had thought to write something else, but I was interrupted, and had to pay attention to the suture between disparate moments of violence. On 19 November 2022, the Initiative for Strategic Litigation (ISLA), a pan-African and feminist organization tweeted that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)—African organizations use a lot of acronyms, forgive me—had “rejected the application for observer status for three NGOs.” Per ACHPR, “sexual orientation is not an expressly recognized right or freedom under the African Charter, and [is] contrary to the virtues of African values, as envisaged by the African Charter.”[1] Observer status permits an NGO to participate as a non-voting member in AU discussions and to respond to questions from AU member states.[2] That sexual orientation is “not an expressly recognized right or freedom” by the AU does not surprise me. But there’s something about being told you cannot be in the room when decisions are made about you. To be queer and trans* bars one from the status of African recognized and protected by the African Union. It is not that I did not know this. It still stings.

This legal formality is compounded by news of a shooting in a club in Colorado Springs, a place I’ve never been.[3] A shooting in which some were killed and others injured. Our skins stretch across geohistories, pricked by the evidence of our vulnerability to arbitrary violence. It is not that we are all vulnerable in the same ways; the spaces in which we imagine and practice collectivity render us vulnerable. I have been borrowing language from Hortense Spillers (1987), who writes that part of the violence of enslavement was the arbitrary violation of kinship by property relations; to arbitrary, I’d add quotidian.[4] I’m not fond of the word kinship, so let me change it to relation: that one’s partner, friend, child, or workmate could be sold at any moment, for any reason. Or gifted to a friend or relative. Legal status does not protect one from arbitrary and quotidian violence, and this is part of what queer and trans* still name: this overwhelming vulnerability to arbitrary and quotidian violence from the state, from strangers, and as Stanley’s discussion of Scotty Joe Weaver (pp. 34-36) demonstrates, from intimates.

And then, as the year turned, news arrived on 1 January 2023 that Edwin Chiloba, a 25-year-old model, had been murdered, and his body discovered in a suitcase. Forgive me, I cannot provide citations to reports by Kenyan media. They are homophobic, transphobic, and violent. Chiloba’s murder threw me. It was salt to the wound of ACHPR denying observer status. It was more salt to the wound of the arbitrary shooting in Colorado. I sighed heavily at this reminder that such quotidian violence also sutures and makes queer and trans* geohistories. Away from the fictions of national borders enforced by onerous legal regimes, queer and trans* still coalesce and fracture under the sign of vulnerability to violation, even as we try to create and inhabit different terrain where we can live with the banal pleasures and irritations of sociality. I am trying to say, clumsily, that if we were to plot maps of violence against queer and trans* people, they would undo what we know as borders, cut through domestic and institutional spaces, and slice across difference. And I fear that our attempts to repair such geography-undoing harm are woefully inadequate.

I found it difficult to read Atmospheres of Violence, and how it maps the banal ways trans* and queer name vulnerability to killability, even as those of us who shelter under those terms try to imbue them with our freedom dreams and practices. Tourmaline (2020) writes, “I’m not satisfied with Black trans lives mattering; I want Black trans lives to be easy, to be pleasurable, and to be filled with lush opportunities. I want the abundance we’ve gifted the world—the art, the care, the knowledge, and the beauty—to be offered back to us tenfold.” The audacity to imagine ourselves free, living with and through “revolutionary ideals” that “animate ordinary lives” (Hartman, 2019, vx).

Forgive me if I seem to be skirting the occasion for this writing, a discussion of Eric Stanley’s Atmospheres of Violence. As delighted as I was to receive an invitation to respond to the book, I was also wary. I have not lived in the United States for over a decade, and while most of my academic work is still published there, because the stuff I think about has a more legible infrastructure there (journals, conferences, tenured professors, book series, fellowships), I do not take the U.S. as the site of my thinking. And it takes a lot more conceptual labor than I am willing to expend to translate U.S. frames for my Nairobi context, and then to make them conceptually, historically, and politically meaningful, without simply using those frames as analogies (“this in Nairobi can be likened to that in the U.S.”) or ambitions (“we want the freedoms they have over there”). Violence is a shared vernacular—state violence, queer- and trans-antagonistic violence, police violence, economic violence, antiblack violence—and I struggle not to frame it as our only or dominant vernacular. Even as I know that it must be named, if only as a gesture of care toward those we mourn. After all, we tend to the dead, as Christina Sharpe (2016) reminds us.

And, so, let me stay with care. In a salon on Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake, Saidiya Hartman said “care is the antidote to violence.”[5] Atmospheres of Violence opens by “Reading with Care.” Stanley writes:

This book describes a number of anti-Black, ableist, racist, and anti-trans/ queer scenes of violence. This structuring violence appears as corporal attack, medical neglect, murder, suicide, and suicidal ideations. Throughout the text I articulate why I believe the event calls for a renarration while, in other moments, I refuse to reproduce the incident. These imperfect decisions are guided by a radical commitment to keeping each other alive and toward ending the world that produces this unfolding archive (ix).

I am deeply grateful that Stanley opens with a discussion of care, and not with a trigger warning. To be clear, trigger warnings and content warnings are practices of care, helping people to manage difficult encounters. Yet, the word “warning” does not quite communicate the care that is intended. Warning is a red stop sign, a barrier that screams hazard, not the invitation to a s/place of care.[6] Not indicative of the “radical commitment to keeping each other alive and toward ending the world that produces this unfolding archive.”

How, then, to sit with these archives of disposability? And, having sat with them, how to renarrate them as a practice of care toward imagining a different world where such narration would not be needed because the arbitrary, quotidian violence that occasions it no longer exists? I am grateful to Stanley for sitting with and thinking through these archives, and I hope care has been and continues to be extended to repair the harm that comes from such sitting with. Yet, harm is not the only vernacular Stanley offers, and I am so incredibly grateful for Miss Major’s laugh: “I was sitting in the lobby of TARC when a booming laugh broke the ordered chaos of the room. With a swing of a glass door and the slam of a box of condoms on the floor, Major was there” (121). Against and beyond arbitrary, quotidian violence, laughter punctures the air. I am drawn to this scene of ordinary world-making, to what laughter might animate as a way to imagine and inhabit the world in relation with others, to what laughter might attract as possibility, as a loophole toward other possibilities. As a freedom practice. It seems like such a small thing: a laugh. And I make no claims for laughter as revolutionary practice. Instead, it is the scene of this brief encounter: “a booming laugh broke the ordered chaos of the room.” A laugh announced to an “unhoused teenager” (121) that life could hold them differently, in the care of another’s laughter, in the invitation of the laugh. May we all be held by such laughter and invitation.

By way of closing, let me return, briefly, to Edwin Chiloba’s murder. In an obscene way, the widespread, mainstream media reports of Chiloba’s murder marked an important turning point in Kenyan queer and trans* activism. As far as I can recall, it was the first time that a queer person’s violent death had received so much attention.[7] That reporting came from sustained activism by queer and trans* organizers to record violence and to demand accountability from the state. Where the homophobic and transphobic media saw spectacle and salacious detail, which is why I refuse to link to their reports, it was possible to detect the labor of organizers to make our lives less disposable. It was, in fact, queer and trans* Kenyans who posted relentlessly about the murder on social media until the mainstream media picked up the story; and, queer and trans* organizers raised funds to pay for funeral expenses. A small, necessary act of care. It is in such acts that we prefigure the worlds we want to inhabit, the worlds where we are no longer defined by threats of ubiquitous, banal violence.

K’eguro Macharia


February 2023

[1] Paragraph 58.  https://achpr.au.int/index.php/en/news/final-communiques/2022-11-18/final-communique-73rd-ordinary-session-african-commission-human
[2] See  Annex IV, “Draft Criteria for Granting Observer Status and for a System of Accreditation in the AU” https://www.peaceau.org/uploads/ex-cl-195-vii-e.pdf.
[3] https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/20/us/colorado-springs-shooting-gay-nightclub/index.html
[4] “In the context of the United States, we could not say that the enslaved offspring was ‘orphaned,’ but the child does become under the press of a patronymic, patrifocal, patrilineal, and patriarchal order, the man/woman on the boundary, whose human and familial status, by the very nature of the case, had yet to be defined. I would call this enforced status of breach another instance of vestibular cultural formation where ‘kinship’ loses meaning, since it can be invaded at any given and arbitrary movement by the property relations.” (74; emphasis in original)
[5] “In the Wake: A Salon in Honor of Christina Sharpe.” Barnard Center for Research on Women. YouTube. February 2, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGE9oiZr3VM
[6]  I learn “s/place” from M. NourbeSe Philip,"Dis Place: The Space Between," in Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory, ed. Lynn Keller (University of Michigan Press, 1994): 287-316.
[7] Stanley’s description applies to Kenya: “the quantitative limits of what gets recorded as anti-trans/queer violence cannot begin to apprehend the numbers of bodies that are collected off cold pavement and highway underpasses, nameless flesh whose stories of cruelty never find their way into an official account beyond a few scant notes in a police report” (Atmosphere, 30).


Hartman, Saidiya. 2019. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Lives of Social Upheaval. New York: W.W. Norton.
Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press.
Spillers, Hortense. 1987. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17.2.
Tourmaline. 2020. “Filmmaker and Activist Tourmaline on How to Freedom Dream.” Vogue July 2. Available here.

K’eguro Macharia dreams and writes from Nairobi, Kenya, trying to imagine freedom across the suture of Africa and the Black Diaspora.