Winning Beyond the Gender Binary for Pan-Africanism

Anyone who’s been in the movement for the past 10 years knows that there are queer and trans people all up and through the leadership of many of the organizations fighting most effectively for the people today. If you’re a regular at the constellation of one-on-ones, canvassing, mobilizations, organizing meetings, mutual aid projects, party congresses, conferences, coalitions, workshops, community events, fundraisers, kickbacks, international delegations, or strategic retreats that make up movement work, then you probably already know that there is a very visible unofficial cadre of militant and dedicated as fuck queer folks, trans folks, and enbies running shit in most any of those spaces. Whether the focus is revolutionary Pan-Africanism, Black internationalism, mutual aid projects, communist revolution, Cuba solidarity, organizing youth, service workers unions, Indigenous sovereignty, or nearly any social justice cause you can think of – LGBTQ folks of all ages (but particularly youth) are providing critical leadership, capacity, and infrastructure to keep these projects going. But if one were to look toward traditional leadership and narratives in many movements, you find little acknowledgement of this. 

In the specific case of the worldwide Pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist movements, you are at this point in history more likely to encounter a narrative of LGTBQ treachery and distrust. A belief that queer and trans Africans are intrinsically compromised – misguided fairweather friends at best, aliens whose mere existence is a direct attack on African men and families at worst – and thus not fit for inclusion if not worthy of outright attack. The Pan-African and Black Nationalist movements are not unique in this respect. Those of us living in the belly of the beast are living through a new but also very very old wave of increasingly mainstream and structural hostility towards queer and trans people and a rolling back of rights and recognitions that many had assumed were ours for good. The queer and trans antagonism in African liberation struggles is a direct consequence of and has a symbiotic relationship with this broader societal reaction. Nonetheless it is important to understand that while this narrative of the queer liability is widespread and frequently repeated, it has simply no basis in reality. It never has. Far from being traitors or threats, the foundational role they play in our liberation movements shows that queer and trans folks represent a strategically and politically necessary new generation of leadership that have brought much needed energy, skill, and vision to our movements at a pivotal historical point in our struggle.

For over 50 years the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) has struggled against rigid capitalist constructed and propagated gender roles that have marginalized African women and children and destroyed and destabilized African families for centuries. Our party has also for over 50 years correctly applied the analytical framework of the nation-class-gender perspective (an understanding that African women are oppressed on the basis of being African, of being women, and of being working class) to understand the conditions and causes of that marginalization and how to address them. But we were falling short even as our party correctly named the systems of patriarchy and capitalism-imperialism as the ultimate enemies which must be destroyed to realize our total liberation as Africans of all genders. We were falling short even as we organized based on an understanding that the struggle against gender-based oppression and patriarchy had to occur concurrently with the struggle to win Pan-Africanism. We were falling short because we failed to sufficiently challenge those enemies, patriarchy and imperialism and their structures, when it came to our party’s understanding of gender itself. For the majority of our existence the A-APRP’s line on gender was based on an assumption that the social construct of gender could only be understood as a strict biologically defined binary. This meant that the undeniable existence of non-binary, gender non-conforming, trans, and queer Africans – in our communities, in our history, and in our struggle – was neither acknowledged or included in our analysis.

The Anti-Patriarchy Task Force (APTF) of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party was formed in the summer of 2018 to address this contradiction within our organization. More specifically, the Anti-Patriarchy Task Force’s mission was to:  

“wage an ideological struggle against the gender contradictions which exist within the A-APRP. There is no definitive party line […] addressing the ever-evolving material realities [of Africans] outside of a gender binary.  We aim to frame an even larger gender analysis [beyond] said binary and [to uncover] our matriarchal history.  Our role is to create an environment both within the party and externally amongst our people that resists all patriarchal ideas and actions/practices.” 

In short the work of the APTF was to update the A-APRP’s line and strategy on gender to reflect reality: queer, trans, and gender non-conforming Africans exist, they are our family and comrades, and the struggle for their liberation is part of the struggle for Pan-Africanism. We also sought to update the A-APRP’s work study reading list to include more material on fighting patriarchy and new material on understanding gender beyond the binary. Lastly we wanted to help develop new structures and processes within the party to address interpersonal violence and abuse, particularly gender-based violence. The task force was convened primarily because queer, trans, and gender non-conforming Africans, women, youth, and our accomplices recognized a gap within the party’s line and work that needed to be corrected. 

One thing the A-APRP’s work study process teaches you is to use our party’s tools of analysis – most notably in this case that aforementioned nation-class-gender perspective and also dialectical and historical materialism – to think critically about the world in which we are living and fighting. It also teaches the necessity of not just thinking about and critiquing  our world but acting through collective organization to ultimately change it. So when the organizers of the APTF saw the gap, we also had the analytical and organizational tools we needed to address it as rank and file members. So we did. 

We realized early on in the life and work of the task force that any kind of top down approach to fighting this contradiction wasn’t gonna work. A party’s political line and ideology are collectively shaped and honed through years of study, theorizing, and practice. It is a process that in the A-APRP’s case has unfolded over the course of decades on an explicitly Pan-African and transnational basis. Not just Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, and Amilcar Cabral as individuals but the entire organizational, theoretical, and strategic history of the CPP, PDG, and PAIGC, along with the theory and practice of generations of A-APRP cadre and militants, and the lessons of over 500 years of mass-based African anti-colonial struggle have helped shape the A-APRP’s political line into what it is today. It is truly a living thing – an organic weapon honed by our conditions and our resistance. A pure creation of the African revolution and the global struggle to defeat imperialism and build socialism and ultimately communism. All that to say that updating it could never be a matter of convincing our party’s Central Committee to issue a proclamation declaring it so and kicking out anyone who disagreed. A revolutionary political line can’t be changed through decree, it can only be changed through collective revolutionary struggle. 

We realized that we needed  to develop a strategy that built support for the needed change from the bottom up  by engaging the membership of the A-APRP worldwide in a collective process of political education and transformation. We had to make our case scientifically, organizationally, and humanistically by creating spaces where party members could learn, ask questions, share lived experiences, and speak freely. We had to meet folks where they were at, talk to them in ways they could understand, make the argument with evidence using the A-APRP’s line, and bring as many folks as possible with us. We had to make resolving this contradiction a collective process in which the party’s membership were participants with agency, not lemmings being dictated to.

We organized a series of seminars that would span over the course of several years. The seminars covered topics like an introduction to Patriarchy and Matriachy, Rape Culture & Consent, Gender Identity and Variance, Gender Non-Conformity in Pre-Colonial Africa, Transformative Justice, and more. Members of our task force worked together to develop the structure and content of these seminars, mobilize A-APRP members to attend them, and facilitate them. Every single seminar was intentionally constructed to have a space for knowledge sharing followed by a space for open (but facilitated) discussion. We were clear that we wanted folks to be able to speak – and disagree – openly. We absolutely knew that our success depended on creating an environment where party members raised their issues and struggled openly, rather than disagreeing silently, ruminating, and emerging as procedural blocks at pivotal moments. Everybody had to understand where we were trying to go and why – and further they had to be convinced to participate in that journey with us through principled struggle.

Some of us went into the seminar series already as strong speakers, facilitators, and researchers but many of us were given an extremely valuable opportunity to develop those skills. In our task force meetings we shared strategies for facilitating group discussions of contentious topics while sticking to timeboxes and agendas, did role play to learn how to maintain composure and focus during sometimes emotional one-on-one or few-on-many struggles, and shared primary and secondary sources to help build and sharpen our collective analysis. We figured out how to present our arguments in ways that would resonate with folks and how to present unfamiliar information in ways that could be clearly understood across various learning styles. We also learned how to maintain connection across disagreement and strategies for engaging in struggle that could win people over over time even when we began ideologically far apart. 

In the years that we spent consistently cultivating those spaces, we witnessed a slow transformation in the language and perspectives of the A-APRP’s membership. Where at the beginning the language we used – non-men, marginalized genders, gender neutral language in general – was met with confusion, by the end of the first year we had A-AWRU coordinators and Central Committee members using it confidently when discussing our party’s work. Long time All-African Women’s Revolutionary Union cadre began asking how we could expand and even rename our women’s wing to become more inclusive to Africans across the spectrum of gender who were oppressed by patriarchy. Political Education Committee organizers and cadre circles studied and recommended more and more readings providing the historical and political basis for an understanding of gender beyond the binary and its relationship to the struggle for Pan-Africanism. And in some A-APRP organizing areas recruiting queer and trans Africans became an open strategic focus. 

By the second and third year members of the APTF on the AAWRU council had developed a process for responding to incidents of harm and abuse using the principles of Transformative Justice (and a series of seminars explaining its purpose and how to carry it out) that the Central Committee subsequently voted to adopt as policy party wide. APTF and A-AWRU recommendations for additions to the A-APRP booklist – which including works like Gender Epistemologies in Africa by Oyèrónké Oyĕwùmí, Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society by Ife Immandume, and Women in the Cuban Revolution by Fidel Castro and Vilma Espin – were accepted and are now being read by party members in work study all over the world. 

For years local work study circles, organizing areas, and chapters – particularly in Oregon, New Mexico, and in our virtual circles like Ka-Ji –  had already taken the correct position on this question on their own, but with the work of the APTF, the struggle was systematic and party wide for the first time. The results of our work were undeniable.  The biggest test, however, was the A-APRP’s very first Party Congress, which happened in January of 2023.

The Party Congress is the highest decision making body in our organization. It is the culmination of a years-long process of discussion and debate that engages every work study circle, committee, and task force in the party. It is meant to be a space where all important strategic and ideological questions are on the table to be decided upon collectively by representatives of the party’s membership. If the A-APRP’s line was to be updated,  the Party Congress is where the decision would be made to do so. 

The years of work of the Anti-Patriarchy Task Force was synthesized in a series of resolutions put forward and debated during the social revolution portion of the Party Congress. Those resolutions were the following:

Resolutions on Patriarchy and Gender

  1. The A-APRP must develop a strategic set of actions aimed at understanding and waging a struggle against toxic and repressive culture due to patriarchy. Our line must resolutely condemn and reject all forms of patriarchy.  Add to our line on gender the assertion that patriarchy is the domination and privileging of men over women and over the spectrum of all other genders (including trans and non-binary genders).
  2. We must intensify our study and understanding of the historic and contemporary impact of patriarchy on African people. We must intensify our study of the relationship between class oppression and patriarchy. Our Party must apply a nation-class-gender analysis to our understanding of patriarchy and the resulting oppression.
  3. The line of the A-APRP must express acceptance of all African people who are willing to sacrifice and struggle for justice, without regard to gender, sexuality, religion, age, ability, or nation. Our programs and political education must clarify that men are not the enemy and must be included in the struggle to defeat patriarchy in all its manifestations.
  4. Acknowledge that there needs to be an increase in the understanding of non-binary gender and other forms of gender variance within the A-APRP, while maintaining a recognition that patriarchy is at root of all gender-based oppression.  We also need more study on gender expression and its impact on how we organize African women at home. The A-APRP should add educational materials  on patriarchy and gender and their relationship to our line on humanism, egalitarianism, collectivism, and the class and anti-colonial struggle. Educational materials should be included in the orientation process, work-study process, pre-cadre and cadre circles.
  5. Our Nkrumahist-Touréist-Cabralist ideology and philosophy (consciencism) upholds humanism, egalitarianism and collectivism and must fight against all gender-based oppression and violence against women, children, and marginalized genders.

When these resolutions were put to a vote by the 36 delegates of the A-APRP’s historic first Party Congress, the overwhelming majority of those delegates – from Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Azania, the US, and beyond – voted to accept them, thus making them officially part of the A-APRP’s line worldwide.  

We had done it. 

The experience and work of the Anti-Patriarchy Task Force shows unequivocally the power of ideology, organization, and principled collective struggle. It also shows how revolutionary organizations and movements are truly the only structures within this system that can be ‘changed from the inside’ precisely because they equip their members with the knowledge, skill, and power needed to do so. Watching the transformation within the A-APRP – watching elders who had no idea what the hell we were talking about be won over because they used our ideology’s tools of analysis  to come to the understanding that we were correct – has been one of my most rewarding experiences within the organization. It has deepened my respect and love for my comrades, my party, and for our living political line and revolutionary ideology. I am deeply grateful every day to be part of it and part of the struggle to liberate Africa and African people. 

Forward Ever to Worldwide Pan-Africanism.

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Onyesonwu Chatoyer is an African woman marooned in the United States, organizing to defeat capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. She is an organizer with the All-African People's Revolutionary Party and the All-African Women's Revolutionary Union, an editor with Hood Communist, and also serves on the national committee of the Venceremos Brigade.