To the children of families, you no longer call yours,
- You made the right decision
- Your family is whoever you say it is.
- You are loved.
- Stay free
This note was written to me by someone that held my heart with care. I never saw her again but it didn’t matter. They were one of the first people that would hold my truths as truths. Some of us know the violence born in the underbelly of our family trees. Many of us, vagabonds from homes that wanted to kill us. Many of us knew the most dangerous place for us to be was home. And she believed me. Didn’t interrogate me. Just believed. I love her for believing truths about me I didn’t know yet. So what is family when blood betrays you? Who is family when blood doesn’t? What families can we create when we leave the isolating detachment created by the existence of the nuclear family that allows for haunting abuse on wives and children?
Families have been abandoning their children. So let’s stand at these outskirts, call it centre and look at the world from here. Who is family to vagabonds? Who is family to those who are good and approved by society? Who are your people?
My family came in the form of spirit heads; unseen and present. Loving and never punishing of my resentful heart. I have had enough resentment in my body to sag it tired. My body is always tired. Surviving lives of grief will do that to a body. Yet even with this body and this grief and this resentment, I have a family that holds me and keeps me safe. I have hands that will catch me when I can’t catch myself. And I try to remember this is a blessing that showed up without the construction of a prayer.
When I explore madness and unconventional modes of existence, I am overwhelmed by the fear and anxiety of living in a Kenyan society that already wants me dead for being queer, and now? Will I be listened to? Will I be believed? Will my art be seen the way it needs to be seen without the colonial gaze of normalcy if I admit this? But madness is what keeps most of us alive. A staggering belief in the unseen things and the not-yet-here things and the mine-things-that-no-one-has-given-me-things.
To live in this society as a mad and queer thing means molding new ears that can’t hear the wrong things they say and new eyes to see yourself correctly. It means to hold yourself the way they refuse to; with care and tenderness that knocks you dizzy. Knocks you into worlds that keep you safe.
Your family is whoever you say it is, no matter how much they try and tell you who your family should be. You have a choice. Your family is whoever you say it is because it is yours. It is your family. You can live without people that want you to turn your black skin into a black Barbie they can love. You will live. You deserve to be loved just as you are.
So figure out who your family is for yourself. Love your people. We’re not here for long and I would like to spend my time loving my people and making my art, wouldn’t you? I hope we get to live in communities where our fragility is handled with care. Where it isn’t a target. Because this society doesn’t know how to tend to tender things like us. But I pray we can be better to each other. Better for each other.
I have learned so much about love and how to be a loving caring presence in my kin’s life from queer people. More than anyone, queer people have taught me how to love. This makes me think about where we learned about love. Who taught us how to love? Were we taught how to love?
I think many of us were told whom to love and who not to. And I think a lot of what we were told was love was discipleship and compliance. The kind of love that we have to have toward our country, our government, the people that brought us up. We were taught a love that couldn’t hold questioning or autonomy.
But I’ve learned that all of you can be held in love. You never have to leave parts of yourself behind to be loved. You never have to tuck parts of yourself behind your teeth, away and hidden. Love has space for you. I think about what has kept me alive as I had a mother who would use death as a leash to keep compliant. To keep me afraid. It didn’t work out because I started wanting to die. I think about what pulled me back, what held me close. I am a mad thing but to be honest, I didn’t do this alone.
When I say my true name, the one I gave myself, a community repeats it back to me. A community that sees me and doesn’t try to end me. Sees me and stays. Chooses to stay with me. I have been a lonely thing for a lot of my life; I try not to take this love and company for granted.
So, what about you, dear?
Who is your family? Who holds you for you when you can’t? What does family mean to you? What would happen if your family transcended genetics? Who would you love then? Who would you love then? I give these questions to you as an offering. I hope they can hold you close. I hope they can keep you company. I hope they can help you find home. Home. I don’t have a lot of human family but I do have a home. This turns the soil in my eyes into wet mud.
I have a home. A place I can return to over and over and know it’s safe. A place my insecurities will be held with care and grace. A place the masks can loosen their pins from my face. A place the masks can find themselves. I am grateful to have this home. Because I have seen myself without others’ greedy eyes and hands. I have carved my black body inside out to see my pink insides and found a lover. A love that has kept me safe. A love that has abandoned lineages to keep me alive. I have seen me and I like me. And that has made my skin warm.
To see me and love me. To see me and stay. To be a safe place for me. I am a blessed blessed thing that has found homes in this life. Home-grounds that stay steady when everything is moving too fast, too far, too unfamiliar.
When everything is foreign and I am scared I hold my body, hear my voice, talk to the unseen spirits and I’m back. Back to a steady place I can move from. Hold your body as you listen to Sohlangana khona or Whitney Houston. Perform a dance offering for someone you love. Dance in candlelight. Talk to the not-here spirits and see the way your body bores peace from its bones. Love, let me offer these to you.
A tenderness I hope loves you in ways you need. Burrow and see the tender parts in the margins and liminalities. That’s where I found my home (I am still finding homes).
I hope it does this for you.
As I write this I can hear all the voices you are hearing too.
All the condescendence, all the disappointment, all the force in which the words weigh in your belly. I hear them too.
You’re not alone. The truth is that many African families are killing their children. This is not hyperbole. Children are dying and we cannot hide behind the notion of the strict values of ‘African society’ if that society is condoning and encouraging murder. We cannot tell ourselves that the only way to have a family is a family structure that was imported from settler colonialists for ease of control of African societies.
Upholding ‘African values’ should not kill us or leave us without mothers. Upholding ‘African values’ is not enough to keep each other alive and well. Not if those values kill some of us. Not if those values take family away from us.
Because no one should take family away from you but yourself; especially if that family is killing you. There are people that will love you in ways you didn’t have the language to construct a prayer for. There are people that will revel in the joy of loving you. There is love that won’t try to tear and mold your skin into a puppet. There is love you can hold in your body that is not in communion with other humans. Love from spirits your community doesn’t want to talk about anymore. Love from the crowd of trees and the silkiness of a petal. Love from a god who transcends gender. Either way, you will find your kin no matter what. Because you are you.
It’s difficult to write this when my country is my country. When I think of monster-fathers reading this. Will I stay safe? Will the world only I see still only be mine? Will the places I go to be safe remain safe? I hope so. But I am me and the work will be the work. Family is plasticine.