Limit(less) Project: Bummah

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.

Bummah: Queer Cameroonian (USA)

Listen to Bummah’s cover of Lianne La Havas’ “Green & Gold”, Produced by Stello Clarkhttps://soundcloud.com/budotma/green-gold-cover-produced-by-stello-clark


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

My name is Bummah. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland in the United States, but my family is from the North-West region of Cameroon. My preferred gender pronouns are he/him/his and I identify as gay or queer.


Q. How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as minimalist with a pop of color. I like very simple looks that work well with anything. I’ll rock a t-shirt, some jeans, and sneakers most days, however I love bold colors like red, especially with accessories and shoes. I like patterns too, but when they’re paired with solids.


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

Well I didn’t have a lot of attire from Africa until recently, because I always thought it was relatively expensive to get them custom made, and I guess I never really made it a priority. However, I think the fact that I do try to play around with colors and some patterns is very african and queer. Beyond red, I love yellows, and greens, and blues.


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 a child I was ashamed of my African roots so I somewhat pushed myself away. I would get teased a lot by other kids growing up, because they could easily tell I was [because my] name was different. I remember one instance at summer camp some friends had called my younger brother and I Timon and Pumbaa. At the time I laughed it off, but I didn’t realize how much moments like that affected my self-esteem. Sometimes when folks would ask where I was from I would just say “I’m from Maryland”. Or one time I told a girl I was from Jamaica. Anything to not be the “African Booty Scratcher”. On the other hand, family members sometimes made it difficult because to them I was not “African enough”. I didn’t know my parents dialects like that, nor did I speak pidgin often, so to them I was more American.

Now I cringe at all these moments, because I’ve grown to really embrace and love my African roots. My parents really did make it clear that no matter what, we were Cameroonian. These days I make sure people understand where I am from and how to pronounce my name correctly. I have one of my Liberian Morehouse Moms to thank for that. Right now I’m really loving exploring my family history and culture more independently as an adult. I’m looking forward to travelling to Cameroon by myself this summer, after having not gone in 17 years.

Identifying as gay or queer is something that I denied at first. I learned to be quiet, and draw as little attention to myself as possible. I was always very reserved, but I think my discomfort with both my African and queer identities heightened that. I first identified as bisexual when I was 14 because at the time I thought I liked girls. I quickly realized that my attraction to them was not the same as my attraction to boys and started identifying as gay when I was 16. By the time I was 18 I was pretty comfortable with sharing that  I was gay. Intertwining both my African and gay identities then became a concern for me. At the time, I had no examples of how to be both at the same time. I overcame my discomfort around being both African and gay as I encountered more and more people who had similar experiences and backgrounds.


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

I love my family dearly, and I know they love me, but I’ve reached a point where I understand that they’re going to have to have their own journey if and when it comes to accepting and embracing that I am indeed gay. I first came out to my 3 siblings when I was 15 and I believe they thought they understood what being gay meant, but not what having a gay brother meant. My parents found out when I was 17, after a family friend was snooping around my facebook and told them that my profile said I was “Interested in Men and Women.” Soon after, we had a conversation about it and they expressed that it was something that they just could not accept. Since then, they’ve been hush hush about it. My mom brings it up every once in a while with the same sentiments as the first conversation. Going away to college took me away from those uneasy moments, and gave me the space and time to grow into myself apart from them.

I would love to have more open and honest conversations with my family members, but only if its actually a conversation, and not someone talking at me without listening. At this point, acceptance for me looks like them realizing that although they may not understand me, they recognize that I will continue to be true to myself. I would like them to recognize, if nothing else, that I am okay with me.


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

I would say that such rhetoric is a result of colonialism. Ironically, we have learned that being LGBTQ is only a western thing, as a result of white christian teachings. At the end of the day you cannot deny the existence of a whole community of queer and trans African people who have been living and loving since the beginning of time. It really isn’t anything new.


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

The shoot just made me very happy. This past couple days after graduating from college, coming home, and preparing for my trip to Cameroon in a week, I’ve been very reflective of how my queerness and africanness have become very integral to my life. I’m really grateful because the shoot was like a manifestation of where my head has been at recently.


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

I’m excited for young LGBTQ Africans, who may be searching for absolutely anything queer and African (like I did), longing to feel like they are not alone. Representation is so critical. Also, I’m excited for the conversations that will follow within the larger African community, on how we can do better by and be better for our queer and trans people.


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)?

Folks can connect with me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bummahn) , or follow me,  @budotma on instagram and soundcloud.


Bummah’s Post Limit(less) Cameroon Trip

In June 2016, after completing his Limit(less) shoot, Bummah visited Cameroon for the first time in several years. These were some of his reflections after returning from his visit-

Q. How was your experience going back to Cameroon? Before and while you were there?

Before the trip I was somewhat nervous because I was unsure if I had the energy to deal with a really homophobic or transphobic incident. But I knew I had to go because it would mean so much more for me than perhaps going to some country in Central/South America or in the Caribbean where I don’t have as much of a connection. As time went on I became more excited than nervous. While I was there I felt very reassured in my decision. I felt like I was home. I really enjoyed spending time with family, some of whom I had just met for the first time.

Q. How was navigating those spaces as a queer person?

It was interesting. I think before anything I was read as being different because I was from the US. People would notice things like my hair, my tighter pants, and my voice, but they weren’t necessarily read as “gay”. I had a bit of passing privilege there, so I was never in a situation where I felt like I was in immediate danger. There were moments where I felt uncomfortable if conversations for example turned to me finding a wife, the Orlando mass shooting, or anything related to being gay. I wanted to speak out but I didn’t out of comfort and safety.

Q. Was there anything in particular that was kind of like the highlight  or take-away of your experience?

I would say the highlight of the trip for me was, again, how at home I felt. I smile now, looking back at pictures that captured many moments, as I went around. My only wish is for me to be able to have that experience as my full self. Though I do not expect to be embraced the same way, I do think that I would have a more fulfilling experience as the black, gay, awkward man that I am.


Limit(less) Project: Netsie

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.

Netsie: Queer Ethiopian-Namibian (USA)

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

My name is Netsie, I am a queer Ethiopian Namibian, and my full name translates to “our gift of freedom” in Amharic and Oshiherero. I was born the year my fatherland (Namibia) got independence from apartheid-ruled South Africa so although my first name is Ethiopian, the meaning(Netsanet: freedom) is a reference to Namibia. My ethnicity is black and I use she/her pronouns. 


Q. How would you describe your style?

bell hooks has had a profound effect on my life in a number of ways. When discussing how the black woman watches film, she posits that in order to see ourselves on screen and in stories made for the white, male gaze, we must develop an inverted gaze. That changed the path of my life—I realized that I needed to become a filmmaker, and it also changed the way I saw myself, as a femme woman. From a young age, women are taught that they have no choice in who looks at them and so often, we are held responsible for what other people perceive. We are taught to be presentable, not just for business meetings, but potential friends, mates, and assaulters. At the same time, we are taught never to look threatening, or look back at the people looking at us. We are denied the verb, and forced into the noun. Fuck that. I’m a hard femme with an hourglass silhouette, a goodwill budget, and a firm grasp of anti-capitalist rhetoric. I wear whatever makes me feel comfortable and powerful and safe. I’m too clumsy to own a pair of un-ripped tights. I love wearing bold patterns that clash, things that could be pretty but aren’t, anything to remind people that when they look at me, I am looking right back at them.


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

Traditional Herero attire pulls from our surroundings, the animal that is most fundamental to our survival, and the colonists that sought to systematically erase every last remnant of our existence from the planet. We keep cool in the desert, pay homage to our cows, and declare that not only did you fail at wiping us out, but also, at wearing your own clothes. We took your look, hit it with some much-needed flavor, and made it our own. This cultural knowledge gave me the basis of my understanding of subversive fashion. I spent such a large part of my childhood trying to “pass” as straight that by the time I came out, I had exhausted my ability to care how most people thought of me. I dress accordingly. 


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 have always wanted to have an Ethiopian wedding. There are few things that would make me happier. If I end up marrying a cis man, I can have that wedding. If I end up with anyone else, I can’t. It’s that simple. That fact still makes me feel profoundly sad.

Within the gay community, I find that my identity as a queer/pansexual femme, and my perceived ability to “pass” is often maligned and frequently satirized. For years, I felt the need to prove how gay I was. I was a hard top. There were numerous, failed attempts at a full, butch conversion. Eventually, I begun to realize that most generalizations about the gay community were steeped in misogyny and anti-blackness; mainstream gay culture would never be my salvation. But I’m neither the first, nor the last person to write those words.


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

Trivia: Namibia and Ethiopia have vastly different histories when it comes to the rights of the LGBTQ community. Gay marriage was legalized in Namibia years before the United States, and in Ethiopia, homosexuality is punishable by life in prison.

My relationship with my immediate family is an interesting one. I came out to my mother when I was 14. That was a major turning point in my life because she was the most important person in my world and she simply didn’t accept what I had to say. That moment, more than any other, taught me about the dualities of love–my mother’s love for me was fierce and unyielding and even still, she rejected me. I don’t regret coming out to her–I have never felt such intense relief in my life. The experience toughened me up. Two years later, when she passed away and my brother outed me to my entire Ethiopian family, I was prepared for the fallout. I am closest to my mother’s family and they love me tremendously, but most of them will never accept me in the way that I would want. Now, we operate on a strict, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

I unintentionally came out to my Dad when I was 21. I had assumed that my Mom had told him years earlier–she hadn’t. In passing, I mentioned a girl I was seeing. He seemed a little surprised. When I asked him how he felt about it, he said, “if you’re happy, then I am too,” in his still-thick Namibian accent. I was pleasantly surprised. We have a very complicated, often-tense relationship–which made the moment even more profound.


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

Absolutely nothing. 


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

Amazing! Empowering. Slightly nerve-wracking. So much fun. And a total reminder that I prefer being behind the camera than in front of it.


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

I spent most of my formative years being very conflicted about my sexuality. I hated myself for being queer. I prayed that god would take it away from me. The first consistent content about queer women was “The L Word”. I downloaded every episode onto the house computer, renamed each file, and deleted each one as soon as I had watched it. There was nothing really progressive about the show, I just needed to see women loving women and not hating themselves for it. Even if they were nothing like me. In the years since then, lgbtq content has grown in leaps and bounds, but not within mainstream African culture. I love this project, because it is a reminder that WE DO EXIST! And THRIVE! Not just for the people who have survived, but for all the kids trying to make sense of who they are—sometimes the road was harder and rockier, sometimes it was easy, but we made it—and damn if we didn’t look fly the whole way there. 



My experience shooting for #LimitlessAfricans during Toronto Pride


As some of you may know, I’ve been planning to keep the international expansion of the project going for some time now. I took another big step toward achieving my dreams for this project by shooting for #LimitlessAfricans this past weekend in Toronto during #TorontoPride, and it was such an inspirational experience to say the least. While there we built and created community with black LGBTQ folks from across the diaspora, and over the course of two days I shot 5 people for the project from Burundi, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Somalia. And the #queerafricanmagic in the air was just….. incredible. 

 @sizwe__ hosted a toronto pride party for qtpoc and we finished our shoots on a stage in the middle of the party. People jumped in to participate, so we organically created the first group photos for the project. Others offered creative input and we built much of this part of the series together as a collective between shouts of “YAAASSS” and pointed remarks suggesting a particular pose in this way and thay way. It also rewrote so many of my preconceived views of what the creative process can look like. We were all just KICKING it, drinking, sunbathing, melanin gleaming the works and creating art in the moment FOR US BY US. And running into other LGBTQ Africans there who already knew and loved #limitlessafricans just like… shocked and amazed me! The project is reaching people globally which is jaw dropping and so heartwarming to see. 

There’s nothing that I can say that can truly capture that feeling of being surrounded by members of your community creating work with and for your community. Magic swirling around us and materializing in our work. 

There are so many ways in which the world tells us that we are not enough. That we as black LGBTQ people and LGBTQ africans in particular cannot and should not exist. But still we rise. We are unstoppable. And I’m so happy and proud to be a queer Nigerian person and to be part of such an amazing LGBTQ African community. 

The pics from this weekend won’t be released for a few weeks. But I hope that you all enjoy some of the brief previews on the limitless blog (www.limitlessafricans.tumblr.com) in the meantime! And a HUGE thanks and big hugs to my loves Kim, Sizwe, Tyler, TK and Toshiro ++ everyone who jumped into the shoots and was there sharing space as we created together this weekend. Theres so much in the works and coming down the pipeline for the project and I’m so excited to share it over the next few months !! 

On to Sweden in just a few more weeks! 

P.S. Check out all of the stories from the project to date here: www.limitlessafricans.com/stories 

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