For Humanity’s sake?

Putting the human back into humanity is something worth exploring especially if you happen to be of the LGBTI and have at one time or the other suffered the indignity of having your very humanity questioned. I remember some of the comments one of my posts provoked especially one that came with the suggestion that I was over-indulging my experience as a translesbian. I only have to look as far back as the 1950s, 60s or 70s and the archives hold records in abundance with members of the LGBTI telling their individual (i.e. subjective) narratives in terms of their sexuality, gender identity or even their sex. But somehow African voices about these life experiences were far and in-between. However one particular commentator’s query sounded as if she was cautioning what she saw as my “single issue/identity position”. However, I was offering a view, indeed an experience as a transsexual woman and a lesbian that would otherwise wind up buried in obscurity. If you were a fly on the wall when I went into certain places you couldn’t miss the burden of being made to feel like a roving target as mentioned in Pandering Prejudices if you tried.

Over the week end, I was talking to a friend about race and spirituality. I remember mentioning something about our animal instinct as human beings how we seem to have developed the preference for a standard narrow world view, based on our need for permanence and security or at least so we tend top assume. Even as I write this article I wondered if we have not barked up the wrong tree long enough: whatever we are, wherever we come from, who ever we choose to date in the end we are all human beings first.

It was while reading Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that I glimpsed a possible route to lasting peace in the following quote,

‘… Another aspect of the colonial educational and cultural patterns which needs investigation is the manner in which European racism and contempt was expressed not only by hostility to African Culture but by paternalism and by praise of negative and static social features. …”.1

This quote, and similar ones elsewhere, lends me a hand in my attempt to nip the toothless barks of supremacist views in the bud. How? Simply because, as an African who is transitionee and a lesbian I have come to understand something rather disconcerting about how our very animal instincts as found in identity rob us of our humanity which we generally take for granted.. Even the melting pot we collectively inhabit can sometimes blindfold us with our consent and we wouldn’t know any better it seems were the solution to human misery on the tips of our respective noses. At this point, I felt a need to laugh at a friend’s suggestion that seemed to agonise over the burden of exclusion such a claim might provoke, but I have the presence of mind not to add insult to the deep and overly prolonged injury. I am not blind to the construction and the harm they have inflicted on us with our complicity in regard to race, sexuality and for some, spirituality. Nevertheless, abstaining from an arrogant response didn’t present me with a solution in itself. Rather, it provoked one and forced me to seek it out even if it were going to be to my cost at times.

Allowing ourselves to get hung up on our identities inevitably robs us of our very human nature!” I said and waited for the predictable silence that was bound to be followed by a storm. As black people (by this I mean, Africans, Africans in the Diaspora or their descendants) we really have to defend ourselves against the all pervasive oppression by a European supremacist host who is at work to break us twenty four seven. A very good point considering that it was one of the reasons why I spoke and wrote so indefatigably about my experience as an African transsexual lesbian. However while doing so I would like to think that I should not have to ask questions such as: “where’s you humanity?” or “Am I not human being too?” in my cries for understanding and hope that there are some human beings that would rise to the occasion rather than hide quietly behind the edifice of “minding their own business”.

The instant temptation was to thank my commentator but I held the desire to do so just a bit longer. I had to wrestle with this as names of black thinkers rushed through my thinking just then: Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks and James Baldwin to name but a few and the millions of words that have passed between us. In this world we call ours in the construct of ourselves as human beings we seem to have an age old need to airbrush our species out of existence with identity or brush it under the carpet denying its immediate worth. At the same time, we take on what I have called, “token gestures of being” at the expense of enduring humanity. We have become so blasé about our humanity that we have to naturalise our identities and then fix them in a paroxysm of paranoia as if not doing so meant instant death to us. We resisted any notion of being human with our self defining tokens in tow and play right into the very hands of the supremacists’ we have fought forever for our freedom by doing so.

Given all this then, I return to the query that in talking about transsexualism, lesbianism and the statement that the colour of my skin makes every time I write or speak about anything from a personal standpoint is anything but single issue oriented. In response, all I can say is that on all these charges perhaps the commentator has a point but my platforms are as diverse as the people that populate our planet. Every time I take the podium, in writing about very personal experiences as a human being, a person, I’m writing or speaking about the world as a whole.

On a final note, if we are anything, we are human beings first and everything else is secondary. Demographic or racial boundaries cannot erase that fact, as a Shakespearean quote suggested:

“… If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die…” 2

Although, I’m aware of tendencies that might object to this usage, at bottom, we are all human and feel the said reactions African, Asian or European. It is even said in most spiritual traditions that “identity driven hang ups are the antithesis of spiritual development or awakening”. Given all this, isn’t it time we put the human back into humanity rather than go headlong from one conflict into another at the slightest chance irrespective of the outcome?

Mia Nikasimo © October 2008