We were very pleased to see the number of readers for Part 1 of our interview with Hazel! We cannot thank you enough for the support you’ve shown to us thus far. We hope that you’ve been encouraged just as we’ve been. If you have not gotten the chance to read Part 1, click here. As promised, we are presenting you with Part 2 of her interview today.
Share with us a little bit of your personal struggles in this journey. What factors have helped you overcome your struggles to finally accept and love yourself?
My sexuality is one part of various struggles I’ve had surrounding my identity. I can’t view it separately from its impact on me as British Ethiopian woman because all of these elements are interconnected on my journey. I guess for me, one of the main factors that kept me struggling for so long was listening to many voices through all my life, voices that thought they knew what was better for me more than I did; the intentions were mixed of good and bad but that’s beside the point. The point was that I was elevating the voices of others before my own and I wasn’t trusting myself. I learnt to trust, accept and love myself through a mix of therapy and continuing self reflection, I tune out the voices that don’t nurture me and more importantly, I put my voice first.
Any resources that have helped you in your journey that you want to share with fellow Ethiopian LGBTQ individuals?
As a writer, books are my constant companions and they are the resources that helped me feel less alone on my journey; as did watching movies and TV shows with LGBTQ themes. The first book I ever read on Lesbianism was Radclyffe Hall’s ‘The Well of Loneliness’ which was published in 1928 and was put on trial in the U.K. courts under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. I probably wouldn’t rate it as highly now as I did when I first read it but it is still a very important piece of LGBTQ literature. Finding black LGBTQ stories was hard but I have managed to read and watch many fascinating stories over the years that inspired me along my journey. I do believe it is important that we feel our experiences reflected back to us authentically when reading or watching something LGBTQ related. Google Walatta Petros and read up on her if you haven’t already heard about her. She is a 17th century Ethiopian nun who was said to have had an intense and lifelong relationship with another nun, her biography contains the earliest known depiction of same sex desire among women in East Africa. The Maale, Harari and Asmara people are among some ethnic groups in Ethiopia that have been documented by researchers for having men who who sleep with men, men who take on female gender roles and more. Besides, the only import from the West is homophobia, we only have to look at our history to see that LGBTQ stories are there; they just need more visibility.
How do people react when you say you are queer?
I have mostly positive reactions from people but I do find the fact that there is a reaction, whether positive or negative; a strange concept in itself. Cis Heterosexuals have always been allowed the normalcy of talking about their relationships and identity so openly with anyone, in fact their luxury was being able to keep that information private if they chose and that decision is seen as part of individual personality/preference. If you are LGBTQ, those conversations don’t have that same automatic normalcy; that openness is often earned through trust and an assessment of personal risk. I suppose that is where reaction comes into it because as LGBTQ, you are constantly “coming out” to people you meet or know in a society that is still by default centred around the cis heteronormative experience. Straight people don’t come out as straight, and I hope for the day we in the LGBTQ community don’t have to either.
Because homosexuality is currently not accepted in Ethiopia, most LGBTQ people don’t believe that they can fall in love and be in a loving, committed, long-term relationship. Do you believe that it is possible to do so and what are your suggestions?
Anything is possible, that’s not to say it is without difficulties or risk in countries where being LGBTQ is criminalised; I mean you both found each other in such risky circumstances and that is inspiring; call it fate or destiny too if you wish but to me that putting the pursuit of happiness above the fear of taking a risk. Now you are both sharing your story as a couple and have created this platform for the sharing of Ethiopian LGBTQ experiences which I am sure will give hope to your readers that love is possible, difficult but still possible. It’s hard to make suggestions because only an individual knows what risks are worth taking. In places where being LGBTQ is a crime, it’s more than just trying to figure out if the person you are attracted to is the same as you or not, it is putting your life in danger while you’re trying to find that out. To minimise the risks, your emotional intelligence and ability to read people’s body language will probably take more priority. Whether you are non monogamous or monogamous, I believe communication and building on a strong foundation of friendship is key to pursuing a loving, committed long term relationship.
How does living abroad changed your journey?
I have the freedom to be open with my identity in a way that I never could if I lived in Ethiopia, it is privilege I am fully aware of and it makes me even more determined to spread openness while elevating the voices of those unable to.
What advice will you give an Ethiopian LGBTQ person?
Hold on to hope. The world is catching up with you but don’t wait till it does because there are always set backs and the world needs you to keep pushing it forwards to a fairer and more equal place to be. Your time is now, you can carry on living a life for others or take that risk and start living a life for yourself. As Dr. Seuss once said, “those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind” There are people who love you and will love you for who you truly are, even if they might not be the ones you envisage. Educate others and start with those nearest to you if you can, because if you can help to break the generational chain that teaches fear and intolerance; there is even more hope for the next generation. Learn bible verses because the next person that tells you being LGBTQ is sin, you can tell them that so is eating shellfish!
How are you fighting the hate or advocating for the LGBTQ community?
I believe change starts within, in the words of RuPaul “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else”. I fight hate by spreading love and education, I try to engage with those whose views are different from mine if they are open to challenge themselves and grow, I treasure but also hold my allies accountable, and I walk away from toxicity. By being visible, and proud of who I am everyday; I am sending a message that I have every right to love and exist as much as anyone else does. I am supporter of LGBTQ organisations like Lesbians & Gays Support The Migrants and Stonewall who are campaigning for change daily. My work as an artist and writer explores and advocates for the LGBTQ community.
Thank you again, Hazel, for lending your time and voice to our community!
We would like to remind you all that Hazel is a writer! Please find her on Facebook @hazelthomaswriter (https://m.facebook.com/hazelthomaswriter/) and support her work! 😉
Let us know if you have any questions/comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or @habeshaqueercouple on Facebook.
Always remember – you’re not alone!
S & D
P.s. Cover photo of Hazel at the parade was taken by CPG photography LTD.