Only moments before meeting our small two-person team, Eunice* became hesitant. Although we had made an appointment with her, she had some nervousness and uncertainty; understandable considering she had never met us before. But, she trusted her local contact who had brokered this conversation between us and, after a short conversation with him, she felt persuaded to meet.
It is a beautiful sunny Thursday morning when we welcome Eunice to sit with us in the tranquil gardens of the White Castle hotel. As we introduce ourselves to one another, we realize the importance of reassuring her that we come in good faith and mean no harm. And, as we mention our own ‘queerness’ and ‘gayness’, she seems to become more at ease. A little reserved and with small stature, Eunice is a joyous character with a warm smile. As we relax into conversation, she begins sharing her experience of living as a queer woman in Arua district in the north of Uganda. Eunice is the mother of five-year old boy; a single mother now, since separating from her son’s father.
Aware of her queerness – her feelings towards other women – for a long time before her son was born, her relationship with a man was one of, almost, duress; she succumbed to pressure from her family. But the relationship did not last long, ending after only a short time. That separation was not well received by her family. Through the leadership of her brother, the family called a clan meeting, threatening to flog her. Fortunately, that threat did not come to be; instead, Eunice was disowned. It is a story she tells us with a heavy heart, the memories of those events still fresh.
After her disownment, she moved from Arua with her son and proceeded to Kampala where, for two years, she stayed with a friend, hiding from her relatives and other members of her clan, until it felt safe for her to return and reestablish herself in Arua town. Back in town, she found a house for herself and her son, and kept in touch with her friends for support. One friend, Maureen, formed a special relationship with Eunice. She speaks fondly of her, intimating that Maureen is the only person she knows closely, who visits her in her home. They have become support to each other, and share about personal things – even matters about their health. Eunice is no longer in touch with the father of her child. As time progressed, she cut ties with him, despite the support he offered her. That support always came with conditions; with demands for sexual favours. She reacts strongly as she tells us this part of her story. “Fu-k that sh-t!”, she emphasizes, insisting on maintaining her job in order to support her son and herself. Since that time, Eunice has stayed true to living her queer life on her terms.
Despite all she’s been through, Eunice seems to be relatively happy. Her experience has left her resilient and hopeful, determined to fight for her own happiness and peaceful state of being. “To others like me, going through the similar experience, take heart. Have no fear. Live your life on your terms. Don’t be afraid to come out and meet with other people who are like you.”. She hopes to relocate to another country at some point in her life, where she can be freely express herself, and have better economic opportunities. As we exchange goodbyes, she thanks us for taking time to talk to her. It is a warm moment, and we feel – in a way – heavy that our time is coming to an end.
*not her real name