African Queer Women Find Their Voices Through a Storytelling Project

The Open Society Youth Fellowship supports young activists and organizers in crafting solutions and youth-focused approaches to open society challenges. Fellow Tiffany Mugo, who is originally from Kenya and now lives in South Africa, is producing a digital media toolkit for African queer women to share their stories. She talked to us about the project’s goals and the challenges her community faces.
Tiffany Mugo
About This Image

Tiffany Mugo is an Open Society Youth Fellow.

Photo credit: Pablo Ferro Zivanovic for the Open Society Foundations

Tell us about your fellowship project.

Africans are huge storytellers—we color the world with tales of existence through speeches and conversations. But we haven’t been the best at archiving. My project, HOLAAfrica, seeks to archive and make sure that the story of African queer women, which is one of the most nonexistent stories in a sense, is actually documented, that it’s archived. That it’s told by, what I feel, are the right people to tell it, namely the people living that narrative, as opposed to others who simply observe it.

How are you documenting these stories?

My project seeks to zero in on them in a modern way. I shall gather stories in written form, and create audiovisual material in the form of podcasts and videos. The use of digital media will be my primary tool in knowledge production and documentation.

Archiving is moving away from offline spaces to online spaces, and my plan is to ride this shift in order to make sure that in the future, these people still exist. That we still exist. That my existence, as an African queer woman at this moment in time—which is very contentious, but also has so much potential—that this weird nexus in time is actually archived properly.

We all bring our identities to these projects. How does your own identity contribute to yours?

The project was all about archiving a lived experience. And my identity is, as you probably picked up: African queer woman. Ha ha! The project stemmed from this notion that when I tried to find people like me, it was very difficult. As a queer woman, you’re having this crisis of self at home: “Oh my god, I like girls, this is the worst! What am I going to do? This is … it’s not biblical, it’s not Africa, it’s not traditional. Somebody out there must be going through what I’m going through.”

And then I go online, which is the biggest resource in the world at this moment in time, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, in terms of material that spoke specifically to the African queer female experience. There was a great deal that spoke to the American queer female experience with sites such as Autostraddle and the like topping search engine results.

These online resources spoke to an experience far removed from women within African borders. This is one of the key problems within sexuality movements, the idea that all people live the same way. A woman searching for advice in New York or London will not need the same advice as a woman in Maputo or Kampala.

Can you give us a few examples of experiences unique to African queer women?

African queer women have experiences such as coming out to parents who had extremely traditional cultural values and had functioning ideas of how many cows they would get for you, be they symbolic or actual cattle. The experience of having to navigate the dating world when you are not even sure if there is a queer community within 500 miles of you. The experience of knowing that holding your girlfriend’s hand could land you in jail.

Why is it important to involve young people in this documentation process, this narrative?

If we miss out on young people [when] we are creating narratives, we miss out on a very important part of human growth. We think, you’re born and you’re so sweet and adorable, and then all of a sudden you’re an adult and doing proper things. But what got you to that point of doing proper things? What got you to that point of being able to do the good or the bad that you’re able to do in the world?

It’s almost like people seldom look to the youth unless something bad happened. When someone ends up a serial killer then everyone starts trying to backtrack: “Oh, how did he end up a serial killer?” But if you hear about some of our greatest leaders—like, what was Nelson Mandela doing when he was young? What was Wangari Maathai like when she was young?

Knowing what people were doing at these ages will inform the next round of people. If we look at these people in their youth and find that they were all doing amazing things, then it tells you to get off your ass and do something if you want to be something.

How do you see your leadership role in terms of social change?

I see my leadership role in terms of social change as leading from the back. There are leaders who are actually on the forefront. They are there. They’re the ones speaking.

But then there’s the notion of being the power behind the power. That’s where I feel my leadership will be, if they’ll have me—being able to use my access to spaces, my ideas, the fact that I wake up at 6:00 a.m. just to think about stuff. Just using what I’ve got to sort of push people forward, rather than pull them forward.

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It's a very inspiring story and good to know about it,I am very interested with Tiffany Mugo (Queer women) the story is very true that's how our mothers were treated,taking them to school was a big problem during those days.

Another area which has the teaching is about five photographers young ladies giving the information about watching walls its valuable information which has encouragement part of it.

Nelson Mandela and Wangare Maathai the African Heroes who fought for the rights to defend people and our Environment RIP our Heroes, very educative stories and information.

Grow stronger Open Society Foundation.

What a strong voice and interesting vision she has. I am looking forward to hearing more about her initiative! :)

I don't think the word, "queer" should be used, it sounds bad.

I love the work but yes; I also have problem with "queer" as women of color I believe we need to choose our own" titles". There are " queer" white boys who may not support you. Its an old word created by white-folk.Back in the day we called folk "funny" but never "queer" Can we create neologisms?

@Fred! There are amazing stories here and the plan is to go forward and make sure they are all told!

Thank you @Emily! When it all pans out hopefully you will, as that is pretty much the point of the project right? : )
@Sharon Smith, it is actually a word that has been widely re-appropriated to the extent it is in academia, popular culture, everywhere! It has negative previous connotations but it has actually become very mainstream.

Tiffany, I am proud of you and your work. Bravo!

It is the best tool for self improvement also in segregated Roma communities

u hand in ur heart and helping nature

I'm verry pleased with the thoughts of Tiffany Mugo. I ask to the foundation to help her and to facilitate to him the contacts with others wifes in others countries such as the R.D. Congo where women wrights are suffiring with daly violations.

I believe we cqn qchieve mor by working under the guidelines of WHO.

That is a very noble work, keep it up and never relent effort to impact in peoples life.

Yours is a noble idea and I would like to make my contribution to your repertoire of stories from my own Kenyan background. Please do contact me for collaboration.

Tifanny project is inspiring and encouraging, until we continually initiate and promote ways to deal with abuse against women, social change will only remain a dream. well done Tifanny.

You had a good idea:``all the people live the same way``everybody want to have a happy and quiet life.I think the use of digital media it will be worth.
Good luck!

Hello Tiffany,

First of all, heartiest congratulations to Open Society Foundation to covering Ms. Mugo's story, organisation, and inspirational work.

I feel proud of living in a world inhabited with individuals such as you, Ms. Mugo. As a South Asian youth, an aspiring journalist, and a budding media entrepreneur, I understand your disposition and ideas and find them rather inspirational and motivating for an individual as myself.

I am currently working towards launching an online magazine called the Sunday Sentinel that would seek to address - by collection and archiving - incidents of social and political injustice faced by the youth belonging to marginalised and indigenous communities in emerging economies across the world. In case I or my organisation may be of help to you, please do let me know.

Looking forward to more stories from Kenya,

Vinayak Rajesekhar.

How can I join you and share my story?

Congrats Tiffany! What a truly inspirational project. Glad to see that funding is going towards everyday social issues that many times are invisible.

Keep on going!

First of all congratulations Tiffany for this project and for the recognition of your work! I think it's an amazing project that will help lots of women relate to and with each other and not feel alone. I look forward to this.

As as Kenya, I must say I am impressed by Mugo. Being true to self is the best justice one can do to self.

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