In class we have been discussing the global LGBTQ+ community and the hardships of being queer at home or abroad. In today’s class it was mentioned that Africa is sometimes overlooked when discussing foreign LGBTQ+ issues. Mikael Owunna is an American Nigerian photographer who uses his work to highlight the experiences of LGBTQ+ Africans across the diaspora. In a profile piece written by Leah Donnella, Mikael talks about the measures his parents took to “fix” his gay-ness. His parents believed that his American upbringing and proximity to American culture had somehow made him gay and attempted to remedy this by sending him to Nigeria twice a year to stay with family. His parent’s desperation ultimately resulted in them trying to have the “demon” exorcised. Mikael’s continuous trauma resulted in the fracturing of his relationship with his family, Nigerian culture, and Africa in its entirety. Mikael used photography as a way to reconnect with his culture and tell the stories of other queer Africans in Western countries. His project “Limit(less)” involves a number of interviews and portraits of LGBTQ Africans abroad (across the US and Canada). “Limit(less)” explores the lives of both Africans born in the West and those displaced by violence/bigotry at home. Mikael wants to dispel beliefs that identifying as LGBTQ does not negate one’s “African-ness” and bring to light the deleterious impact of colonization on African culture and society. His work offers insight into something that is rarely discussed or talked about in wider social circles. If you are interested in his work you can check out his page here and the kickstarter for his project here.
Today in class, we talked in depth about some of the key ideas in queer theory and one of those key ideas revolved around the enforcement of normativity using the binary. Not too long ago Target decided to remove gendered toy aisles, this caused quite a bit of controversy within several public spheres. Gendered toys would remain, however the aisles separating “boy” toys and “girl’ toys would be combined and less binary. This made me reflect on why as a culture we find even the slightest blurring of gender as a threat. Something as simple as removing gendered colors from a children’s toy aisle led to threats of boycotts and vitriolic language being hurled at target customer service representatives.
Even though adults meet the blurring of the gender binary with much resistance, children are much less strict about the policing of gender. Recently a school in Australia allowed for their students to dress however they like within the appropriate parameters of the uniform code. Meaning, males can wear what they see fit out of the options of pants or a skirt and females are also given that choice. The students embraced this wholeheartedly and seemingly quite joyously. You see this same growth of eschewing fashion norms among young artists (Young Thug, Janelle Monae) and athletes (Cam Newton). For me this serves as an indicator that gender norms and the enforcement of them through the binary is becoming, in some instances, a little less strict.
While parsing through this week’s readings I found myself consistently struggling with the complex concepts presented in Noble’s “Trans. Panic.”. Noble begins by introducing basic structures of labor and the role of labor in capitalism, using this as the groundwork for understanding the institutionalizing of women’s studies. They make the important distinction between ‘trans’ in the sense of movement across and ‘trans’ in terms of gender identity, however they are closely linked in understanding the role of gender studies within the larger framework of women’s studies. . The exclusion of trans voices and bodies from women’s studies’ curriculum is denying an essential part of its history. Noble makes the argument that women’s studies cannot progress within the academic framework unless it breaks away from the oppressive and hegemonic forces that influence its teachings. In order to do this there must be a trans-ing of women’s studies.
Noble’s article made me reflect on recent events and their importance to the Black liberation movements. Historically, Black LGBTQ+ folks have been excluded and silenced in Black liberation movements. Black lives Matter, a movement started notably by black women – one of which is queer- presents a new and developing front on how to approach activism. Over time social rights movements have ebbed and waned in terms of their strength, starting off strong and then slowly eking out due to a number of reasons. BLM as a movement presents a new sort of front on activism in its stance on inclusion and the uplifting of LGBTQ+ voices, more importantly recognizing the violence faced by Black trans women. By trans-ing the movement we can hope to see a lasting growth that benefits all black lives and not just a cisheterosexual ones.