The Reality of Being Queer with WHE

It is now the eighth week of the internship! By this point I’m fairly certain that marketing might be the industry for me. So long as I’m treated as nicely and with enough creative freedom as I am here. (Which I may have to work up to, but I bet that’ll make it feel even sweeter!)

Here’s a little breakdown of what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Still working away at the brand for YOU. We’ve officially met with the youth and taken their insights into account. One of the youth mentors, Josi, is actually designing the brand logo! So cool! I’m super excited to see what she comes up with. In the meantime, I’ve been fixing the colours to make them more accessible and coming up with some possible packaging designs.
  • Also, I’ve started to work on the Brand Guidelines. It’s been super fun putting this package together and determining how this brand should be best presented. We’re covering everything, including colours, logo display variation, fonts, voice, all the items necessary for a real brand. It’s still sinking in that I’m helping to create a real brand for a real product for a real company.
The current draft of the cover for the Branding Guide and a draft concept of what the logo packaging might look like! I took some photos of their strawberry Fiti smoothie (with some home-supplied strawberries for decoration), and drew on a sketch of the package. The logo is a placeholder until we get Josi’s design – that’s when we can really buckle down on what the whole thing will truly look like.
  • For SAUT, we’ve begun the process of creating the onboarding content. We figured out what categories we would need to go over and split them up accordingly – so I’ll be working on explaining the constitution, how to do the bookkeeping, and how to market for the program. What this also means, however, is that I need to draft the constitution and the system for bookkeeping, and fast! We agreed on a deadline for the written components to be due this Monday. It’ll be a busy weekend for me.
  • I also kept in touch with Peter a couple more times in the last couple weeks. The calls aren’t very long because he’s quite busy preparing for his exams at this point in time, but his advice is always helpful. He gave a bit more insight into how he thinks we should split up the roles for the kitchen, which I’ve taken into account as I create the constitution.
A snippet of the constitution so far. I’m basing a lot of it off of what I know about Western USC club constitutions. And yes, the next step after completing the first draft will be to simplify the language, because I’d be a liar if I said I understood what all the bureaucratic jargon meant first-time round.

So we’ve got a few things due in the next couple days, which is also coupled with needing to figure out my schedule for third year! I put it off for too long, so we get a busy busy weekend.

There has, however, been something pulling on my leg during this internship. I am fortunate to be in a position where it has not caused me any trouble and therefore has not demanded a lot of brain space, but it’s certainly been there: my LGBTQ+ identity.

I am technically nonbinary. I am technically male and female. I use she/her and he/him. I sign my emails with both sets of pronouns. I am also queer, a statement that will be appropriate as I launch into the issue at hand.

Tanzania is a hostile country for the LGBTQ+ community.

There are prison sentences for homosexuality.

I am grateful that there is no determinate law against nonbinary or transgender individuals, but it seems to be looked down upon, and such would not be surprising. When the SAUT students I work with first saw a photo of me, they struggled for a long time in trying to figure out whether I was a man or a woman and it tainted every interaction they had with me before I decided it was safest to present as solely female. This decision was made because most of my summer clothes are traditionally feminine, and if I presented as a feminine male, who knows what that might have implied.

Needless to say, I spent a bit too much time worrying over my presentation and shoving a huge part of myself into a bottle in order not to rock the boat.

My experiences with YOU have been much more accepting and pleasant, but still curious. My supervisor refers to me with ‘they/them’ pronouns. He’s not the first, either – I’ve had professors and peers do it as well. With full knowledge of my pronouns. It doesn’t bother me, they/them works fine and confirms my state of androgyny, but it’s certainly revealing. Revealing of the hesitation that underlies approaching an untraditional set of pronouns.

With YOU, the answer is more straightforward – ideally, you clearly state your preferences for being referred to, and work with people long enough for them to internalize that they shouldn’t be afraid to offend.

With SAUT? I have no idea what you do.

You’d have to rewrite a city’s concept of queerness. Can Western do that? Can we interject and impose our ideas on them like that? Do we attempt to make them understand while their country still imprisons homosexual folks? Do we wait until they themselves realize that it’s not such a bad thing and then support whatever non-profit arises out of that? When does that happen?

When will people like me feel safe working with, or especially in, Tanzania?

I’d love to go to Tanzania. Talking to Peter and learning about Mwanza and the university makes me want to experience it all for myself and do some work right there with them. But it’s more than likely that I’d experience a constant underlying fear of some kind – something that would tell me that I don’t belong there. That one slip of the tongue could get me into trouble.

I don’t know how you solve this one. I don’t know how Western solves this one. I hope that our LGBTQ+ experts and our international experts can come together and devise a plan or action strategy of some kind, even if it has to be far off in the future, long after I’ve left Western.

I am lucky to be in a position where I am accepted by those who know, and to have an identity malleable enough to conform to traditional standards for those who don’t. But there will be others after me who will be rip-roaring queer, and braver than me in expressing it.

I hope Western Heads East can make them feel safe and accepted. At least.

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