Welcome to my blog series about all things Love and Afrofeminism!
A Little About Me
My name is Spectra, and I'll be your resident Cupid for the summer. Kinda. I'm a Nigerian writer, women's rights and media activist, and editor at the afrofeminist blog Spectra Speaks, which publishes news, opinions, and personal stories that highlight issues pertaining to gender, media, diversity, Africa, and the Diaspora.
For the past ten years, my work has focused on using media to facilitate conversations around important feminist issues: gender, sexism, racism, media, etc. So when the editors at Bitch invited me to guest blog this summer, I surprised even myself when I told them I wasn't interested in writing about any of those things; instead, I wanted to write about Love.
The more I thought about the idea of blog series exploring Love and Relationships through an afrofeminist lens, the more it made sense. Here are a few reasons why...
I attempted suicide when I was in college; the culmination of my experiences with bullying, homophobia, sexual assault, racism, not to mention the absence of affirming images of "me" anywhere in the media, eroded my self worth and left me with no hope one night. Even though I recovered and resolved to persist for the sake of my friends and family, my failure to practice self-love kept me in a dark place of depression for years after.
It was ultimately the love I discovered for and from community—friends, fellow immigrants, queers, women of color, Africans, etc.—that saved my life; both the sense of belonging and accountability that came via my role as a community organizer (Founding Director of QWOC Media Wire) were enough to give me the hope and affirmation I needed to better tend to my mental health, and join the ranks of the people who fight every day to make the world a little bit better.
I fell in love, with the wrong woman, and ended up in an emotionally abusive relationship—an "on-again, off-again, perpetual invalidation of my needs, bad sex, and thoughts of purchasing a one-way ticket to an island I couldn't pronounce" type of relationship, in which I was a survivor who was constantly portrayed as the abuser because of my more masculine gender presentation. Contrary to the overly simplistic narratives in the L Word, being in and out of love as a young queer woman of color, struggling to make ends meet and affirm my identity as masculine of center (without being pigeon-holed into having unsatisfying sex) didn't turn out to be all that glamorous.
When I finally fell in love with the right woman, and dared to daydream of our queer, afrofeminist, Nigerian-Puertominican wedding, it dawned on me that hate crimes against gender non-conforming people of color, traditionalist anti-gay legislation in African countries, and white-male-led campaigns for equal marriage, weren't just issues, but very real circumstances in my life; it occurred to me that my political perspective on diamonds would become a personal obstacle as both my partner and I wrestled with ways to validate our future engagement to our immigrant parents (who still think being gay is an "American thing"). We laugh about how we're caving to societal pressure when we pontificate on the more superficial elements of our life-threatening wedding ceremony in Nigeria: rings or no rings? Should our fathers still "give us away" (provided they don't disown us for attempting to get married in the first place)? And wouldn't it be fun to force our brothers to wear bridesmaids dresses? But I digress.
Love, Actually, Is All Around Us
This isn't just about me, my terrible and awesome relationships, or even just about the politicization of marriage. My definition of love is far more expansive due to my work as an activist; I see very clearly how love in various forms (for self, for others, for community) can influence and drive so many parts of our lives.
I've seen queer women of color struggle to find love and acceptance outside of their families, and, despite messages that influence so many people into hinging their finding the "perfect partner' on serendipitious, accidental, meet-cutes, how the act of "choosing" love can lead to more fuilfilling partnerships, and sex lives! I've spoken with teachers who have lost youth to suicide, and seen the love of community birth political leaders from personal tragedy. I've watched girls wither away from lack of self-love at the hand of the media's white, thin, standard of beauty; and I've seen girls with so much self-love check them on that BS.
Love is absolutely a feminist issue, a recurring theme in various parts of the political landscape. But we've grown so accustomed to framing our discussions and ideas for progress around everything but love—instead, facts, figures, statistics, issues, enlightement or problematicness—that I fear we've inadvertently distanced ourselves from the most important part of any of this: our lives and experiences as people.
Hence, this series will be dedicated to discussing and exploring love through a very personal lens, including Love for Self, Love for Others, and Love for Our Community and/or Environment—and the pop culture messages that influence our relationship with Love.
What I'll Be Writing About
You can expect posts (and hopefully, vibrant discussions) about the usual suspects: gender roles, queer romance, masculinity/femininity and estate management, racism, transmisogyny, exoticism in dating preferences, feminism and BDSM, self-love and martyrdom in activism, and more.
Incidentally, I was recently featured in the Femisphere series at Ms. magazine, during which I talked about love as the propelling force behind all my work. I also discussed afrofeminism, the framework I created for myself to move through the world, and through which I believe that personal relationships—and the love that facilitates them—are the building blocks of progress. So, I encourage you all to read it as this is the "place" from which I'll be writing.
Join My Twitter Chats on #AfroFemLove
In addition to my blog posts, I'll be leading discussions on Love and many peripheral subjects on Twitter! I've already started hosting impromptu Twitter chats about Love and Afrofeminism, which I hope will inform and/or complement my posts. I encourage you to follow me @spectraspeaks and join the conversation by also following and using the hashtag #afrofemlove.
What Do You Want to Talk About?
Lastly, I'm open to suggestions for topics to include/tackle in my series, so if you've been dying to discuss something, please leave a comment below with your idea. I'm looking forward to exploring, evolving, and learning to love better, with all of you.