Mothers in LGBTI communities — an uncomfortable role?

5 Jun

Colin stewart,


In this commentary, Ugandan anthropologist, social science researcher and mother Stella Nyanzi explores what “motherhood” means in LGBTI communities.  Her remarks and follow-up comments on Facebook sprang from discussions at the recent Trans Health and Advocacy Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

I was surprised to learn that ‘Motherhood’ makes many queer people outside Uganda uncomfortable. I was surprised because many members in our local LGBTIQ communities in Uganda insist on referring to me as ‘Mama Stella’ or ‘Mammy’ or ‘Mummy’ or even ‘Mother’. I was also surprised because I know many lesbians who are also mothers. And so I am writing about motherhood…

“Why do you refer to yourself as Mama?” a leading author who has written about Afro-Surinamese women’s sexual culture asked me after my presentation.

“I use it because that is the title that many people have chosen for me,” I replied.

“I feel excluded from your talk when you use this,” she replied.

Mother and child. (Photo courtesy of

“You choose to exclude yourself,” I said. “But why don’t you like the word Mama?” I asked back.

“Because Mama requires deference to you. It means you cannot be corrected, you cannot be wrong,” she explained.

And so I proceeded to explain that I did not understand ‘Mama’ that way. I explained that it was usually relatively younger kuchus who referred to me as Mama. It was also commonly those from Buganda, those from a lower economic bracket and those who were experiencing alienation from their families. I also explained that Mama is not about biology because among the Baganda, Mama refers to all sisters and cousins of one’s mother. And so I have six people I address as Mama. Mama is also the title for the women from my mother’s clan – whether they are older or younger than me. And so I have people as young as five years old that I address as Mama.

Having explained all that, I added that there are many other kuchus in Uganda who do not address me as Mama. And this, too, is cool. About the deference, I disagreed with this professor because some kuchus who have been brave enough to call me out when I was wrong about something, are the very same ones who address me as Mama. Some of the kuchus who are happy to be themselves around me, also address me as Mama. And so, I was surprised that there were some people who were uncomfortable that I presented myself as Mama Stella.

“Does it mean that the only way you can relate to us homosexuals is as a mother? What if I do not want to be mothered by you? What if I hate my memories of being with my own mother? How do I relate with you if all you are is Mama Stella?” another queer person asked me.

Nyanzi commented further:

I am not proud about it, but I have been disrespectful to my mother a million times. I have joked and laughed with my mother a billion times. I have shown my deepest shame to my mother and she hugged me — warts, shame and all a few times too many! And so I am not sure about deference… I guess the bigger lesson for me was that there are people who are just uncomfortable when one presents as a mother!

76crimes blog;


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