Siri, a song by Kenyan artist Fena Gitu, explores a secret love affair between two married/dating women. Siri is a Swahili word for ‘secret’. The opening scene of the video features two ladies, Dela and Wanjira, in a hotel room seeming to have spent the night together.
There’s a ruffled bed and they appear to have disagreed about something. Wanjira leaves Dela in the room and they meet later at a lunch double date with their boyfriends. The men sit on one side of the table and the ladies on the other side, across them.
The dynamic on the table is interesting to watch. Initially, the two ladies act as platonic friends by greeting each other casually. However, with time, unable to continue their charade, they hold hands under the table while exchanging loving glances on the blind side of their unsuspecting boyfriends.
In a country where previous music and films such as Rafiki, which features LGBTQ content have been banned, this song is a bold move that re-centers LQBTQ conversations. The video is well acted out, sensuous and affirming of African queer love. There are scenes of the two ladies at work getting cosy with each other; touching, flirting and being all lovey-dovey. These are scenes of explicit queer content and address an uncomfortable conversation that Kenyans would rather avoid—homosexuality.
The song explores various aspects of queer culture in most African countries where homosexuality is criminalized. Some of these themes are: keeping queerness a secret, femme-on-femme queer relationships and femme invisibility in queer culture.
Keeping Queerness a Secret
Queer people in Kenya and in most African countries have to hide their identities from their families, friends and colleagues. Being open and out as a queer person in Africa can lead to verbal and physical attacks, stigma and discrimination and sometimes corrective rape. Thus, it is safer for one to hide than to openly own their sexuality.
The song explores the practice of having a heterosexual relationship to cover up one’s queerness. For example, parts of the song talks about ‘not confessing the secret’. The second verse amplifies this when Gitu sings, “keep it between me and you. Nobody has to know what we do. I was fooling around, we cheating. Why are forbidden fruits so sweet?”
The act of secrecy is a way that queer people avoid suspicions from the public about their sexuality. Some may have heterosexual relationships for the glam while exploring their true sexuality in secret. Others even get married to rid-off questions and the prying eyes of family and friends. While these practices are common, the song reveals the conundrum that queer people often find themselves in. Many queer people wish they could display their sexuality without fear.
Femme-on-Femme Queer Relationships
Gitu digs deeper into lesbian culture when she explores femme-on-femme relationships in her song. Queer relationships are often viewed through a heteronormative lens which assumes that lesbian relationships involve a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ woman. Gitu challenges this assumption when in Siri, she casts two women who both display femme-on-femme features and tendencies. For instance, both women look feminine in their choice of clothing and make-up and in their sexual appeal. Her shift away from the ‘stereotypical’ lesbian is the highlight of the song. Gitu shows that femme-on-femme relationships are just as valid as masc-on-femme and even masc-on-masc relationships when it comes to lesbians.
Femme invisibility in queer culture
Feminine ladies are rarely profiled as being queer unless they are in the company of other people who look ‘stereotypically queer’. The song does a great job at amplifying the invisibility of femme women who love women, whether they are lesbian, bisexual or pansexual. It brings the awareness that there is no one way to look or be queer and that you cannot know a lesbian or bisexual woman by simply looking at them.
Gitu pushed the bar in queer content with Siri in a laudable way. We are definitely jamming to this song that highlights queer culture. Representation matters and Gitu must have been aware of that need when she made the video. Sometimes the ‘other man’ is a woman.