|Simon Nkoli (image sourced from: https://nonstopagainstapartheid.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-power-of-sissies-simon-nkoli-and-international-lesbian-and-gay-solidarity/)|
In a few weeks my brothers shall be called to the Nigerian
Bar. Wigs and gowns are flying around at the Bwari market. Bank accounts are
being drained and trips are being planned from all over the world for the
biggest party in Abuja 2016. The ‘Call to the Nigerian Bar’ ceremony. Slowly,
we are drawing closer to the last set of news wigs that were inspired by Justice
League, Suits and Legally Blonde. Perhaps Boston Legal, or the old Nigerian
soap, the Firm. Perhaps even by the ancient décor that escorted the presence of
Nigerian lawyers and judges. Our dreams battered into shape by academic test
after academic test. Our confidence squeezed into a pulp by structures and
labels that eternally struggle to make us clones of those before and those
after us. Whether or not we can help this is not the issue. The issue is whether we have taken all this bull shit, and are going to get called to bar, to
join the league of extra-ordinary freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma
Gandhi and Madea! Yep.
Sorry. That’s the biggest lie we ever told ourselves. Not
that it makes any difference, given that what is false or true is quite
relative. Nonetheless, this is my objectivity. There is a big difference
between lawyering and freedom fighting. While lawyering comes with thick
volumes, long nights and days, travels, inexplicably long jurisprudence and
court room sessions- nothing like Suits by way- the art of freedom fighting
comes with toxic stories. This cannot be programmed into DNAs like the fear of
silks and Bar final. The art of freedom of fighting cannot be learned in the
classroom either, not even if all the cotton and wool are invited from their
stations to address it. Terribly, I also know nothing about this art.
In a spirited debate a few months back, my blog and its
effect on human rights in Nigeria was put on the spot. Was I doing anything
worthwhile? Was I wasting my time? Did I have an audience? Did I have any
impact at all? I expected these questions. The main question being what power
does my writing have on the everyday life of the average Nigeria? I gave anything but the right answer to the
debater and to myself.
Going back a few months before that, I had thrown on some
corn rows, and published a letter on Olumide Akinfessi’s alleged death(still
not formally addressed by Nigerian civil society and state agents). I had gone
all out with homo-inclined posts on my facebook wall, and the world fought back.
Long lost friends arrived with spears and confetti. While some applauded and
encouraged me and my art, others used rather unsettling words. Ex-lovers, brothers
and enstranged ‘sisters’attacked openly. Family called from home. The big
question, ‘Nnanna are you gay?!’ must have recurred in my inbox only a
gazzilion times. My facebook wall was a
war-torn zone for a long-stretch of time. I’d hate to address the effects it
had on me, my academics and my life. But
it was important for me to withdraw not because I was out of words or thoughts.
I owed to myself to be stable and in control of the situation. Perhaps, storytelling
and blogging are only a few sparks of the flame that burns within. So, I took a chill
pill, reclined and was entertained by the racket the world has always been.
Especially as regards the things that draw me in the most, Queer Politics.
There has been a plethora of mind blowing events that has haunted
my facebook LGBTI circle and those beyond. Phenomenal things. Of course, you’ve
been watching as well . So you know. While enjoying the brief tranquillity of
not being a target for hate, hostility and homophobia, because I still have that luxury, others have put up
the middle finger and are fighting these battles every day of their lives. I
respect these ones, they have given up this luxury for a life of eternal visibility
However, in my watching, something has struck me. Queer !
That one word that used to mean just being ‘unwelcome because
one is homosexual’. That one toxic term for strangeness, such a strangeness
that should never be experienced or acknowledged. This word was safe. Things
were better when it was just this. The streets, homes and churches were as
hostile. But at least, the targets knew that they were targets. So they owed to
themselves to be mentally and physically prepared for whatever.
It’s different now Africa, so different. I haven’t been out
there in a while. But if social media is the new street and church and school,
then things are a lot worse. Three stories have struck me in this light. Four
stories that seem in some light to address the question ‘what is Queer?’
Bisi Alimi, the spirited Nigerian son from Mushin that has
taken the world by storm with his human rights activism and visibility, is one
of such stories. He is presently counting down to his wedding day, each day publically
celebrating a part of his past and present . Similarly, being Bisi all the
same, relentlessly fierce and unapologetic for being homosexual and having very
firm views on the subject, he constantly a target for hostility. He is queer and African, and no one dares
contest this! He came out quite voluntarily on national television early in the
millenium and has held the world’s attention since then.
Mr. D, whose name, I shall not write in full to avoid re-victimisation,
took Nigeria by storm when he got married to his male partner, and Linda Ikeji
published his wedding photos. It spread like wild fire. I’m equally guilty of
adding to this as I shared one of such posts on my wall. I was particularly ecstatic
when I saw those photos. They were remarkable. They seemed to say ‘fuck this! Its
my life!’. And I thought ‘what guts!’ Of course, in the way that a brother
cheers his own when he accomplishes a feat. But! Things were not as I thought. He
was not saying ‘fuck this!’ . In fact, he was not saying anything at all. He
was just a regular Nigerian in diaspora leading a regular life. He had no
intentions of making a point, or participating in the discussion and sure as
hell did not enjoy being the discussion. How Linda got the photos, only God
knows! As much as I enjoy the affirmation of diversity as equally valid, I forgot
that I owed it to the human community to respect. This often means keeping
quiet, listening closely and praying, not acting, being supportive, being
silent and learning. Mr. D, another Nigerian, getting into a same-sex marriage caught
the world’s attention too. He is queer and African, but its no one’s business
to contest or discuss it. About the world’s attention? To blazes!
Quite recently there is the incident of Bobrisky. He has
caught Nigeria’s attention. The beautiful Nigerian man with the astute mastery
of snap chat and skin alteration, gashing fiercely at the Nigerian gender
boundaries and rising supersonically to fame,
was deemed a ‘sensationalisation’ of an event. It was alleged that some
folks pulled out of a panel discussion at the event simply because Bobrisky
would be participating. In spite of all the drama that surrounded the event,
the young man arrived town, slayed as a panellist and walked away. The Nigerian
media has addressed the issue of his sexual orientation severally. Is he gay
because he gives make up artists and Nigerian girls a run for their money as
regards make-up? Is he gay because he loves sequins and selfies? He has
severally identified as heterosexual. But nope! It’s not enough, folks still
had to pull out of the panel. But then, what if he is not as he claims? Should
it matter? Should it be anybody’s business? Well, given that he is quite
public, a lot cannot be avoided. He is
deemed queer, because of people’s perception of his dress sense and appearance.
Did he ever embroid ‘Im gay’ on the butt of any of his skinny jeans? Or does
his tattoo spell,’ h-o-m-o-s-e-x-u-a-l’? It does not have to because the Nigeria
I see on social media has become a place where being queer is no longer a
question of who you love, who you are getting married to or if you come-out on
national tv. It has become a question of whether or not there is something
attention worthy about you, something that should be watched, policed and as
soon as proven, put back in its place for good!
Last month, a 19 year old beauty queen, C, was hit on social
media by a still-anonymous joker . He /she released videos of C indulging in
self-stimulation and same-sex intercourse.
This joker, seems to have this video in snippets and feeds the public
episode after episode of a toxicity that is aimed at shaming C. Her name has high google search ratings, and
has become a trending issue. Take note, this
video has caught the world’s attention. In the Nigeria I grew up in, there is
surely no question of whether or not it is humiliating to be branded a lesbian.
The main issue, is how to punish her enough and teach her
how-not-to-be-a-lesbian. C, has risen up
to defend herself on social media and in person saying that her face was
electronically tailored into the video and that she is too decent to indulge in
such acts. The vibe that I am getting is that she feels humiliated not because
she is in a sex video, but because she is in a lesbian sex video. As though lesbianism
makes an exposed sex video more of a test that it already is. In Naija?! It
does oh jareee! In a place where girls who wear boys clothing are threatened
with 14 years. In a country where
everything sexual is a synonym for taboo . Nonetheless, C now has the world’s
attention in some light. Is she queer? Despite her identifying as non-lesbian?
I dare argue in the affirmative. She does not have to be lesbian to be queer in
today’s Nigeria, all she needs is a video online or gossip trends, public
insinuations, and of course bad press!
It seems to me that being queer in Nigerian now is more than
the conversation that one has in the privacy of his/her room. It is more than
the phenomenal wedding, secret or broadcasted in distant lands. Being queer now
is more than the affirmation of equality and human rights. It’s no longer as simple
because the lines are muddled up. But it all comes down to being different or
perceived as such. Of course there are the United Nations treaty body
General Comments, Joint Statements and
the Yogyakarta Principles, things that the average lesbian student or gay
employee may never know about or understand.
Things that simply say, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual,
transgender , intersex , cross-dresser or being perceived as one of them does
not make you any more messed up than you are already. In fact, it gives you a
leverage, because stealing the show is a
lot easier if people think or know for sure that there is something queer about
you, something that is frightful , and stage worthy. Difference does not ask
for attention, it snatches it!
Resolved, actually being or suspected to be queer makes you
different, slams so many doors in your face. But it gets them to peep out of
the windows to see what you’ll do next. This is a chance. And this chance is power!
I am learning not to take this chance for granted, the chance to be peeped at.
The chance to be watched, ridiculed, spoken or written about, the chance to be
criticised. This is the chance to say and be the most and make your mark, ride on
the waves. Use the attention for good. Be heard, seen and, with any luck,
chronicled in history . And in all this never forget that no one can contest
the validity of authenticity. This chance is what men study all their lives for,
preparing in the best classrooms, libraries and conferences of the world. To be
different, to be queer, to be watched, peeped at. Unfortunately, every time has
its chosen hero, and every story chooses its writer. Skill, pedigree, class or
stature often has nothing to do with it. You have it on a platter of gold, but
there is no rule that says you must use it.
it’s a shame to misuse or be ignorant of this power. It has a shelf
life, and it’s extraordinary to have it twice or for a prolonged time.
Simple men like Mahatma, Nelson, Shakespeare, and the Simon
Nkoli’s of the world saw this, snatched it and won. This is not to say that
people haven’t died in the heat of trying, but why do nothing when there are rays
of hope, opportunity, power ? It’s here for us in the simple things that surround
us: the huge wedding that is coming up; the leaked wedding photos that made you
unsettled; the sensation you have become; the sex scandal that is a big deal
but not big enough to define you. I know
my justice league but I read about Simon Nkoli I was blown away. His queerness
put South Africa, add to being independent, on the first page of the coloured
chronicles. And the opportunity to do that was in a split second, in a broken
powerless place. It could have been simply and safely been ignored. His power,
hidden, and his queerness hushed. His context: prison, apartheid, being
political, gay and having the world’s attention. If there is one commonality it
is their having the uncanny capacity to, through the simplest, most trivial
things, capture and use the world’s attention in marking their time in their
own handwriting. More than half the time this is achieved in the heat of
opportunity but in the absence of status, position and skill. There have always
been fairer and better placed men for the job. But God, for some reason, enjoys
conferring such powers on the maligned, the nameless, the ‘out-of-where’s, the
queer, the forbidden, the targeted. Is Nature’s compensation for vulnerability
? Is she trying to make a point? Or is it one of her jokes?
In a few weeks, Abuja , Nigeria shall host thousands of
ground breaking students whose minds have been scripted by culture and norms,
and the fear of bar final. The new wigs. Amongst them are men with whom I have
eaten and prayed. Among them is a lady that I once loved, and several other
people who have mastered the art of lawyering. And who may genuinely not be
interested in the art of freedom fighting. Among them are people who will be
choked to know that training informs you of what to say, it does not give you
the opportunity to say it. Queerness does, being African, Nigerian and being
different do? As a Nigerian lawyer with a stormy mind, my blog, what I say and
how I say it have earned me some sort of queerness, dare I ask for more?
Sharing from time to time in the hostility
for being perceived as queer, flowing from my writing; learning the
limits of my still nascent stamina, I slowly embrace this place , whatever the
impact of my blog is on human rights. Whatever the impact is at all!