dresses, shirts, and lots of headwraps. I wear a lot of African jewelry that I bought when I visited Nigeria as a teenager.

Recently I have felt a lot more at ease wearing stereotypically feminine clothing as I explore my identity as a black femme woman. When I was younger, I used to be a lot more concerned with being read as “not straight” through how I dressed, but as I’ve become more comfortable with myself, I stopped caring about that. I’ve tried to move away from coding myself or others as queer through something as subjective (and often racialized and gendered) as fashion. Still, I have always liked to incorporate more tomboyish accessories like snapbacks, blazers, bowties or men’s shoes into my wardrobe, and I like playing with stereotypically feminine and masculine attire, occasionally at the same time. I sometimes like to dress more masculine when wearing formal attire; other times I will wear full Nigerian traditional clothes, especially my late grandmother’s headscarf. But overall I don’t consciously think about how my sexuality and my culture inform my style - I just wear what I want.

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?

These identities are inextricably linked for me, and I have never necessarily felt like they were/are opposed. However, I have often felt pushed away from my Blackness and African-ness in LGBTQ spaces in the US, which can be very white, sometimes racist, and erasing of QTPOC perspectives. There have been a few situations where I felt like my queerness did not fit in certain African spaces, but I have encountered the former much more than the latter. I feel most at home among other queer folks of color, especially Black queer people, and that has helped me overcome any lingering feelings of dissonance between my sexuality and my heritage. 

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

This is a difficult question for me. I resent Western notions of “coming out” and unconditional “acceptance” pushed as the ideal narrative for all LGBTQ-identified peoples. These are very white, mainstream concepts that do not allow for the dangerous, destructive effects colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism have had on brown and black countries that are often lambasted as “homophobic” or “intolerant” without context. I have never “come out” and my family already accepts me as their daughter, niece, goddaughter, sister, etc. For me, my sexuality does not necessarily change the strength of our bond, even if they don’t always embrace it wholeheartedly.

It’s also something that looks so different for everyone, especially among the diversity of queer folks of color. Sometimes “acceptance” means baby steps, hard conversations, silences, inside jokes, undiscussed topics, tears, laughter, probing questions, explanations, leaps and bounds, and other times it feels like nothing has ever changed. At the same time, it does not mean it is easy when the people you care about most don’t understand or reject part of who you are or how you live/love. So I don’t focus on being “accepted” by others in a traditional sense, including some of my extended family. I know who cares about me no matter what and I am secure in that knowledge. 

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

I don’t really have anything to say to that kind of bigotry. Go read a book, I guess?

Just kidding: I feel that while this is an unfortunately common sentiment among many contemporary African peoples who are influenced by Western Christian evangelism, neocolonialism, religious fundamentalism, and nationalistic conservatism, it is such a tired, ignorant statement. Anyone who has studied African history or read about pre-colonial indigenous peoples on the continent knows that diversity of gender and sexuality has been present from the start. To view African LGBTQ folks as “un-African” is to fall into the trap created by white supremacy centuries before. Gender binaries and heterosexuality are imperialist social concepts created, in part, to regulate and differentiate black and brown peoples from white people. In reality, intense homophobia and transphobia are the true “un-African” sentiments. They are directly connected to leftover European anti-buggery laws created to control and dehumanize African peoples during colonization. That comes from non-African white people, not us.

Anyone who doesn’t know all this can read this Guardian article by Bernadine Evaristo or this blog post by Colin Stewart on the website “76 Crimes” to begin to learn more.

So, seriously: go read something and then we can talk.

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

It was really fun! I had a good time collaborating with Mikael to get a multitude of shots and looks for the shoot. It was fun to think about different ways to capture my style and heritage while also referencing different artists and artworks that I love. 

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

I am excited about the ways it is expanding the popular images of LGBTQ folks. In the US and globally, people often imagine white people when thinking about queer aesthetics or the LGBTQ community as a whole. Limit(less) directly combats these invisibilizing and often anti-black stereotypes by putting queer African people at the center and showing all viewers that we exist on our own terms - racism, colonialism, religiousity, imperialism, queer-antagonism and patriarchy be damned. It is a visibility project that is very necessary and needs to be told by Africans for other Africans, and by extension to the rest of the world. I am very grateful to Mikael for doing it and I am glad to take part. 

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

Tumblr: deathwalkingbackwards.tumblr.com

Instagram: carefreeblackauntie



Limit(less) Project: Wiilo

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.

Wiilo: Queer Somali Canadian American

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

Wiilo Geedi. Wiilo in Somali means girls who dresses like boy. It’s a nickname that I was given  by my elders when I was younger. It’s something that has always comforted me when I was going through my process of discovering my queerness and helped me to overcome the shame and the feeling of being pushed away from my culture.

Like everything about myself my country of origin is complicated. I was born in Washington, DC while my parents were on vacation. We returned to Somalia but my family emigrated from Somalia because of civil war and I grew up in suburbs outside Toronto, Canada.

They/Them

Queer

Q. How would you describe your style?

I’ve just  started to dress in a way that reflects me and I would say that it is ever evolving.

Growing up I knew I couldn’t wear the things that I wanted because it would advertise my queerness. I think my mom knew I was queer because she controlled and critiqued what I wore more than my siblings.  I live on my own now and I am just starting to explore what my style is and how I want to explore my creativity through my clothes. I like to over accessorize, patterns and textures. I like to shop in thrifts stores and other people’s closets.

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

My style has been described as old Somali uncle. I am drawn to clothes that I feel both my Dad and Mom would have worn living in Somalia in the 70’s and 80’s.

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?

When I was first reflecting on my queerness it was hard for me to reconcile it with my Somalinimo.  Growing up any deviation from the norm was stamped down. This has to do with living in a refugee community surrounded by whiteness and you think to hold onto your culture means defining it in very limiting ways. Many try and hold Somalinimo constant by ascribing certain behaviours and ways of dressing as authentic and other behaviours as inauthentic. The binary limitations are to survive oppression and trauma that we faced but another effect is it excludes anyone who is different or questions their narrow definitions.

How I coped with it was by reflecting on how my Somalinmo cannot be separated from my queerness. Varying gender and sexuality are not abnormalities that come from whiteness but are in our culture, language and stories.

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

I am out to some of my siblings and for me acceptance looks like not being demonized and ridiculed by people who say they love you.

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

Saying something is “un-African” is saying a kaleidoscope can only be one colour.

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

I enjoyed reflecting on the things that made me who I am and exploring my creativity with you.

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

I am excited to see all the amazing people that are going to be featured and the amazing stories that they we are  telling and community that is being created.

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

@pocstudios on instagram and twitter



Limit(less) Project: Terna

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.

Terna: Bisexual Nigerian-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?

My name is Terna.  I am a Nigerian-Liberian American, and I’m black.  I identify as black.  Preferred gender pronouns are she, her, and hers.  I identify as bisexual.  I use queer most of the time.  I use queer most of the time, but I think it is important to say bisexual.

Q. How would you describe your style?

How would I describe my style?  It’s an interesting question.  I think I have kind of a few dimensions to my style, and lately, there’s sort of the style that’s expressed here when I’m in America, and there’s the style that is expressed when I’m in Nigeria, and they’re a little bit different, although closer together now than they’ve ever been.  

What makes me feel confident and like I am representing myself and all that I seek to embody, that style is basically kind of what I call like a neo-Muslim style, I guess.  So, for me, that means that I always have some sort of head covering, usually a hat of some kind, and I have a tunic sort of top, or at least long sleeves, and then some, you know, either leggings or whatever trousers underneath, and that’s my basic style.  I have a couple of rings that I always wear that are significant to me.  I always have my prayer beads on, and I have short hair and glasses, so I think people are not quite sure how to read me, but for me, my style is in keeping with my spiritual values in terms of a certain kind of modesty in my clothing and appearance.  The other way I sometimes look is I wear button down shirts and trousers and sweaters in the cooler months, but like a button down with trousers but always with the hat.  Earrings, I almost always have earrings of some kind on when I go out in public. 

It’s a long answer, but I don’t know that my style fits neatly into a catch-phrase.  Something else that’s important to me, too, is that as much as is possible, especially if I’m going to an event or something like that, I wear some sort of African clothing. You’ll never find me in a cocktail dress or anything like that. Strictly African if I’m going somewhere for, like to an event like that, like a graduation or if I’m performing somewhere, or to any of those types of things.  I have some element from my culture, so I have Tiv cloth, which is called Angue, that’s my tribe in Nigeria.  I have a scarf that my mom brought me from Kenya, or I have something, some visual element that clearly marks me as not, yeah, that brings some of that into the space.

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

Yeah, I think it’s that intentionality about having a kind of look, and this has really evolved over the last probably three years or so, but intentionally having a look that is not fashionable hipster.  I don’t look, I don’t really represent the queer aesthetic in terms of the standard - I don’t look like a stud, I don’t look like a dapper queer.  I look like something else, and that something else is a nod to where I come from.  It’s me standing in my power, but it’s also distinctly you, like I have my little fedoras and those types of things, which I think do tip over into some of the queer aesthetics particularly, I would say, the queer aesthetics of people of color.  

That’s important to me as well, yeah, but so much of it also about a certain attitude.  You know, and I think I have that.  I remember a friend of mine once said, “You know, if I don’t know you, I would still know you were queer.”  And I was like, at this time, I think I could have easily passed, I had long hair, and she said, “It’s something about your confidence.”  And that really stayed with me.  So, whatever that thing is, I definitely have that.

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?

That’s an ongoing struggle, I’ll say.  I think having both, my African identities and my identity as a queer person.  Those things have definitely created a sense of fragmentation in my life.  They have affected my family relationships in the sense that I’m not as close to certain family members as I would like to be because I feel like my queer identity would get in the way of having the closeness that is the way that closeness goes down with my African family members, and that’s been really, really difficult.  

In some ways, I think that that’s been the central tension or conflict of my life.  So, it’s something that I live with.  I’m not sure that I overcome it.  I think I learn to live with it differently at different moments in my life.  I think I’m more, I think there are different moments where I’m more - I was going to use the word “tortured” by it.  I think there are moments where it causes me a great deal of distress and moments where it’s more bearable.  I think those are really the parameters that it lives in, the torturous in a sense or the bearable.

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

It makes me feel sad that I have to be accepted by anyone. That feeling of being outside is not a feeling that I enjoy.  It’s not a feeling that I take pride in.  It’s not something that I feel good about.  It makes me very sad, actually.  My mom has been, we’ve gone through our ups and downs.  Actually, let me say, I don’t know if we’ve had a lot of ups.  I think we’ve had, “ok, I think we’re ok” and we’ve definitely had some downs in her journey in dealing with it, and as recently as least year, she alluded to the fact that it’s not easy for her to deal with my queerness.  I have a few cousins that I’ve sort of explicitly told, but otherwise it’s not something that I talk about with my family.  

I would bring just one or two ladies that I was involved with around to a family thing, and you know, my family is really loving, they’re great, wonderful people, kind people, loving people, and they’ve just rolled with it.  It’s like, “oh, how’s your friend?”  You know, that kind of thing.  I think it’s important to challenge this narrative about coming out and making that a big thing.  I don’t feel the need to do that, per se.  What I care about is that I’m able to still show up and be with my family, and I worry about that.  I do worry about that.  Mostly, it’s been good on the Liberian side.  On the Nigerian side, you know, I wouldn’t even.  Nah.  Nah.  I got a few siblings that are cool, but that’s about it.  You know, I’m not trying to do that there. 

Complicated.  What it would look like is a feeling of safety.  A feeling of belonging, of not being different and not being outside of the stream of my family.  That’s a longing, a deep desire that I have.  That’s what “acceptance” would mean for me.

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

Well, the reality of the matter is that there have been and there will continue to be queer Africans for days, so, it’s not anything new.  It’s not anything new in human existence, and to say that it’s un-African, is to really, well, I can understand and have compassion for this narrative as a way of resisting colonialism and really seeking to make some distinction between what colonialism did to our countries, to the places where we are from and the sense of “this is who we are.”  I can definitely get that.  I think this is the wrong thing to hang your hat on because it’s just not true, and it’s also the influence of Christianity, which is a form of colonization to me.  

That is one of the main residues of colonization, and so, I think it’s really important, for a lot of reasons, that we question whose narratives we are responding and reacting to, and really imagine in a new way, what is African?  That term even in and of itself I think I struggle with because there are such differences.  Even in Nigeria alone, how many tribes do we have?  So many, and each of them are distinct.  My tribe is definitely, we are not Yoruba.  We’re not.  You know.  So, this idea that we’re all African - I get, and I accept on some level, what are the general themes in our values - that conversation, but at the same time, I think we really need to reimagine our nationalism.  

What is Nigerian?  What is Liberian?  What is Kenyan?  What is Ugandan?  What is Somalian?  All of these things in a way that is really about self-definition as opposed to reacting against something, and so my response to folks who say that being queer is un-African, I would invite them, I really invite them to look at, what is the narrative that you’re holding about colonization and what it means to own who you are and where you come from and your heritage without pushing those who belong to that heritage, too, without pushing any of us out of that.

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

Participating in the Limitless shoot was great.  It was complicated.  It was good.  I’m so glad that I did, and Mikael and I, we’ve been talking about this shoot for awhile, or this whole project for awhile, I guess it’s been a year and a half, and so awesome to say “yay!” We’ve said we were going to do this thing together, and we’ve done it.  That’s amazing.  I’m so thankful for the collaboration.  It was tiring!  I had no idea taking some photos would be tiring like that.  I learned, I also learned, but overall, it was a good experience.

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

I’m most excited that this project is increasing the visibility of LGBTQ Africans.  My hope is that there’s some young person, or old, whoever, that there are people out there who have been feeling fragmented, who have been feeling like they have to somehow break themselves in order to fit, to still belong to our cultures.  This, to me, my hope is that they will see some of the images, to read some of the stories and thoughts and things, and  feel like - recognize themselves in it and that it will spark some kind of mending, inner mending for them to know that they are ok and that they can be who they are, that there’s nothing wrong with them, and they get to claim all aspects of who they are.  That would be my great hope for the project and why, a large part of why I wanted to participate. 

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