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To Be or not to Be by Anonymous

Personal reflections from a member of the Women's Secretariat

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

16th December 2011 15:08

Alessia Valenza

 To be or not to be…..An open letter to Mwah MWA Part I – Anonymous

I sometimes get excited over things that other people don’t
get excited for but this experience of learning had been a
good one. We were talking with a few people from MWA the other
day. We had a recorded interview and we talked about a number
of things like Identity and Activism and why we joined MWA
and it was heart-warming to know we were coming from similar
ways of thinking. This identity thing has been on my mind for
a while. Some say it is normal that there is no identity that
ever quite fits but they are useful for conversation and
general language anyway. Try and imagine a language without
nouns for example. It’s pretty hard. So pinning down things
seems to be a natural way of doing things. The problem is this
discomfort that persists and I always wonder what would be if we
let go of our identities would that mean the opposite of our
identities won and they can now dominate without any challenge?
I don’t know. This is an appeal to see if you would want to explore
this further with me. I would love to know what you think and
maybe to get the ball rolling I want to share some of the things
that stood out for me when I have been trying to explore it in
other spaces.

The first thing that comes to mind is culture and nature. I have
made the argument to my mother that if it is known that people
are born with varying amounts of hormones then doesn’t it follow
that they will have varying manifestations of different hormones.
I was talking around homosexuality because I didn’t want it to
seem that it was personal for me. But her argument back was that
if people have an imbalance of hormones then it can be corrected.
Culture is a very strong impulse. So I was thinking we need a
cultural way to be accepted and not an appeal to nature. I think
the problem with human rights is that it appeals to nature,
sexual orientations appeal to nature often. For a lot of people
their sexuality is matter of nature. It’s not a matter of choice.
Maybe the more powerful argument would be that it is cultural.
Our choice is a cultural choice based on what we feel is working
better for us and we enumerate a number of reason. It’s not just
about love or sex but about a culture choice.

The next thing that comes to mind is that Identities are cultural
things. Identities are created in everyday conversations and images.
It can be difficult to counter dominant ways of seeing and saying
things. Strategies that people usually use to counter dominant ways
of seeing and saying things is through Public Relations Campaign e.g
being photographed holding a baby or talking to an elderly woman etc.
I think public relations campaigns do work but they can take time and
effort to do but they could have results. The problem is that it can
be a constant battle for a good reputation. It is still a good
thing to do good things I think, hence why I like our social
responsibility programme. These days everybody seems to be doing a
social responsibility programme. We are culturally in line in this

To the next thing. Notice how even ideas are things. Success is trying
to clearly distinguish them but I usually don’t have an easy time
doing that. Probably never have. So the next thing I thought about is
how in life everything gets twisted. You’re minding your business,
loving you man, if you’re a man and someone decides that you have to
die because you swished your bottom too much like a woman. Actually
that is not what I meant to say, things got twisted in my mind. They
say we see things outside and attribute them to things inside ourselves.
So it is possible for two people to see the same thing but perceive it
differently. I am still not getting to what I wanted but I will leave
it at that because those are the connections my mind was making. So if
you are something it will mean one thing to you and a completely
different thing to another person. Someone said life is a fight over

Jumping now to yet another thing. This abstraction thing is something.
I guess people abstract things differently. I see a tree and I see
green. Someone else see’s the bark and and somebody else envisions
pointed greed leaves. Abstraction is a part of life. I was thinking
the other day that abstraction is the reason that life has so much
of ‘there is a theory of life’ and ‘there is the reality’. I love
journaling and if there is one thing it does is bring out more how
life is an abstraction. For example, I call myself queer but the
reality of my life I am not sure fits that queer identity all the
time because I am not always open to a multiplicity of being sexually
at any one time.
At one point I love just women, don’t want to be with anybody but women,
other times I want to be with men and at other times I don’t want to be
with either and at other times I want a certain combination of the two.
To make matters even more complicated sometimes I have been drawn to
trans-men.So all this stuff is sometimes just a headache. The one thing
though that I have always felt comfortable with is using identities
to meet other like minded women. I enjoy the company of all these women
who are queer in one way or another. They are very interesting and now
that I have met more I feel more of a global solidarity. It breaks down
tribal, global barriers.

So there is always the question of to be or not to be…identified.
I would love to hear what you think. This discomfort with identity
being out there and not just for social reasons makes me uncomfortable
sometimes. I have no problem declaring queer among queer because
in a way I know because they are queer, they know the stereotypes of
the labels are not always true. For someone who isn’t queer they have
nothing inside them to understand it and they only have what other
people have said or feared about queer people. In addition identifying
creates divisions. When I am with queer people I don’t mind identifying
because I will not be segregating someone, I will be declaring something
we have in common. I’ll never forget the conversation we had with one
of our Grantees when I worked in UHAI. She was an American and had
been working in the Kenya for a number of years. She said that she
doubted identity politics would work in Kenya because in her experience,
the Kenyan individuals she was working with were more drawn to finding
what is common rather than finding what distinguishes. Identities create
spaces of us and them, look at how tribal identities have been used to
cause violence in Kenya in the past.

So I am interested in clarifying the place of identity, when to be and
not to be…identified. The reason also is that I have a dream. I love
my family. They are the people who have been there for me all my life.
I really enjoy my extended family as well and one of the things I don’t
like when I am with women is that there is this hiding because it’s not
culturally accepted. It is not widely accepted for religious reasons,
which is culture, as well. I would like to sit at dinner with either a
female or male partner and my family and laugh. I don’t want there to be
a problem unless there is a problem with their character but not the gender
they’ve been given or chosen. How can we make being queer a reasonable
part of culture. Is that even possible? I know we use human rights and it
is a commendable project that has international backing and support and
some success but human rights appeals to nature. It is a universal thing
which forgets the particularities of people’s culture and way of life.
Not all culture is bad and not all culture is good either. It is a way
of life and the idea is to change it if it is not working. So I want to
move beyond human rights and find more ways of being that will bring me
closer to that dream. I don’t want to hide. I value my parents experience
and I don’t want to dishonor them either and I want them engaged in my
life. To find solutions together and I think it is possible with respect.
Is this being naïve? I don’t want also to be waiting for someone to grant
me rights. I want to live my life. Which brings me to another thing..

I found out something I hadn’t thought of before. You know when you
demand something from someone you are in a way telling them that they
have the power to deny you this thing you want. Power is intoxicating as
they say and more likely than not, if you demand something of someone in
power, denying it is the way they keep power over you so if they grant you
something it is probably partial so that there will still be something that
they can hold over you. So then doing politics through demands just
perpetuates those that are dominating. I don’t know how else one would do
things but I’ve heard of people just being, they don’t demand and confirm
the power of the person they are demanding from. Just being and assuming
that they way we are is valid leaves those in power at a loss. Do you think
this would work? I wonder what does success mean? Does it mean getting the
law changed. When I think of legal fights I always think of South Africa
and the problems they still have with queer people. Actually it is all over
the world, queer people sometimes still have problems. But I must admit that
since I have been away in a country that has protection for queer people,
it feels safer. It is easier to be myself or not be myself when it doesn’t
matter if I am queer or not.

So I am basically begging. Can we go down this road together, explore
identity and activism? I don’t think it has to be formalized or
anything. It will just be conversations. I know guys already had
conversations about the MWA strategy but hopefully it can continue.
I feel like we could find nuggets of gold somewhere, nuggets of approaches,
of strategies and ideas that will make life make more sense, be more
enjoyable, less abstracted from the reality it is while still respecting