Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Spectra A. I. Asala!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I am a writer, publisher, and activist, who uses media to amplify the voices of women of color and the African Diaspora around sexuality issues, including women’s rights, LGBT equality, healthy relationships, and mental health.
2. Where are you based out of?
I just recently relocated after being based in Boston, Massachusetts for the past ten years. Currently, I’m traveling through Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe) for the next 6-8 months, training African women’s gender liberation and LGBT organizations to use social media to raise their voices. I’ll be back and forth between Africa and the US quite a bit.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
My work proudly focuses on women, and in particular, women of color and the African Diaspora. I train, coach, and support marginalized groups in amplifying their voices around gender and sexuality, and effecting change through the use of new media to influence pop culture and policy.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
I’m passionate about increasing diversity and accountability to marginalized groups within the field of sex and sexuality, as it is currently dominated by white women and westerners. I want to see more African women’s voices and LGBT women of color voices in the media, as commentators, experts, and analysts, especially as it pertains to issues of gender and sexuality. Increasing diversity in thought leadership will undoubtedly generate better strategies gender liberation (including LGBT rights, reproductive justice, sexual health education, etc); strategies that address cultural nuances and systemic inequalities that currently exclude sub-sets of the women’s community from benefiting from any progress being made.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I didn’t. It chose me. I’m a writer, primarily, but I write about politics and social justice issues through personal narrative. Moreover, since I founded a grassroots organization for LGBTQ women of color that earned a lot of recognition, my experiences as an activist and community organizer also began to show up in my writing. My stories and ideas reached other leaders, practitioners, and institutions, resulting in my being frequently ask to speak on panels, facilitate workshops, contribute guest pieces etc. It all just happened. But, even though I didn’t intentionally choose this work, I really love what I do and am committed to keep pushing myself, and the field.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
I went to MIT, for Mathematics and Humanities. This has nothing to do with the work I do now. My parents are slowly coming to terms with this .
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
Spectra Speaks is my blog about media, gender, pop culture, and the Diaspora. www.spectraspeaks.com
I’m also the Founder and Executive Editor at Queer Women of Color Media Wire (QWOC Media Wire). www.qwocmediawire.com
Finally, my blog AfricansforAfrica.org is an archive of stories, reflections, and footage from my travels through Southern Africa, training African women’s non-profits in social media, online fundraising, and communications, and collecting LGBT African stories for my anthology.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
Experiencing the work we really want to do and the traditional paths available to us is inevitable in any field. But ultimately, progress comes from people being brave enough to explore uncharted territory. Learn the ropes, but then hold your group and take risks. So many people are counting on you to be brave enough to stand alone sometimes. Also, don’t be afraid to anchor yourself in the place that inspired you to pursue sexuality as a field in the first place; that could be real life experiences, an internship you took that set you on this path, stories from the communities you’re advocating for, etc. How you feel about your work (and its impact) matters, not just what you know. It’s how you feel about your work, how you approach it – not your accreditation (or even lack of it) that drives your impact.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
Definitely, stigma from African communities on LGBTQ issues, and cultural norms that prohibit open discussions about sex and sexuality. The purpose of my work is two-fold: to unite Diaspora communities (i.e. women of color in the states, Africans at home), and to affirm identity/sub-groups who are often marginalized within these communities (i.e. queer women of color, LGBT Africans). I constantly have to negotiate when and where to challenge and engage the dominant group. For instance, it isn’t enough for me to see LGBT Africans and African women in general openly discussing their sexuality, hosting LGBT pride festivals, sex-positive conferences etc., if the larger communities they belong to are not engaged. But this is challenging due to the stigma that exists around sex and sexuality issues.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
I haven’t read it yet, but I know the editors and many of the contributors. It’s due out later on this year, so watch out for it: The Queer African Reader.
11. Anything else you’d like to add?
I love to hear from people doing similar work! Please connect with me via Spectra Speaks below, but feel free to follow my other channels
Queer Afrofeminist Rants about Gender, Media, and the Diaspora
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/spectraspeaksalot
Africans for Africa
Africans in Philanthropy, Development, and Innovation