Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The blessings of a ‘Blessed Body’

Dear Africa,
You know how crazy we all got this year when the Akinfessi photos splashed everywhere. Everyone suddenly became ‘Akinfessi’. And then the Orlando shootings happened! Oh God! 2016 seemed a dark year. Who did not cry? Who was not angry? But coming from this we also stepped into a miracle, the gay conversation. More than any time in Nigeria’s history, same-sex affection has been written about, spoken of, mentioned, and dreamt about. More people were attacked and arrested. More people are being harassed in their homes and on social media. But as opposed to it just being the unfair ratio of Nigeria against the sexual and gender minority community, it has become a growing and substantial fraction of Nigeria at an amala table with the rest of it. Some of the homegrown incidents of this conversation are the  star-studded Nollywood film Hell or High Water(which I’m still dying to see) and the breath-taking anthology Blessed Body.
I got a copy of Blessed Body a few months ago, and it shared my bedside with school work and extracurriculars. But yesterday, I finished it! Africa, Blessed Body is a fierce one!
Its birth has Unoma Azuah and Queer Alliance(a Nigerian LGBTI non-governmental organisation) in the mix. Its pages are bedazzled with fabulous contributors from all over the world with one thing in common, Nigeria. Aze Ebira to Kennedy T.Chidi, Godwin Sodi, Kenny Bademosi, Pamela Adie to Gamal Turawa, the list goes on. From lips that are so ordinary and among us, it is hard to ignore. From hearts that beat so within us, it is difficult to walk away from. 37 unapologetically and fiercely written auto-biographies!
Africa, they are telling stories. Stories of us. They write that we were here from the beginning and are still here. They write that we sat and still sit in the class rooms of primary and secondary schools, to learn. That we got drenched in the rain. They write that we prayed, cried and travelled both the dusty and glazed paths of healing homes, churches, shrines and airports. That we got raped and disowned. That we bore the pregnancy of our children and our dreams loathing in faith and self-hate. We made mistakes. Mistakes that leave scars that may hurt for ever. Who knows? But they write of victories that are so imminent that faithlessness is foolish. They also write of the sweet journey that being you has cursed us with.

What I find most striking about Blessed Body is that it goes beyond the clichés of ‘the community’. The clichés that those who are most like us are the safest. They are presumed to understand the most and will be the first source of protection. From where I am standing it, Blessed Body seems to warn that not everything or everyone that is familiar is a safe space, not even if there is a common sexual orientation or gender identity. This anthology exposes that even within the community there are predators to be weary of.
But also, the stories acknowledge the gift and curse of strangers. People and things on the other side of our phones, towns, faiths, realities and world. People whose affection can either poison or nourish us. People and things into whose arms our life as minority forces us. In some hilarious light, we see that heart’s tendency to flirt is universal. And that even in the most dire of circumstances, it still finds the stamina to love, trust and desire. Breath-taking is what Blessed Body is, it is difficult to say what gay story stands out the most, because they are all valid facets of the big one.
Blessed Body isn’t so much an ‘Akinfessi tale’ but it has given the Nigerian ‘gay conversation’ more weight and texture than it has ever had. Africa, this book is a smack of most of the things Nigeria, and even you, should know about our minority children, travellers, preachers, parents, and lovers. I guess it is safe to say that this is our point of departure, and it only gets better as to be understood one must be heard, then listened to; seen, then read. More importantly, to be understood, we must ourselves understand.
As always, I love you. Even while you scar me, I haven’t a reason to be scared of you. This is my painful truth.

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