I am a queer cis Ethiopian young woman who has had the privilege of coming to terms with my sexual identity outside of Ethiopia. Returning home after some years away and then falling in love with a masculine presenting queer woman, I was confronted with the full reality of what it means to be in a queer relationship in Ethiopia’s context.
Loving a woman in a place that has decided it is not right felt radical and brave at times but also deeply angering and frustrating. As someone who identifies as a queer pansexual attracted to a wide range of gendered and non gendered beings, queerness has always felt expansive and freeing. It was a shock to find how heteronormative and out dated some of my partner’s ideas around gender expression and sexuality could be. (Heteronormativity defined as the belief that heterosexuality is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation).
Loving a woman in a place that has decided it is not right felt radical and brave at times but also deeply angering and frustrating.”
In subtle and not so subtle ways I found my gender expression policed. My more feminine presentations were encouraged and the days I dressed more masculine, I was made to feel less desirable. She was living in the very binary world where even queer relationships were inevitably only allowed to be between masculine (butch) women and femmes. My attempts at starting critical conversations around dismantling gender never went far.
For many reasons that relationship has now come to an end and what I am left with are larger reflections that extend beyond our singular relationship. At the end of the day I believe it is important to examine how larger systems inform how we see ourselves and how we see each other. Audre Lorde wrote that “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house”. We cannot expect to achieve freedom as queer and trans people while we ourselves act as oppressors. In fact we aid systems of dominance when we attempt to police each other.
We must all truthfully examine the ways that patriarchy and heteronormativity show up in our interpersonal relationships.
Increased visibility and activism around queerness the past few years seems to have brought on even more violence toward LGBQT+ people in Ethiopia. This violence is both patriarchal and homophobic, since the latter wouldn’t exist without the former. Men and their right to dominance reign supreme at every corner of our society and the only counter that makes sense to me are our own systems of care. We must all truthfully examine the ways that patriarchy and heteronormativity show up in our interpersonal relationships. How do we encourage each other to be more self reflective so we are not causing intentional or unintentional harm to those we are in relation with, romantic or otherwise?
I do not know when or what it will take for queer Ethiopians to live as liberated full beings, accepted and with protection in our own country. What I do know however, is that we can do more to invite more liberation and care amongst ourselves and our community. It is important to live our lives with the notion that this liberation is possible and that it is a value that we must all be working towards. I believe that our queer spaces can be challenged to be more radical, more loving, more inclusive, and more safe. We deserve better, especially from each other.