Pride, COVID and Africanisms
Kia ora Fam
Its me Octavius, you’re Welly rep and LGBTQIA+ rep and I’m excited to share some of my thoughts with you over the next few months.
While in Aotearoa Pride often dominates the early part of the year, June is global Pride month and June 27th is Global Pride Day.
This is in honor of the Stonewall uprising, an active choice words because many news outlets use the word riots, which unfortunately, has intentional conscious and subconscious consequences that focus on the “violence” of the queer people who protested against state/goverment/societal violence, which was and still is the main issue. The recent pandemic and the far reaching effects of COVID-19 have caused me to reflect on empathy and understanding and one of the biggest phrases I hear people say, but don’t agree with on a personal level is, “I will never understand your experience or know what it’s like to be you”.
I understand how this phrase is seen as an honest acknowledgement of differences in pain, suffering and oppression, but too often I have seen it used as a way to abdicate responsibility for expanding our definitions of what it means to be human - and this, I feel, really needs to change.
I have never been a woman but there has not been a day in my life that did not involve some level of connection and intimacy with the women around me. I have learned much about the unique lives of girls and women through observation and listening to their stories and experiences, but I am continually amazed about the stories and experiences I don’t know. And vice versa, I remember being in middle school and the girls in my class asking me about penises.
They couldn’t believe they could substantially grow in size when erect. I know it sounds hilarious but if you don’t know you don’t know! Or at university, when another female friend didn’t know that pulling out was not a very effective form of birth control.
I have learned to ask questions to move from willful ignorance to knowing. Will I ever be able to speak for women or on behalf of women? No, but that was never the goal.
For me, the goal was to make sure that my mother, my grandmother, my sister, my lovers, my female students and potential female children would know that I am present for them in real and meaningful ways. That when they experience menstruation or menopause I am there to help and support in whatever way I can.
I used to marvel at the ways that men would talk about and fantasize about women and then know nothing about how their bodies worked. “Those are women's issues.” It’s rude, dismissive and downright disrespectful.
I remember being so upset when I heard that sometimes men in the US were not allowed to be present at the births of their children. So I can make a child and be present for that but not the birth - but that’s my baby, that’s spirit whom I have called into being!!
When I volunteered in a maternity clinic in Mombasa, Kenya I watched men, fathers, beung refused entry into the space. Male doctors and nurses could be present but not fathers or other family members. That was some years ago and now I see the growth of home births that have not only male partners but children and friends present.
Why not bring children into the world surrounded by love? (Sidenote: have you thought about the experiences of women who had to give birth during lockdown? Have we made space to discuss what that must have been like? There is plenty of research and articles coming out and if you haven’t already, these stories are deeply insightful).
I remember watching straight people talking about how they could not understand queer people and the fear and anxiety of getting HIV/AIDS. They could sympathize but not empathize with the pain and fear that HIV/AIDS engendered for gay men in particular.
Now going through a global pandemic, I wonder if people understand that disease and morals are not synonymous. I remember hearing about how HIV/AIDS was called a punishment from God and only the wicked would get it. And then hearing from pastors and presidents who scoffed at COVID-19 and talked about how the power of God or global economic power (and the hubris of white supremacy) protected them from COVID?
Yet, as the waves of infection moved across the globe: Boris, Trump and many other sceptics of the pandemic were hospitalized.
I thought collectively we would finally agree that disease does not have a mythical attachment to karma or divine punishment. I thought empathy and solidarity would help remake the world after the pandemic and we could see how with all the things we list as differences and reasons we can keep others at a distance or known only as strangers were not stronger than the connectedness of humanity.
We are different, yes, but no human on this planet regardless of ethnic identity, language, disability, sexuality or economic income is a different species. So this Pride for me isn’t just about celebrating the prominence of RuPaul’s Drag Race, or the acceptance of the Pride flag on facebook profiles and major corporation banners.
It is a recognition that my queerness does make me unique in my experience, but not foreign in my humanity. Being of African descent and being queer are beautiful aspects of that humanity.
So much work has been done to show that before colonization and the corruption/weaponization of Christianity against queer people, Indigenous cultures and societies. WeI choose not to use those demeaning terms that perpetuate lies that Africans were barbarians instead of human beings living in civilizations yes, even before the white people came to “save” us.We understood that people were born different but that does not mean they were “other” or deserve to be “othered”.
So a lot of the work we have to do today is getting back to our roots. Understanding that hate and championing difference instead of connection is not a part of who we are. So let this month be a beginning and not an end, when the month is over, of your own journey of learning about someone other than yourself.
Listen to the experiences and realities of gay, lesbian, trans, non-binary, asexual and intersex human beings and learn.
Seek out not just the differences but ways to connect with and understand us. With so much violence in the world against Black, Brown, and queer bodies, I truly believe that the highest calling of humanity is to love.
Love is the reason I was on my knees praying to God as a child. Love is the reason I exist and get out of bed each day. So love is the offering I bring to any relationship, knowing that just like me it’s the universal request of every other person on this planet as well.
Much Love to you and to all of us this Pride.
Curated Youtube Playlist on Sexuality: