From my fieldnotes (Kampala, 2015).
I went to Rihanna’s place and asked her about masculinity. I needed to get some more insight into specific things she does to “play it straight” as a transgender woman in Kampala. A few weeks earlier she told me about “transgender ways” — and that they are difficult for her to hide. I wanted to unpack that topic a little more.
When I arrived her boyfriend was there and another friend from the LGBT community — both identified as gay men. We sat on the floor of the room and Rihanna and her friend began to answer my questions. She told me about the different ways of “acting like a straight:”
“Acting like straight — is like putting on huge clothes. Something which is big. It is one of the ways of hiding being in the trans community. Putting on big t-shirts — putting on something which is not too tight — because when you put on a tight thing you can expect to be seen easily. So if you put on something which is big you cannot be seen easily.”
Her friend added:
“Lack of makeup — just being plain and being yourself; just being your natural self; your natural print. Instead of going in and then applying everything to change your beauty and maybe enhancing it. Just maybe keeping it inside.
Your “natural print” is your natural beauty. Just being the way you are without applying anything else. Once you get seen applying makeup to your face you can easily be identified as being LGBTI.
“Acting straightly — acting straight is really important,” Rihanna said. “Because even if you don’t put on the make up and put on the tight clothes but the way you behave matters the most. Because even if I put on the big trouser and the big t-shirt and I move our like this and stand like this.”
Rihanna demonstrates by standing with her arms on her hips, chest out.
“When you look like a lady and people can easily see. If you are trans you need to change your walking behaviors and walking styles the behaviors when you are in the community.”
We began to talk about speech patterns.
“The way you talk. Avoiding the girlish things. The way you speak is also another way of avoiding being seen as trans. Your vocals the vocal that I have right now — if I were to change it to be higher pitch trying to be like a lady voice you know instead of making it masculine because you would find people in passing saying wow he is talking like a girl.”
“If you talk like a lady people will say mmhhh look at this gay. You have to use your real voice and your real vocals. The voice you use in the outside community has to be different from the one used in the LGBT community.”
“When I am trans I use girlish voice. I have to change it whereby I use my deep voice when I am outside. But when I am trans I have to use my girlish talk.”
Her friend added commentary on hairstyle.
“Your hairstyle also determines what you are. If you found me outside you wouldn’t be able to tell I wasn’t straight. My hairstyle is common. I can move in the public — however, I can as well use it in the LGBT community. Because it’s common everywhere.”
“I have had this hairstyle for a long time because it works for both sides. However, in the LGBT community I wear a wig and say that I am trans. I can as well put a wing on my hair.”
Rihanna says she never moves out with a wig on for security purposes.
“I don’t do things which are making me to be more straight however I try to hide my identity I try to hide it but however I need to act like straight.”
“Going out with straight company — I don’t do that. I prefer hanging out with LGBT. But I have to balance both. I have to act like a straight.”