It’s a question I’ve faced almost all my life, what does ‘our’ being in solidarity mean?  

When I was a pikney, I had many ‘girlfriends’ and the truth is, still, boys felt safer. That is until I hit my teenage years, en became a ‘cute ting’ to be chased, then, I ran the other way….until, I succumbed to the nebulous pressure of ‘fitting in’, got myself one of ‘them’ (aka. a Boyfriend) at 16 (en experimented with a few others) till I came to terms with the reality that I LOVE my brothers, just not ‘that’ way….still, somewhere along the way of (re) discovery, I found that the ones I was actually scared of (rejecting me) the most, were my sistas (that’s my coming out story in 6 lines)

As the years went by, I struggled to find my place in loving communities, to situate my/self in ‘Babylon’, en be the “best that I could be “……a FUNdamental part of that was re-connecting with (my) sistas, en (re) building nurturing relationships with afrikan womyn.  The truth is, those relationships were few, but in between dem, my mama, en other inspirational womyn of colour, I DID reclaim many parts of myself, it was easier for me to love my/self, my ‘rebel’ ways, my dreams, my weaknesses and un/acknowledged strengths, when I could see all of them, en then some, reflected in those around me.

As the years went by, I also settled into ‘activism’ for & with/in queer & Trans communities, en it was within these contexts where I fought many of my battles. Looking back now, I see more clearly the confluence of ‘first-world’ & middle class privilege, and, the marginalisation of afrikan womyn that ultimately left me yearning for ‘much more’…so much so that I eventually went back home, to the continent, for a year (en a moon)

I went back home because I felt that I wasn’t meaningfully involved in the struggle for the liberation of Afrikan peoples, I felt that despite all my community work, my efforts weren’t tangibly contributing to the freedom of my brothers en sistas back at home….I was worried, then, that I might have become complacent en comfortable with the ‘good’ living here in Canada, en I didn’t want to forget all the dreams that I immigrated here with. I went back because I was homesick, the truth is that as much as Tdot is my ‘new’ home, my heart is in (East) Afrika but…I’m in another place, which is here, en the point of this story is to ask for answers that I no longer have, at least not in practice.

You see, at the beginning of last year, as lives tend to (r) evolve, mine came full circle, and I started volunteering with the only registered queer womyn’s organisation in Nairobi (maybe even in the country at the time, I can’t say I know conclusively because this kinda work is understandably mostly under the radar). I felt it was fitting, and the best way I could give back as for all intents and purposes, somewhere along my way, I had become a professional queer (a term that I no longer identify with for personal/political reasons).

At the time I was officially involved with 2 organisations, which jus’ happened to have the same acronyms, en black queer womyn in leadership positions, though they also each had (seemingly) radically different missions.  This is relevant only because THIS is what this post is about, our efforts, sacrifices, failures and successes at working together, for you see, as much as I’m still involved with both of these organisations, I’m not ‘working’ with either.  The truth is, only one of these organisations ever ‘paid’ me, en even the honorariums I received, for 4 months, were way below a living wage…..the bigger point is, my activism wasn’t (technically) sustainable  for 2 years, yet I survived en transformed through  the support, love and good will of (mostly) sistas…..

2009, was definitive as the year that (a few) sistas saved me, en the year that ‘I tried’ to save others en learnt that you can only (start with) save(ing) yourself.  For all my big dreams, I over/reached and lost perspective (all the betta to find the right path, I pray)….but what does getting ‘lost’ mean exactly?

For me, it meant taking on way more than I could handle en breaking promises….. like when I came back here in time for “Pride”,  it was with the purpose of planning and fundraising for THREE  programs to be implemented in Kenya & Uganda. All, but one, of these projects were based on programs that had been running successfully in Canada for many years, and that I had been involved with as a participant and as a support worker…….programs like T.E.A.C.H (Teens Educating and confronting Homophobia) with Planned Parenthood of Toronto  & QYDVP (Queer Youth Digital Video Project) with the Inside Out film festival, and the last program (to be), a womyn’s circle for healing and self recovery, which was the closest to my heart, came from a place of over/standing the need to address the abuse within our lives and work on rebuilding healthy, loving sustainable relationships.

It has been a year since I started working on those programs; yet, today I seem farther away from implementing them than I ever did, because the truth is, that I haven’t been able to put this together all on my own, and despite the support that many have expressed for programs such as this, when it comes down to it, the nitty-gritty of proposal writing and curriculum building and volunteer recruitement and organising fundraisers, well…..to put it simply many more have had their own stuff to sort out…….yet it’s not as simple as ‘too few doing the work’……..the bigger point is that there are many more who’re not only doing what they can, but making huge sacrifices to serve community….the bigger point is also that the ‘few’ of us trying are having trouble finding each other and working together, and that we keep crossing so many lines between the  practise and the preach…..

The best place to start is with me of course, here’s a (seemingly) clear-cut example: a sista lent me money to buy the ticket that got me back to Toronto (in time for Pride)…I ain’t finished paying her  back yet, and in essence, I fucked her over…..that definitely ain’t no kind of feminism but, in my defence, as I decided to stay on in Toronto, and went back to school, I gave much of my time to matters to do with queer/trans rights in East Afrika, because I felt that I had to start from where I was, and that this WAS  the greater good.

And, I focused on raising awareness within communities here because I thought that these were the likeliest places for queer & trans Afrikans to get recognition and the support we sorely need. I focused on utilising grassroots networks because I thought that this was the most revolutionary way for us to build solidarity amongst diverse communities and movements.

 I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it was definitely safer than trying to do the same in East Afrika, and at least here there were some of the very sistas who’d inspired me to do what I could for queer/trans Afrikan communities in the first place……yet, the reality was that almost everyone was focused on, (rightfully so?) sustaining their lives in Canada and rebuilding communities in dis’ here place.

As the moons went, and the scope of the work I’d laid out for myself became clearer, I dropped one program…..Anti-Oppression 101 workshops (the goal had been to train youth to facilitate workshops challenging homophobia and educating communities about the intersections of our diversity & oppressions) the truth is, I only stopped working on it, after my ‘colleagues’ weren’t willing to help put it together, because, as a couple of the women in leadership positions expressed, there didn’t seem to be any interest for it. That said, every organisation that is part of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya has pointed out the need to re/educate the public & change prevailing social attitudes……

The bigger point though is that through all these how-to’s & what’s, I still didn’t take the biggest lesson, of sustaining activism, to heart, and the truth is, I just don’t know how to sustain it without first actually getting ‘paid’ for it…en herein lies the trickiest part.

It’s (like) a catch 22…I’ve been able to work for 2 years through the support and solidarity of (a few) sistas, yet I cannot continue to work on the issues that I believe must be addressed because there jus’ hasn’t been enough support…….even though I know IT’S there…..numerous conversations with mentors & sistas have affirmed that what I/we are trying to do is necessary…that, as queer/trans womyn of Afrikan descent we know best what our needs are……and that we gotta use whatever resources we got, but……it seems that we ain’t get alot…..and ‘the funders’ will make all the difference for us.

Last year, I gained new perspectives on the unhealthy competition that is fostered for too few resources within civil society…..I saw many different flavours of the shadiness of career activism, and I gotta admit that I burnt out, en let my idealism get the better of me…..now, there’s a phrase that a sista kept drumming into me, years before, that I’m trying to live by…..’this ain’t a free show’…..for me that means that even though I may not use the master’s tools to dismantle the house, I still gotta make sure that I can pay the rent to keep a roof over my head, buy food to keep me going through the days……en be careful about WHO  I let INTO  my house……

Last year was a roller coaster of emotions, trials en lessons in organising within (queer/trans) Afrikan communities. I have been guilty of the sins of self-righteousness, flakiness, mis-directed anger & selfishness. According to some, it’s debatable, whether I should be even commended for trying….but there’s no mistaking that I DID try…..and that I, as many others do, need help in ensuring that my/our energies don’t go to waste, en that I/we don’t burn out from exhaustion, neglect or petty politics.

The truth is, that’s what our terrain (of organising) looks like…. conflicted, contested & dominated by the women that ‘have most’.  I have worked directly with only a very small number of sistas….en, judging by my experiences in just the TWO organisations that I’m involved with, we seem to be our own biggest enemy at times…..in one organisation, I/we have to battle class politics & conservative agendas….in the other organisation, I/we have to battle with staying true to our mission & sustaining our lives while remaining grassroots. In both of those organisations, there are womyn that I love, respect and admire for all the efforts and sacrifices they’ve made to not only keep the organisations alive but ensure that they thrive……but…….particularly within these organisations, there is a schism between how things are presented  and how agendas are determined.

And outside of these organisations, there are the many other sistas who I’ve shared with…who empathise, and wanna do something…but……..when it comes down to it…..even my ‘partner’ can’t seem to offer much more than ‘moral’ support….because… she got her own shit to take care of……..en, in Babylon, we ain’t really taught to be our sister’s keeper, let alone our brother’s…..but isn’t that the only way we can continue? Does it really come down to the American World Jewish Service, Astraea, Ford Foundation, HIVOS , Mama Cash or the growing litany of funders?

Then again, there’s always the few stars, a few sistas who not only hear you, but tell you that what you want is (not) exactly what they want, but they’ve been looking for you for as long as you’ve been looking for them, those who share everything that they can, en promise that somehow you’re going to figure this ish out, together….by any means necessary 🙂 sometimes it really only jus takes ONE  person, and many times even a few people is not enough

This ain’t no ‘po-is-me/us’ story…….en there ain’t no ending either…….it’s jus what I said it was, questions…..about how to work on our own unity first….and how exactly to build this solidarity? I, for one, need all the guidance I can get

I share this because, as Audre Lorde said, our silence will not protect us.

And, I, for one, intend on not just surviving, but thriving, and the only way I can do that is to speak MY  truth……..about the joys of sistahood, and the pain of betrayal….

this ain’t ‘preaching’ or ‘best practices’…but ‘sharing’ my journey so that I/we can continue to grow…..and continue finding the answers that I/we need.

To be continued……

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