Subverting the “Girlie” Calendar: March

Zanele Muholi
“Being (T)here” by Zanele Muholi (2009)

Ms. March

On windy nights in March, her stars align,
like satin stitches neatly placed in rows,
and for a moment, though the rough wind blows,
her needlepoint is part of the design.

A “girlie calendar” makes one think of men’s lockers, walls of auto repair shops or a military barracks: They’re typically collections of nude or scantily dressed women in provocative poses, designed for the male heterosexual gaze.

But what if a girlie calendar is designed with a lesbian gaze in mind? That sort of subversion is what lesbian poet Mary Meriam has in mind with the title of her new poetry collection, Girlie Calendar, and for the Ms. Blog she is excerpting from the book a poem-of-the-month (she began in October and continued in November, December, January and February). Meriam is also selecting accompanying artwork for each month from both historical and contemporary lesbian-related images.

This month’s artist is Zanele Muholi, a visual activist born in Umlazi, Durban, in 1972, and currently living in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. For her MFA in documentary media at Ryerson University in Toronto, she produced a thesis that maps the visual history of black lesbian identity and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. Her photographic journeys into black female sexualities and genders in Africa have garnered many awards, including the Casa Africa for best female photographer living in Africa.

She has worked as a human/lesbian rights activist, a reporter and photographer, researching and documenting hate crimes in order to bring the realities of “curative rape,” assault, HIV and brutal murders of black lesbians to public attention. She cofounded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organization based in Gauteng that is dedicated to providing a safe space for women-loving-women to meet and organize. Muholi has also contributed her photography to many queer and art publications and academic journals, and her work has been featured in exhibits in Brazil, London, San Francisco, Germany and New York.

The photograph shown here is from a series called “Being (T)here,” a “documentation of intervention” in Amsterdam’s red-light district, made in collaboration with photographer Sean Fitzpatrick during Muholi’s residency at the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam in 2009. This work concerns the sexualized gaze perpetuated on Black women’s bodies and her own queer body. She asks, “What does it mean to have Black bodies in foreign spaces and how [do] those bodies face that debate?”

Image reprinted with permission of the artist.



Poet Mary Meriam is the founder of Lavender Review, cofounder of Headmistress Press and author of The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet’s Zodiac, Word Hot, Conjuring My Leafy Muse and Girlie Calendar.

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Mary Meriam advocates for the right of women to love each other in their poetry and art, and strives to give their work a place at the table. She writes about and publishes such work in the journal she founded, Lavender Review, at the press she cofounded, Headmistress Press, and at Ms. magazine, The Critical Flame, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Her poetry collections, The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet's Zodiac, The Lillian Trilogy, and Lady of the Moon, honor a cosmos of strong, creative women. Her latest collection, My Girl's Green Jacket, was published in 2018, and her poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Prelude, Subtropics, and The Poetry Review.