Photographer Mikael Owunna has a mission: to debunk the myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ. To accomplish that mission, he photographs LGBTQ African immigrants and tells their stories.
A queer Nigerian-American photographer, Owunna has been doing that work for more than three years, displaying the photos and stories online at Limit(less), also known as LimitlessAfricans.com.
He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign, seeking funds to expand his project with photos of LGBTQ African immigrants in Europe. So far, he has been pledged $7,058 toward his $10,000 goal.
For safety, some of the names given below are pseudonyms.
Owunna writes about his project:
Photos Debunk the Myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ
In 1927 a special case came before the High Court of Rhodesia, in modern day Zimbabwe. On trial was a young Xhosa man named Nomxadana, who also went by the name Maggie. Nomxdana had been caught wearing all female clothing, including underwear and high heels, and posing as a female nurse for years, and this was against Rhodesian colonial law.
During the trial, the colonial court brought Nomxdana’s father, Slopo Maxinge, to the stand and pressed him to call his son mentally affected, as his behavior was clearly “unnatural” from their European perspectives. Nomxadana’s father, though, refused to be coerced and defended his son saying, “My son has been wearing dresses ever since he was a baby… I have never thought him mentally affected.”
African indigenous understandings of gender and sexuality have always been incredibly rich and varied and defied European notions of what is “natural” and “un-natural.” And the fearless testimony of Nomxadana’s father in front of the High Court of Rhodesia in 1927 is just one example showing the countless expressions of precolonial African ideas about gender and sexuality.
People we would now see as LGBTQ have always existed in African communities. Despite this, there is still a pervasive myth that it is “un-African” to be LGBTQ and homosexuality is still widely criminalized across the continent as a legacy of the same colonial mandates shown vividly in Nomxadana’s case.
[Editor’s note: For more information, see this blog’s article “21 varieties of traditional African homosexuality.”]
Growing up as a queer Nigerian-American, I also encountered this “un-African” myth, and so I started my photography project, Limit(less), on LGBTQ African immigrants to debunk it.
Here are some of the stories from the project:
LGBTQ African people have always existed and we continue to exist to this day on the continent and in diaspora as well. I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise and bring Limit(less) to Europe to shoot LGBTQ Africans there this fall and continue chronicling our stories across the diaspora.
We can get back to our rich precolonial African understandings of gender and sexuality as expressed by Nomxadana and his father back in 1927. And as the stories and images above show, it is still possible, despite everything, to be LGBTQ, African and whole.
- Moscow police shut down LGBT photo exhibits (June 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Photo essay: Third gender finding its place in Indian society (May 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Uganda photography project in pursuit of LGBT rights (January 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Photo exhibit will show gay asylum seekers from Russia (October 2012, 76crimes.com)