by Junie Sihlangu
I’ve always been a fan of Zanele Muholi’s work and it was such an honour to get to review her book Faces and Phases 2006–14.
I honestly thought it would be just a bunch of photos, as that is what she’s famous for. I was pleasantly surprised when I found poetry, short articles and small biographies of lesbians and trans people.
The only word I can think of when reading and paging through this book is “moved”. I was moved by the striking images, moved by the words and life stories, moved by the quotes and most of all, I was moved by the feeling of belonging. I saw myself in so many of the articles, the thoughts expressed and the images taken.
I went through so many emotions, happiness, laughter, connection, anger, immense sadness and confusion. It’s a book you want to share with others. I told my girlfriend that I would use it as a sort of “coming out” or educational item by putting it where my family will find it and hopefully they’ll become curious and want to read it.
The idea is that after paging through it, they just might realise that I am not the only lesbian, that it’s not a disease and maybe for once, they will understand who I truly am. ( This makes a beautiful quote)
I wish for all the young lesbians and transgender individuals to have an opportunity to read this book, to see that they are not alone. To know that religion, muti or reparative programs will not change who they are and that it is a gift to be lesbian or trans.
What I would have done to have been able to access to a book that shows me images of other lesbian women, how normal and natural they are. How much they struggle like anyone else, how strong they are and how they overcome obstacles in their ways. How human they are and how alike we are.
The stories about hate crimes still upset me, but they show me the reality of what life is like for us. The book is like a life guide. Tells you that being homosexual is not a curse, tells you to stand up tall and be proud of who you are. Pushes you to go for your dreams and believe in yourself, but also prepares you for the challenges that a black lesbian woman will face…including rejection, loneliness, being outcast, not accepted, raped, hurt, hated, targeted and so much more. But more than anything, it tells you to fight, to be you no matter what. That is a powerful statement.
I hope it will be translated into many languages, that more books like this will be produced. That they will be taken to the townships, to schools, to the rural areas where that young girl battles with who she’s attracted to. I pray it reaches the churches, the hospitals, clinics and the household with that guy who thinks he can correct a lesbian by raping and killing her.
I certanly hope that Faces and Phases changes hearts, changes mindsets, opens people’s eyes and they finally see us for who we truly are.
I am inspired by this book. It’s a light in the darkness, the hope that so many need. It’s evident that a lot of work went into creating it, the only criticism I have is that I wish there was a wider variety of images instead of the repetition of certain subjects so we may truly see how vast we are. I also would have loved to read more of Miss Muholi’s own words and thoughts as some are quoted in Gabeba Baderoon’s essay.
All in all, I was delighted by it and I believe it is a huge accomplishment for the whole black lesbian and trans community. Our stories have been told and more importantly our photographs have been documented. No one can claim that we never existed and Sindiwe Magona would be pleased.
Junie Sihlangu is an aspiring businesswoman 24/7. A freelance graphic designer when needed. I am a good lover and writer (when asked). A jill of some trades, and a great soul.