By Kelly Jean Cogswell
On Wednesday, gay activist David Kato was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his home in Uganda. He's been under threat of violence since 2009 when he was one of the few queers to openly denounce legislation proposing to execute homosexuals, instead of just tossing them in jail. Afterwards, a local newspaper published an antigay rant along with David's picture on the front page under the title, "Hang Them."
Nevertheless, just two days after his murder, a young Ugandan lesbian, Brenda Namigadde, was on a plane in London's Heathrow awaiting deportation back to Uganda where the likes of antigay legislator David Bahati have already announced Brenda was only welcome if she repented or reformed.
Luckily, another judge issued an injunction and they pulled Brenda off the plane before it left, though she's still at risk. Not because the Brits don't recognize Uganda's danger for queers, but because Brenda has to prove definitively she's a lesbian. The British judge that rejected her claim for asylum said he wasn't convinced.
To him it was "strange" that her descriptions of gay life in Uganda and the United Kingdom, were "very generalised and quite simply lacking in the kind of detail and information of someone genuinely living that lifestyle. The Appellant claims to have freedom to live a life unconstrained and without prejudice. I find the information as to how she has done so over the lengthy period she has been in the United Kingdom singularly lacking in detail or coherence. The Appellant appears to have taken no interest in forms of media including magazines, books or other information relating to her sexual orientation.”
The problem is that gayness isn't a lifestyle. If push came to shove, probably even I can't prove I'm a dyke as that judge understands it. I write these articles for Gay City News, but instead of checking out queer-themed books I usually go for murder mysteries, or French poetry written by straight (though queerish) men like Blaise Cendrars.
Dykes bars have opened and closed without me darkening the door, except for those few weeks when I waitressed at Crazy Nanny's and went home with phone numbers shoved into my pockets that girls had given me "just in case" I had second thoughts about my girlfriend which I suppose a judge could just declare a roommate unless I had some video footage documenting sex acts.
Let me interrupt this column to see if the words lesbian or dyke are in the titles of any books on my shelf... Yes, "Living as a Lesbian" by Cheryl Clarke is on the shelf next to "Second-Hand Coat," a volume of poems by writer Ruth Stone that I'd also forgotten. She's not a dyke, but a pretty good poet with Virginia roots. If you happen to run across something of hers -- read it. She's great. And reminds me of back home.
Identity is tricky. Like with the books, the music in the house wouldn't convince you of anything either, though there's some Cuba there, and Kentucky, but also funk, blues, classical, the great Lou Reed. Ela Fitzgerald. And good luck if you're looking for clues in our apartment. It tends towards the Spartan. We like light and emptiness. The little bit of art we have is mostly abstract.
What does it say, that blossoming jasmine, the enormous snake plant, and the palm pressing against the ceiling? Only that we like a bit of living green around the place. Or that we feel the need of additional oxygen. The remnants of our lesbian activist lives are mostly tucked away in drawers cabinets. My own articles are filed under "work" on my computer.
Are we lesbians, or not, if all you have is what's in our heads and bodies, and our pre-occupations that a little surveillance might or might not reveal? My girlfriend and I have passed whole weeks talking about nothing but her aging mother, or problems in the building.
There are thousands of ways to be a lesbian, queer woman, dyke, gay. Somebody like Brenda Namigadde, forced to leave Uganda in 2003 when her relationship with a Canadian woman led to threats and violence, might not have had much time afterwards to give her dykeness much thought.
It's not easy being an immigrant and facing the challenges of living in a strange country, understanding the myriad of accents, finding work, making a new life. Maybe she prefers to read poetry or The Economist rather than the Pink News. Maybe when she goes out it's not to a gay bar, but just the corner pub where she just does her best to get drunk and forget the whole thing. Maybe she's even given up girls. Though that won't help her back in Uganda, where perception is enough to get you attacked. And embarrassing the government carries its own price.