A PanAfricanist Queer Womanist Collective
I love the word Lesbian.
It rolls of my tongue so smoothly and lands gently into the ear of the next person.
It sounds like a whisper.
A sexy secret that makes you blush and giggle.
I love the word lesbian!
From the moment I knew I was a lesbian, I told everyone. I taught them the meaning of the word lesbian and was happy when asked if I was lesbian. What the word lesbian represented for me was an answer to the question “what am I?”. At a very disturbing time in my teenage years, this answer gave my feelings meaning and validated my existence. I thought to myself, if there is a word that describes how I feel then there must be other people like me, people who created this word.
Learning the word lesbian was my “aha!” moment.
However exciting I find the word lesbian, the Sapphic word is rejected by a growing number of Gaborone women lovers. So, I asked my fellow lady lovers what they prefer to be called and this is how it went:
Me: ‘So… how do you feel about the word lesbian?’
Lady Lover 1: ‘Well, why call someone lesbian or gay? Isn’t love pure, no matter who you love? Why put labels?’
Me: ‘ummmm..okay.’ (I thought I was the one asking the questions)
Lady lover 2: ‘I am not a lesbian! I hate being called that, not that I have ever been one.’
Me: ‘oops, my mistake!’
Lady Lover 3: ‘It’s an okay word. I don’t normally use it to refer to myself or other people. I just use gay. I don’t find it offensive or anything.’
Me: ‘What word do you use to define your sexual orientation?’
Lady Lover 4: ‘I am a lesbian but as for these funny names like “kgaka” and “nare”, I don’t fall under any of them. I am just a person without a label. I am not a tomboy or a feminine lesbian. I wouldn’t mind saying I am a lesbian but I would mind if my name is replaced with the word lesbian i.e. “hey you lesbian!”’
At this point it is important to explain the words “nare” and “kgaka”. Nare means a buffalo, usually used to refer to a butch lesbian and kgaka, means guinea fowl and used to refer to a feminine lesbian. While I don’t support the dissemination of these terms, they seem to have caught hold of the LGBTQI community in Botswana. I suppose finding your own words to define your identity is better than having certain labels imposed on you by an international wave of LGBTQI activism.
However, considering the words used, I am starting to question my conviction that everyone should have the right to create and self-label. In this new language, I am referred to as a kgaka. That makes me uncomfortable, but it is also a little funny. If we are going to use animal names to define our sexualities
I would want to be referred to as a peacock.
A guinea fowl is dreadfully plain and such a pitiful little bird.
On a more serious note, for several years, African LBGTQI communities have adopted foreign labels and identified with those labels in an attempt to put a name to how they felt and what their struggle was about. In the face of such words as “matanyola”, “setabana” and “moffie” (which have been used for years to insult and discriminate, instigate and justify violence against LGBTQI communities) it is easy to understand how a community would not want to associate with such derogatory labels but there is always an opportunity to take the power out of a word by reclaiming it.
We are only realizing now that we have made a great mistake.
Instead of holding onto cultural words that were used to refer to people of a different sexual orientation (and reclaiming those words in the same way that the words “nigga”, “moffie” and “pussy” (in some areas) have been reclaimed) we have espoused words that we still struggle to explain to our own communities. Even after numerous years of LGBTQI advocacy and education.
Due to our desperate search for labels that would positively define us, we lost our opportunity to take our power back by taking the power out of these derogatory words used against us. This is not to say that LGBTQI communities would be better off now had we not made this mistake , but simply to say that local is better. It is easier to relate to a word in your indigenous language. It is easier to initiate the evolution of a cultural word to suit your circumstances and your advocacy.
On a lighter note now, If I had to choose an animal to define my sexual orientation then I would definitely settle for a brilliantly beautiful peacock.
Lesbian equals peacock.