The LGBTQIA+ community in Kenya continues to face numerous challenges because most of them live and work in homophobic settings. Queers-who-read lives in Kisumu and works for the Kisumu Feminist Society, an organization that seeks to empower women, young women and girls in all their diversities.
Who is the Queers-who-read and what inspires them?
Hello. I am Afrika, a 26-year-old lesbian woman from Kisumu, Kenya whose work is around feminist organizing, LBQ organizing and women’s rights empowerment. Aside from the work I do, I am a lover of coffee and books, a plant mom, a soon-to-be cat mom and an avid listener of piano haha!
How did you coin your name, Queers who read?
I love reading a lot so when I was creating my new IG account (that is now called yup_its_Afrika), I wanted it to be a safe space for awkward queer black girls like me who loved books, cats, rain, poetry and got so much joy in documenting the simple things in life.
When did you start identifying as queer?
Actively? When I was 18/19 and this is due to compulsory heterosexuality being shoved down our throats because I had all the signs that I was queer right from my early childhood like when I fell in love with one of my classmates in class 4 but peer pressure had me wasting my teenage years trying to make boys love me.
Was there an epiphany?
Hahaha! Not really. After so many failed attempts at trying to date men, one day I found myself googling “am I lesbian” and came across buzz-feed LGBTQ Facebook page and YouTube channel and let’s just say the rest is history.
What has changed since you started living openly as queer? Any loss of friendships, family, or work relations?
Yes. Funny enough, I lost most of my male friends from high school and my childhood as they are the ones who invalidated my sexuality the most. Being openly queer has cost me work friendships in the corporate world and often times, used to make it hard for me to trust my coworkers because this one-time years back when I was working at Coca-Cola, a few of my co-workers outed me to the rest of the staff and I found that shitty.
Does identifying as Queer and feminist bring up questions of immorality from people who are of the perception that feminism and the LGBTQIA community in its wholeness is a Western concept?
Yes, a lot but who cares? As I grow older, I am beginning to realize that people who are dedicated to misunderstanding you will always find a reason to do so.
Do you think that being African has staggered your sexual journey?
Yes, it has because even if I did discover my sexuality at an early age, I still would not have gotten as much support as I needed due to the fact that homosexuality is still seen as a taboo in the African context due to various reasons but not limited to cultural beliefs and religion.
What African principles, traditions or cultures and persons do you relate to in your journey?
I am from the Luo community and one thing I always admire is how unapologetic Luo women are about themselves. This has been my driving force in regard to how I embrace who I am, what I do and what I believe in.
What’s the intersection of your feminism and your sexuality?
I am a radical African lesbian feminist.
According to your recent IG post, you have set out to redefine what community means to you, and how best you can make them safer and more vulnerable, have you come to a point in your redefining moment? What has the process been like?
It hasn’t been easy honestly as not so many people are currently thinking as I am. One of my ways forward in regards to this has been to use the space KFS together with me has curated to have more activities, more conversations and more opportunities that allow people around me to be vulnerable enough with each other and willingly want to build to be in community with each other.
Has it or does it always feel safe in these communities/ spaces?
Yes, it does. I mean like any other space; these safe spaces will always hurt someone in a way or two and I am conscious enough to know that 2 things can exist at the same time.
Research has shown that Lesbians have to deal with mental illnesses because of how society treats them. Arguably some lesbians are alcoholics among many other things, how is KFS working to tend to these needs?
We have a free therapy program for our members, partners and beneficiaries to talk to someone when the need arises. We also have art therapy activities where we use dance or art to create an environment that allows most of our members to talk and open up about the things they are currently struggling with and offer support or solutions while at it. For cases of addiction and severe drug abuse, we are yet to know how to work around that and are hoping we get to introduce a program next year that focuses on recovering from addiction especially drug and substance addiction.
What reforms do you wish the government and other stakeholders to embrace to ensure inclusive SRHR services to the LBTQ community?
Have more LBQT+ persons in these spaces of decision-making. We are tired of being talked for by people who do not experience what we do and then dismiss our struggles as not important compared to GBMSM struggles.
Have you experienced any sexual health challenges? What was your experience?
Yes, I have. I have always wanted to visit a gynaecologist but given how most of their services are expensive, I have found myself in so many situations having to decide between paying my bills and visiting one. Another example is how the lack of LBQT+-friendly services in both mainstream hospitals and LGBTQ organizations has made people like me become too shy and uncomfortable about seeking services from them resulting in us only going to them when whatever situation we have has escalated.
What are some of the basic necessities you wish were easily accessible to you and other queer people?
Breast and Cervical cancer screenings.
Routine gynaecologist check.
Being able to see a doctor about your hormones.
If you would allow a conversation about your relationship, what are some of the most amazing moments and challenges that you’ve faced?
Being with someone who’s supported me fully even when I had nothing to offer has been one of the best life experiences as a young adult. One of the biggest challenges I have faced is staying with them in a town known to have so many cases of homophobia and homophobic attacks (Kisumu) and not being able to go to some places (ex. stage) because my partner is masc.
Have you encountered any misgendering issues?
With me? no, since I am a femme presenting. With my partner, yes, since a lot of people assume they are a man or want to be a man, therefore, ending up referring to them as he.
What is the Feminist Noir Feminist all about?
The Noir Feminist Festival KE will be a space where women and non-binary folks will enjoy partying without the imminent fear of sexual harassment from cis men. The event will have an all-women and non-binary folks crew from the DJs, Mcees, vendors, security and host. This space will centre women’s entertainment right from the music played to the vendors exhibiting at the party which will all be tailored around women’s and non-binary person’s fun. At the end of it, proceeds from this event will be donated to the Kisumu Feminists Society to help support their Feminist Resource Center, and Feminist Library and open a safe house for Kisumu and its environs.
What to expect at the festival?
Noir Feminist Festival will be a 12-hour event that will involve:
– Board and card games from 3 pm to 6 pm
– Music and dance hosted by female Djs and Mcees from 6 pm to 3 am
– Dance and Fashion show performances by Androgynous models who identify as LBQT+ from all parts of Kenya.
How do you hope to make an impact in the queer community?
By being an example of what happens when we become so comfortable with who we are as a person and allow ourselves to grow while at it.