Fall on your knees

Ann-Marie Macdonald. Vintage Canada. 1996.


Design Museum, Helsinki

At different points I wondered what drew me to it in the first place. Yes, it was a Giller Prize finalist in ’96, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in ’97 and the author is a woman. As a rule I read fiction by women only, about women’s lives. I’ve been called biased but it is what it is. In a good length of this one the main protagonist is a man. Who elopes with a child who he treats with contempt, escapes to war hoping to die there but doesn’t…I didn’t know how to feel about this one. But Ann-Marie Macdonald’s mastery of language stupefied me. She strings words together as a virtuoso composer would, using every instrument under the sun to achieve a most complex yet harmonious piece. Like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach rolled into one. At times I had to turn back pages to remember who the latest character was again – like a conductor she folds them in, calling in a new instrument into the orchestral production. The instrument fades out but not quite, remaining in the background until it is called in again and finally bows out. A masterpiece.

And then…

“Under a smoky streetlamp I stood face to face with my beloved and pricked my fingers against the diamond studs of her immaculate shirt front. Being tall, she slipped her hands naturally around my hips. And being bold I put my arms around hers and this time went inside and told her all the things I’d been longing to. Dark and sweet, the elixir of love is in her mouth. The more I drink, the more I remember all the things we’ve never done. I was a ghost until I touched you. […] She kissed me again and we didn’t stop for a long time, except to lean out of the light when we heard horses coming. We slipped into an alley and i pulled her shirt out from her pants. I pressed the center into her and she sighed. It made me flood from inside, the sweetest music. We were finally dancing. I slid my hands under and up her smooth sides, I wanted to be slow to savor but we couldn’t, she gripped me and moved under me…”

I finally got it, why i had selected this book. In the back of my head I remembered having seen it on a lesbian fiction list, on top of being an award winner. Women loving women is part of the plot. Actually the whole story is wrapped around this plot. Bewitching storytelling style, magical mastery of language. I had no idea Ann-Marie Macdonald, broadcast journalist – and an excellent one at that – is also a novelist, and queer! She’s upped the standards for me on what to accept in fiction writing.

(After writing this I discovered it was an Oprah Book Club selection in 2012 and is listed as one of Boxall’s 2006 “1001 books you must read before you die”)

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Posted by on June 13, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Long-distance loving



I am grateful to have been loved
and to be loved now
and to be able to love,
because that liberates.
Love liberates.
It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego.
Love liberates.
-Maya Angelou


Writing that last post unexpectedly drew me into a space between melancholy and nostalgia, contentment and exasperation, as moments with my wife replayed in my head. Like our first dance together when her moves told me sexiness was her middle name. Or when she asked me to take a week off work, pack a bag and come with her; next I knew we were in Cuba – land of my Utopian feminist-Marxist self.

IMG_0788You put a spring in my step and make me feel ten feet tall, she told me. That was eight years ago. You brought sunshine into my life and make me feel deeply content, I replied. Our journey has been an adventure in living and loving. From exploring the mesmerizing Buddhist caves in Ajanta, and sunset dhow sailing in Lamu‘s magical mangrove channels, to cruising in the Baltic Sea.

090120121097Bliss interjected by everyday couple differences like her unrelenting pursuit of culinary delights in every meal while bran cereal morning, noon and night is fine with me. Or my need to plan out every detail while spontaneity is her third name. Or her disinterest with tidiness as I obsess – yes babe, i admit it – about arranging each item where it belongs the right way up.

In choosing to have it all, a relationship and career, we pay the price of separation. Thank you Skype and WhatsApp for making goodmorning and night  blow kiss emoticonpossible, yet the longing to touch, feel and be under the same roof remains.

Having a plan has made it work. A plan on when, where and how to meet next. On everyday life projects, home improvements or involvement in causes. On how to conjure jobs in the same country if not city.

For now, our choice remains to be long-distance partners, allies, lovers.


Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Private Deejay


She loves her electronic turntable. It’s not new but gives her as much pleasure now as when she bought it three years ago. She loves how the lights rise and fall, bright, dim and brighter again, dancing to the rhythm of the beats. All she needs is to hook it up to her laptop and surround sound speakers for the music to fill the room. She mixes like a pro, knows every song by heart and which one blends to the other. Most of all, she loves to play for her wife.

She sits by the turntable, waiting for the music to work it’s magic.

Turn off the lights
Light a candle

From the corner of her eye she sees her waltzing into the room. She lifts her head up and watches. The newcomer’s eyes are half-closed as she sways her hips, drinking in the music. Slowly, sensuously, she’s dancing towards her. Without a word she holds out her hand, inviting her to dance. She stands up and begins swaying with her. They dance their way to the middle of the room. Holding her hips she draws her close.

Heaven’s my destiny when I’m with you
The only place to be just you and me

Her hands slide upwards from her hips to her waist, rest there a moment, then back down round the hips and behind to her butt. She catches their reflection in the mirror across the room. She sees the way her dress flows with the music, with their moves, in perfect synchrony. She draws her closer.

And you’re like a rose that blooms in my garden
Innocent and sweet, my love you are

The feel of her, her breath, her scent make her heady. No, she mustn’t lose focus. She dances them back to the turntable. She sits down to queue more music. Her wife continues to dance. Time to pick up tempo, just a little. Set aside the slow jam for a while.

Moyo wangu ni mwepesi,
Nafanya vituko kama chizi,
Sura yako mzuri mama, Aaaah

Her wife looks at her, smiles, pauses and begins to chakacha. She picks up a kikoi from the sofa, ties it around her hips and moves. Quick, slow and in short staccato moves.

You are my African Queen, the girl of my dreams.
You take me where I’ve never been
You make my heart go ting-a-ling-a-ling, oh ahh

She picks up the pace. Back and forth, around and around, side to side.

Your love dey make my heart do yori yori
Nobody can love you the way I do

She makes her way to the turntable, twirling here, stopping there, three steps forward, one step back.

Na this thing make people dey say,
I don lose my sense my brain
But nobody can stop me from loving you,
am with you ma love love

Time to let the lyrics say what’s on her heart.

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

Her wife now sits astride her, facing her. She closes her eyes and feels lips on hers. The sweet, familiar taste of her tongue.

Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Her hand slides under her dress. And finds, the time is right to make a baby. As she stands she lifts her to her feet, takes her hand and leads her upstairs to the bedroom.

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Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Not a lost chapter

engagedBut one that took years to find a voice.
She would have understood, or, would she? She will understand, or, will she?
There it is, that quizzical look. Comprehension followed by disbelief, then shock and sadness.

Why did I say it?

Mum, coming out to myself changed my life. I am speaking my truth to you in order for the untruths to end. I am not salacious or lewd or dirty or evil. I am the child you raised to work hard, be honest and respectful.

At the height of my anguish I cried to the God I’d prayed to all my life asking her why I could not love like others could.

My journal told another story. A woman who made my heart skip a beat, twenty times a day. Who shared my politics about politics and kept me intellectually engaged. Conversations with her continued in my head long after we had parted. A woman whose skin I fantasized what it would feel to touch, soft, smooth and silky. Whose scent I breathed in, no, drank in, with every pore. A woman whose spirit melded perfectly into mine. Whose thoughts I knew even before she put words to them. Whose sorrows and joys I felt despite being thousands of miles away.

Mum, a weight lifted off my shoulders the day those words crossed my lips. Indescribable peace washed over me. I am a lesbian.

She hangs around me, and I around her, because we are lovers, partners, friends. The song she put in my heart six years ago still plays, a melody I had never heard before. She put a lightness to my step, encourages me when I need it, chastises me when I am not exerting myself. She warms my heart, holds me close and with her, I know it will be alright. I know for certain that I am capable of loving, of relationships that are sincere and true. You have come to love her too Mum. You’ve experienced her gentleness, her generosity, her thoughtfulness. She is your daughter-in-law.

I am a lesbian.

follows from I am a homosexual – Mum

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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


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A hydra tale of aid conditionality: Human rights and sexuality

(image from

This past week, the British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that UK aid would be withheld from countries that ban homosexuality. “Britain is one of the premier aid givers in the world. We want to see countries that receive our aid adhering to proper human rights”, Cameron is quoted in a BBC interview.  The UK decision was made following a report by the Eminent Persons Group to the Commonwealth heads of government at the 2011 biennial summit just concluded in Perth.

The 206-page reportA Commonwealth of the people: Time for urgent reform’ (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2011) is indeed remarkable for the attempt to systematically highlight all manner of human rights abuses in member states. It recalls the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG) initial understanding, at its inception in 1995, of the need to respond to human rights abuses. The report authors imply that the CMAG has instead buried its head in the sand, failing to hold members accountable for human rights violations and intervening only rarely. The report evokes human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in international declarations, covenants and other agreements dating back to 1948. The report recommends creating a new “Charter of the Commonwealth” and a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

For all the uproar since Cameron’s announcement, it may come as a surprise to many that the rights of same-sex couples are evoked only once in the massive document:

“We have also received submissions concerning criminal laws in many Commonwealth countries that penalise adult consensual private sexual conduct including between people of the same sex. These laws are a particular historical feature of British colonial rule. […]  It is one of concern to the Commonwealth not only because of the particular legal context but also because it can call into question the commitment of member states to the Commonwealth’s fundamental values and principles including fundamental human rights and non-discrimination”. (pg. 100)

This mention places the criminalization of same-sex relationships in a medical context, citing the negative repercussions on efforts to curb the spread of HIV. Reducing discrimination to a medical issue is problematic however that is another issue.

The ensuing recommendation reads:

“R60. Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws that impede the effective response of Commonwealth countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and commit to programmes of education that would help a process of repeal of such laws”. (pg. 102)

How did this perfectly sanguine argument snowball into the current multi-headed dragon that it now is? Blame sensationalist media coverage of the report and maladroit announcements such as Mr. Cameron’s. Western media reports have tended to take a matter-of-fact ‘like it or not’ approach while media in aid recipient countries largely express outrage on the new aid conditionality of legalizing homosexuality, as understood.

Apparently homosexuality is illegal in 41 out of the 54 Commonwealth member states.  My attempt to learn the identity of the 13 progressive countries led to a Wikipedia listing that is somewhat misleading. Kenya for instance is listed as a country in which male same-sex ‘activity’ is outlawed, and female same-sex ‘activity’ as ‘legal’. Now for those who understand Kenyan law which, similar to former British colonies, is a direct off-shoot of the British legal system, female same-sex relationships are not mentioned. Kenyans do not misconstrue this silence as a legal endorsement of lesbian relationships. The only implication is that no legal grounds exist under which to prosecute lesbians for their sexuality.

But I digress. My concern is that media’s twist to the story coupled with the ill-thought decision to cut aid have created a multi-headed dragon that will surely be another nail in the coffin for LGBT rights in the global south. The public’s right to know and understand the issues is transgressed; the likelihood that they will have the opportunity or patience to hear the full story in all its complexity is slim. For instance, it is not public knowledge that prior to the recommendation, our collective voices as the LGBT community around the world through an online petition supported Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary General, following his speech to end the discrimination of LGBT. Signatories to the petition each recounted personal stories on the impact of discrimination on their lives. We urged the leaders to take steps to hold member states accountable without prescribing specific directions for action.

Perhaps we should have pushed further to offer an analysis on possible actions that could have avoided the ill-conceived decision to withhold budgetary aid, an action that will affect the poor regardless of their sexuality. Following the announcement, civil society groups have petitioned the British government not to cut aid but to switch it to programmes that support human rights.

A final word. In this discussion I have steered away from questions about the legitimacy of the Commonwealth, a different debate altogether. Whether a former colonial power and ex-colonial states should be enjoined in a common bloc, whether there are indeed shared interests, is a different discussion.

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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


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What really is Toronto’s Gay Pride?

Queers without bordersThe caged bird sings of freedomMaya Angelou

What are they celebrating?’ my dad asked as Toronto’s gay pride parade dominated the television news. My mother and her equally elderly Kenyan visitor looked in shock at the varying degrees of nudity and excesses characteristic of Pride.

Indeed, how to explain Pride to elderly parents whose brief experiences of North America only confirm their conviction the biblical last days are finally here? The younger generation in the room searched my face intently to hear how I would respond to this one.

Pride’s mission statement as a celebration of the ‘history, courage, diversity and future of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, 2 Spirited, Allies communities’ (  would only add fuel to the fire, so I decided to minimize the explanation. Well dad, they are celebrating Toronto’s diversity. But why 20 years? Well dad, possibly that’s how long the parade has existed as an annual event. A cop-out reply from a queer female who only a day earlier had wholeheartedly partaken of the festivities at the dyke march and other Pride events.

An honest but not brazen, in-your-face answer would have been preferable. Pride is a celebration of the ability to finally be true to myself, to break free from heteronormativity’s chains. While evidence shows the existence of non-hetero sexualities in our traditional societies, the current increasingly open public discourse appears to have fueled phobias at the same time as the resolve to assert difference has intensified. Pride is broader than sexuality however – it is about multi-dimensional identities in all their complexities, and the reality of the possibility to thrive because of and not despite of difference.

My mother’s channel-flipping in search for a more palatable show halted at a television evangelist’s sermon about chains that bind. The evangelist maintained that chains in any single area of an individual’s life will hold back her progress in other dimensions of her existence. Exactly! A person’s constitutive identities cannot be compartmentalized; fetters in one or more of these identities will inevitably feed back and link into her other identities, in turn constraining her possibilities to fully and truly thrive.

The essence of Pride is a fête of the (no longer caged) bird’s freedom to finally name the sky her own.

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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Mired in contradictions: Social justice institutions and gender work

For the past three years my department at work has benefited from government-subsidized summer student interns. The students continually inject new ‘youthful’ ideas on ways in which to harness the ‘boundless possibilities’ of the internet and new technologies to keep the work vibrant. Their rewards, in addition to a better paying summer job, are lessons on patience, rigour, patience and more patience in carrying out action-oriented research.

This year is no different in one sense. I have just hired my fourth student intern and in orienting her to the tasks with an encouragement to her to infuse her work with creativity, I received many ideas in quick succession: Let’s create a Twitter account! How about using survey monkey instead of email? I’ll borrow books from the library to learn Spanish tomorrow! Clearly, she’s raring to go, just as much as did her predecessors.

This year is different in another sense. It is becoming more clear to me that social justice institutions can remain perpetually trapped in inconsistencies that negate the ideals for which they claim to stand. The patterns explain why my department, nominally the ‘gender department’, has appeared to be an entity independent of the larger institution of which it is a part. Daily conversations as well as analyses from institutional evaluations seem to converge at this conclusion.

I am no longer puzzled by the constant need to underscore the department as a part of the whole. It is concerning that the department needs to seek mediation for the other components of the institution to play their role to support its work. Take for instance the process required to hire the intern. One initial key task is the administrative element of completing government paperwork, carrying out the routine orientation for the intern or simply providing a door pass-key to her. It is not a question of the individual failing of the administrator who chooses not to play his role, rather, the problem lies in the institution’s silent support of his choice not to be accountable. The instances of differential treatment add up and so does the evidence.

The examples are endless and the point is not to list them here. Rather, it is to underscore a pattern of differential treatment. A one-time omission may be attributed to an oversight. Several oversights become a pattern which then constitutes itself into a body of indisputable evidence of, in my case, systematic marginalisation. I begin to wonder whether perhaps the work done in and through the department is considered marginal, trivial and hence unworthy of support. Perhaps because the work asks questions about the margins that the mainstream tends really not to trouble itself with. In stark contrast to the department’s contribution to raising the institution’s profile not only in circles interested in that type of feminist work, but also in the broader academic discipline and field within which the work is situated.

I have seen the patterns repeated in other institutions in which I have worked. Gender departments or in some cases, gender ‘desks’ tend to be marginalized and receive little support from the other constituent departments in organisations. Only in fully feminist or women-focussed organisations does gender work have the space to thrive unfettered by questionable attitudes (of course within the constraints posed by ordinary institutional functioning struggles).

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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Uncategorized


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