My cargo shorts and graphic tees weren’t exactly what my mother had in mind when she envisioned showing off her daughter who’d “just returned from America with an MIT degree!” to her friends at church.
The prodigal daughter, I’d returned home to Nigeria for my high school bestie’s wedding. We hadn’t seen each other in five years; during that time I’d not only come out as queer, but founded an organization for immigrant and/or queer women of color (QWOC+ Boston), cut my hair into a frohawk, and started dressing as a boy. I’d pretty much gone from a lip-gloss-wearing straight girl to the gayest person ever, but nobody had witnessed the transition, not even my friend who was getting married. I hadn’t reached out to her for fear that I wouldn’t be able to lie about who I was, and that soon after she’d tell her mom, who would tell other moms, and eventually the rest of Lagos where my parents lived, forcing my mother to endure becoming the center of gossip and ostracizing her from the very social networks she needed to survive as an aging entrepreneur. In order to make ends meet, my mother relied heavily on referrals from her religious community about various contract jobs — event planning, hotel management etc; the last thing she needed was a taboo subject like “lesbianism” turning off potential clients.
Needless to say, I hesitated when my friend invited me to be part of her bridal train, but I couldn’t refuse an invitation to be part of my girl’s wedding, even if it meant wearing a bridesmaid dress. I tried to get out of it but she firmly insisted that the dress wasn’t up for negotiation. “Well, what then if you don’t wear a dress?” she’d asked laughing, “So, you’re going to wear a suit and stand with the boys?” It hurt my feelings, but I laughed along with her and rhetorted, “Obviously not. That would be ridiculous.” That was just the beginning.
I spent the entire two weeks of my first visit home since my queer transformation absorbing my mother’s daily jabs at my clothing (and eventually, anything I said): “So you’re earning all this money and can’t even afford some nice tops?”, “You really should dress your age”, “What, you think you’re a boy now?” Gender binaries. If there was ever a place for them to thrive unchecked, it would be Lagos, Nigeria, a place where being gay is not just viewed as a choice, but a crime, and — pending the new anti-LGBT bill being deliberated — holding hands with your best friend or choosing same-sex roommates could be made punishable for up to 14 years in prison. But while I was plenty aware of the political debate around my identity as a queer African, I couldn’t have cared less about the law; I was still trying to survive within the confines of my own home.
The night before the wedding, my mother was chaperoning me through the bridesmaid dress fitting. As the strapless lilac dress found its awkward place on my body, the delicate layer of my personal confidence dropped mercilessly to the floor. I felt naked and invisible at the same time. As the zipper went up, I felt increasingly suffocated. The silver, high-heeled shoes my mother had purchased for me earlier that afternoon didn’t help either. The entire ensemble felt like a ridiculous costume.
Long before that moment, it had been easy to “dress up like a girl.” I even had a nickname/alter ego for that person “dressed up like a girl” — “The Empress.” But now, being forced to wear drooping earrings and high-heeled stillettos felt less like “performative drag” and more like the real me didn’t matter.
When my father said I looked “pretty,” I immediately went on a dramatic tirade (more dramatic than usual) to assert that this wasn’t who I was. “You only compliment me when I’m wearing clothes I don’t want to wear,” I complained, “I don’t feel pretty. I feel stupid.”
He laughed then, dismissing my gender non-conformity as me being “a rebel.” He’d been a “rebel” too, he told me (although I can’t recall seeing any pictures of him in dresses). My mother, on the other hand, was on to me. She eyed the dress silently; it was a fitting disguise and I could tell she was relieved I was wearing it.
Throughout my stay in Nigeria, the micro-aggressions continued: from things as silly to being called “feminist” (as an explanation as to why I had a puzzled look on my face when some girl said that all women should cook for their husbands to avoid making them angry), to my mother dragging me through stores to purchase large, obnoxious earrings, and to straight up homophobic rants, which I suspect were directed at me — “We don’t have that rubbish here in Nigeria — all those gay people in America, why should we be copying them? This is Africa!” Thanks to America’s media, my friends’ perceptions of gay people were limited to comic relief — white gay men dancing glittery and half-naked down the streets, lipstick on, “dressing like women.”
When I vented to my friends in the US, I was met with well-meaning — albeit privileged and individualist sentiments — “Who cares what they think? You should be able to wear what you want and be yourself. Fuck ’em.”
Except, I did care what Nigerians thought of gay people; I cared that I had no proof to show them that “gay people” could include Africans. I cared that I had no proof to show them that “gay people” included me.
Admittedly, even I had my doubts that I was who I said I was — a gay Nigerian? After all, just after I’d come out and I’d filled my Netflix queue with every recommended film from the Gay and Lesbian section in search of narratives that aligned with my experience. But I could barely find any films that included women of color, let alone African lesbians.
I realize now that I was searching for affirmation of who I was because a part of me was still internalizing homophobia; “I’m Nigerian, we’re not gay. I must be the only gay Nigerian in the world.” And even when I finally met another queer Nigerian, I dismissed her because she “hadn’t been raised at home.” If I was so quick to dismiss queer Nigerians, what chance did I have that my Nigerian family would ever come around?
But then I saw Pariah, and I knew instantly that this was the film I’d been searching for. Pariah could save me from endless arguments over laws, policies, and tradition currently in Nigeria’s media. Pariah could humanize me — turn me from “issue” to “person — and earn me empathy instead of judgement.
For the group film screening I’d helped put together for QWOC+ Boston, I’d dragged a whole crew of people: my partner, a few friends, and my straight Nigerian, Christian brother, who’d always been supportive of me, yet still had moments when he dismissed my masculinity and/or gender presentation without knowing it; like the time my mother had forced me to wear our traditional attire for his graduation (I wanted to wear the men’s kaftan, but she’d put me in the elaborately feminine women’s counterpart — the iro and buba), and he’d told me to get over it, saying flippantly, “It’s not like you never wore this stuff before.”
I remember holding my breath during pivotal scenes in the movie — like when Alike was forced to put her earrings back on before she returned home in an effort to hide her gender identity from her parents. I wondered nervously if my brother saw then the direct parallels to his own sister’s life, if he could finally understand that my protesting the outfit my mother had brought with her from Nigeria wasn’t just about defying norms for the sake of being a rebel; I really did feel more like a boy than a girl.
During the Q&A portion of the screening, Adepero Oduye (the Nigerian actress who plays Alike in the film) told us, “When my mother first saw the film, she said, ‘People here [Nigeria] need to watch that movie. You wouldn’t believe all the things they are always saying. They need to see it. They need to understand.'”
After I emerged from the theater, deliriously happy after seeing a gay character whose experience I could finally relate to, my brother relayed that the film’s exploration of masculinity within the women’s community was similar enough to his own experience that he too deeply connected with Alike. And therein lies the power of Pariah: whether or not you are part of the LGBT community, expect to “aww” and cringe several times per scene, as both the acting and directing create a winning combination for unlocking the most powerful tool in social change: empathy.
The world is watching Nigeria right now, turning their noses up at our senators who proudly proclaim that “homosexuality is unAfrican“. Nearly every other day I read a new press release from a human rights organization that condemns the latest version of the anti-gay bill. Hillary Clinton’s riveting speech about protecting human rights around the world may have brought temporary solace to many of us who are directly impacted by the move to criminalize homosexuality in various African countries, but I know firsthand that rhetoric alone will not change the world. I know from experience that my happiness will not come from winning legislative battles, but winning hearts, and films like Pariah have the power to do just that; it is films like Pariah that can and will change the world.
For Nigerians to accept their LGBT citizens as Nigerian, they need to experience queer stories as part of our own cultural landscape (as opposed to an American sitcom on Showtime) and framed within every day issues Nigerians like my parents can relate to: lack of electricity, overbearing mothers bickering over whose daughter will get married first, and simultaneous deep-rooted disdain and yearning for modernization.
Pariah may not be about LGBT Nigerians or Africans, but Dee Rees’ bold narrative has certainly opened up the possibilities for such films, at least for people like me.
So as my country deliberates the new anti-LGBT bill, I pray for LGBT Africans to find their own Pariah, and I look forward to my mother finally seeing the film so that, just like my brother, she will finally be able to hear me when I say “I am Alike:” a proud queer, Nigerian boi, but more importantly, still her daughter.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.
What a powerful essay. Thank you for sharing!
Homosexuality should be criminalized. Homosexuals commit crimes against God, against nature, against the Holy Bible and against the human race.
After reading this story I now know why God wrote:
Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
God didn’t write the bible. You’re clearly not a very good Reverend.
Dude, get off Autostraddle, this is a queer-friendly space and spamming us with hate isn’t going to do anything productive.
This is a wonderful article, I hope I can get to a screening!
This is a safe space. Go away.
I loved this essay, very well written. Thank you for posting this.
I can’t wait to see the movie.
This was a beautiful, powerful, well written essay. She spoke from her heart about the things that need to change in OUR community. If you don’t agree with us, if you are deturmined to hate our love, then go away. Someone who calls us abominations isn’t welcome here.
Reverend with all due respect, I understand your constitutional right to express how you feel, and in the process make an ass out of yourself. What puzzles me here, more than the hatred coming from someone who is supposed to preach the love of God, is the audacity and your arrogance when you say that homosexuality is against nature. According to people like you, God made everything, EVERYTHING, including us… which literally means, He made us too, are you implying God makes mistakes? Who are you to judge? Are you a virgin? A saint? An angel? I would like to know what or who gave you the power to point fingers at us.
Are you implying that because the Bible denounces homosexuality it therefore should be a crime? Does it so follow that all things claimed to be ‘wrong’ in the Bible should also be criminalized? How’s your shrimp cocktail? Or mixed fabric clothes?
What about those things that aren’t denounced in the Bible, but we chose to prohibit? Slavery? Are you cool with that because the Bible doesn’t mind it? Is stoning women fine?
How far do you take beliefs like that? Shut up and go home.
hey guys! i appreciate your encouraging and intelligent rebuttals to this reverend, but let’s not waste any more time on him, okay?
can’t you block assholes like this?
go watch “fish out of water”, kthanx.
The line my best friend (Who is African American AND GOES TO CHURCH, and is a follower of god)
“If you truly believe that God doesnt love us, and that we are Against nature, and The way it should be, then I should mock the god you follow.
-Loves all (Pan-sexual)
-Including animals (Bestiality)
-Tech. Gave Life to his son ( Because its also believed that the Holy Spirit was a part of God Himself)- [Incest]
and ESPECIALLY lvoes those who are now deceased ( Necrophilia)
So if you think my god will punish me for beingwho i am,i dont want to meet your god”
.. I’m not against God, I personally used to be a follower of god when i was young.
But it didn’t take melong to figure out, I will not waste my time trying to do right by others, and denying who i am, for the purpose of “having a better after life” , because that STOPS YOU from living THIS life, loving in this life, and all those beautiful things.
Reverend, I’m not sayin Your god is bad, or that You cant believe what ch’you want. But This is a place where we’re safe, and happy and proud to be alive and well..
So take the bs, and preach to those who plan to hearit.
BUT on a plus note.
I love it :)
.. and im honestly not bashing anyone’s gods. Im just making a point. God ‘loves all of us’ so dont hate.. cuz it can be twisted D: Anything can be twisted in anyones favor.. So just take life as it is.. i guess is what im tryina say.
This is beautiful. Thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience and communicating why putting out stories that reflect us is such a profound method of social change. Your essay is wonderfully written and deeply inspiring.
I need to send this essay to my homophobic Nigerian brother-in-law like now.
Wow, thank you Emma! Your comment just made my day :) Not sure how effective it would be with your brother-in-law, but I’m touched that you view my piece as a conversation-starter. This is exactly why I write so your comment means a lot. Thank you :)
as a Congolese girl I more than understand my recent trip back to DRC left me sour to the point that I just see my country as a big black hole in which I never want to fall ever again.
MeMe, I hear you. For me, it’s not that simple. My parents still live there, as do other family and friends. I grew up there so it’s always going to be my home and I can’t completely rid myself of that sentiment (as much as I’ve tried). Nice to meet other queer Africans on Autostraddle!
(still MeMe)… My mother still lives there too and most of my family as well. My story is a bit more complicated than that. Almost all of them know that I’m gay so there’s no subtle attack. It was a full blown aggression with lots of “exorcism” prayers for two months. Sigh… Africa has a long way to go. They hang unto Abrahamic religions like they invented them themselves.
I had a friend that recently experienced something similar, with “exorcism” prayers. It’s so hard, especially when we can see that they mean well. The harm it does is real. Sigh. African — and the world in general — definitely have strides to make within the realm of religion (and how it can be applied to real life without turning us into judges and hypocrites). I hope for resolution for you with your family.
Thank you for this articulate weaving of personal experience and analysis. This, for me, is the crux of your article: “For Nigerians to accept their LGBT citizens as Nigerian, they need to experience queer stories as part of our own cultural landscape (as opposed to an American sitcom on Showtime) and framed within every day issues Nigerians like my parents can relate to: lack of electricity, overbearing mothers bickering over whose daughter will get married first, and simultaneous deep-rooted disdain and yearning for modernization.”
Wishing you the strength to continue the work in your community, as we all continue the work in ours. And through that work, may the world community be impacted.
I love this article! thanks, Spectra. I recently watched a film that was a gay love story, set in Nigeria and London, made by a (straight) Nigerian-British woman, called Rag Tag; it’s not as wonderful as Pariah seems to be, and its about boys, but I thought it was a pretty important intervention. Also, Unoma Azuah has apparently written about being a lesbian in Nigeria in her essays and poetry, although not her novels-if people are in search of queer Nigerian culture!
B, thanks so much for the info about queer films and writers based/from Nigeria! I’m looking up Rag Tag as we speak. I know Unoma! Not as familiar with her literary works but it’s my plan for 2012! Thanks so much for these gems!
beautiful piece, so happy to publish it here
Thank you, so much Riese! Means a lot coming from Autostraddle :)
Thanks for writing this. I can’t wait to see pariah :)
Beautiful and honest and powerful – thank you!
loved this essay so much. i can’t imagine how seeing the film with your brother must have felt. his ‘reflections of a very queer christmas’ post on your blog was also beautiful. (especially “When you really love someone, when your sister or brother or whomever tells you they’re queer or gay or whatever (I’m still learning there are many different ways gay people describe themselves), it simply shouldn’t matter.” )
thank you for sharing your story here!
Thank you Laneia! It was hard to write this without constantly cringing and squirming in my seat. Awkward times for sure, but I’m glad it’s resonating with people. I’ll let my brother know you loved his post, too! All the positive feedback he’s been getting on it is certainly encouraging him to use his ally voice more :)
This is such a beautiful piece. I’m home for the holidays and have been hearing so much homophobia, this almost made me tear up.
Thank you so much for writing this.
Thank you so much, Lali. I definitely know what that feels like. Breathe. And remember that you’re not alone :)
Beautiful, articulate, powerful, well written essay. Thank you so much Spectra.
great article! and i really agree that when films and stories can unlock empathy in people its one of the most powerful ways to social change. i can’t wait to see this movie.
Thank you for sharing your moving story. ‘Pariah’ will indeed resonate throughout the world.
wow… thank you so much for writing this…
Gave me shivers! Another reason, if you need one, to donate to lesbian film making!
It is with articles like this that I realize that Nigerian LGBT people are really passing through a lot of things. Being a brother to a Nigerian gay man who is at present in a stable loving relationship, I always want to believe I have an idea of the difficulty people face when they have same-sex affections. It was a huge shock when my brother came out to us his family so many years ago, my loving, caring, very dear younger brother, a very brilliant graduate from the university then, an example of best behaviours, pure, mild and gentle in everything…..until that time, I was the fiercest homophobe in Nigeria, wishing fire and brimstone on anyone who professes to be gay or support gay relationships.
It was a hard time, I cannot deny it, but my love for him as my dear younger brother won me over. He was, and still is, in a stable relationship with a man then, and you had to really feel the love between them, it was that palpable.
That was more than 10 years ago, and I can say as a family, we have come a long way since then…..
I think the most important weapon in the fight against homophobia is love and affection. Gay people must learn to love homophobes as much as they are hated. Because, it was my love for my brother that won me over, and I can say rightly, that that love is more important than any other thing in the world. From my experience over the years, a lot of people in Nigeria are living in the closet on the down low, just because of societal values and the deeply entrenched homophobia that Nigerian bigotry with religion has done nothing but increase. They live in classical Catch 22 situation: How do you want to show people that being gay is great, if you dont come out as gay first? Yet you cannot be accepted if you cant show that being gay is good!!
I believe the answer also lies with families of people who have come out as gay, and have been accepted. If they can show that life does not end when you have a family member that is gay, then, maybe people will start seeing reason in the idea of sexual identity and orientation. The question I always pose to my friends and other people whenever the gay question is up for discussion is this: ‘What if I wake up tomorrow, and find that my father/mother/son/daughter/brother/sister/niece/nephew/uncle/aunt/cousin etc was homosexual?” What would I do in the circumstances?’ you will be surprised at the answers you get to this question. And I have been able to change the mind of a few people (I’m proud to say that) towards the subject, both through word and deed. A few of my friends have met my brother, and they have come to understand that love can have a same-sex identity too.
I am Nigerian, I have no other country. I have not other land or citizenship. I love my country, I am not gay, but I believe that people in same-sex relationships are not less human than the general population….hope that doesnt sound like a statistic….lol
Thank you SO much for this. You put into words what I’ve been struggling to relay with other LGBT Africans who are at odds with their families over who they choose to love.
THIS part: “Gay people must learn to love homophobes as much as they are hated. Because, it was my love for my brother that won me over, and I can say rightly, that that love is more important than any other thing in the world.” This is precisely what I was trying to say in my piece — that love and empathy are far more powerful than rhetoric and debate. And the LGBT community LOVES to debate, because we’ve been forced to. But it can’t be where we remain. Films like Pariah, the love you have for your brother, the love my siblings have for more, are far more potent antidotes to the bigotry we face in the world.
Your brother is lucky to have you. I’m so happy that you read my piece and left such a thoughtful comment. The world needs to know that there ARE Nigerians out there who are supportive of a discrimination-free world. Be well :)
If you ask me, Its not Just the Africa that struggles, in truth, i think its all of us that struggle.
The difference is, its publicized so much more, when something goes wrong with Anyone Of African Decent..
Im white. (LOL), as it gets, Im of High German, Pennsylvania Dutch (Basicly slave germans), and Canadian Decent..
My mothers side, which is very german, just finally got the sit down from me about being an out lesbian.
All they could say was ” are you going to cut your hair off? are you sureitsnot a phase? See this is why we made you go to church, and camps.. to help you find god, you’v lost him” ( The Dutch and German are VERY strong Mennonite-Christian believers)
And honestly, I saw it coming, Right after I left they had a prayer Circle, and hoped i would “Find god again” ( I’v openly been following a spiritual/paganistic belief for over a year) and they talk about it the second im not in the room, making cracks every chance they get about how its not real, and how its just the devil working at me, because of my father.
.. But what happens with me, wont ever make the press, because I’m just a middle class family, in the middle of an economic crisis in the world.. So whats that matter?
.. I’m ranting, but basicly what im saying is, as much as your struggles, are a shame ( and im sooo thankful for the posts, they’re amazing)
I think theres struggles everywhere, In Countries, politics, Tradition, Races, Families..
.. they all needa get the press.. or maybe the press needs to stop.. or at least someday understand, .. or hope they can at least respect it.
^ None of what im saying makes sense,.. but im hoping you can get the Gist of it. Im a bit too tired to actually make words seem pretty as of current.
As a fellow queer Nigerian I just want to thank you for writing this. I may not have been raised in Nigeria but the homophobia from my extended family is just like you described. Knowing that someone else is experiencing the same disconnect between their queer identity and their Nigerian identity makes me feel like I’m not alone.
Thank you so much.
YES! You’re definitely not alone. Thank God for the web! I write a lot about my Nigerian/African/LGBT/Gender-nonconforming identity at http://www.spectraspeaks.com. Are you on Twitter? I heart queer Nigerians. Please say hi @spectraspeaks! :)
Amazing article! Thank you for writing.
“Who cares what they think? You should be able to wear what you want and be yourself. Fuck ’em.”
I hate this and people love to say it in response to so many things. It’s dismissive and in many cases unrealistic. We’re humans and we tend to want the love of other humans. Even if we know the food of heteronormativity has poison in it, it’s hard to realize you can’t sit at the table as long as you present as your true self.
Thank you for sharing this. I am going to check this movie out.
“It’s dismissive and in many cases unrealistic.” <– THIS. Yes.
The focal point of my perspective will always rest in Nigeria, so it has been challenging to hear people say "to hell with them" whenever I talk about Nigeria.
Moreover, these statements are sometimes accompanied with blatantly racist/saviorist statements i.e. "such uncivilized people", "we need to educate them" (as though America is the model of LGBT equality — trans women of color are murdered at such an alarming frequency here!)
I snapped my fingers at your comment. Thanks for 'getting it'. Definitely see the movie — it's beautiful and affirming in so many ways. And please keep in touch!
@spectraspeaks (on Twitter), Facebook/spectraspeaksalot
Thank you soo very much for sharing this, i am a nigerian, born and raised. That bill really upsets me cuz it means i can never be happy(myself) in my hometown. i have always known i am a lesbian, but knowing that there are other nigerians out there like me gives me so much joy because i have always felt that, ‘i am nigerian/african, why am i different, this is a western world thing’. Coming to canada which is queer friendly has made me realize that my colour/tradition doesn’t determine my sexuality. I have so much more to say but this is for comments not stories so i’ll stop here. As for the reverend, why dont they have an anti-fornication bill passed, it is a sin, innit? pls do not judge anyone, you can pray for people/lifestyles etc you dont agree with if you want to help but dont judge cuz your not God and you weren’t there when the bible was written.
Victoria — *sends BIG hug over the cyberwaves* Yes, queer and Nigerian aren’t mutually exclusive. Your very existence and ability to love freely and openly disproves anything angry/ignorant naysayers can muster up. Love ALWAYS wins.
Please find me on Twitter! I have so much love for my fellow queer Nigerians/Africans. This is why I love the web so much — we can find each other, affirm each other, hold each other through the pain and happiness of our lives. As for your story, I want to hear it. If you would ever like to share it (even anonymously) please drop me a line and I’ll happily publish it on my blog (www.spectraspeaks.com)
Please find me @spectraspeaks on Twitter, http://www.facebook.com/specraspeaksalot on Facebook. Can’t wait to connect.
As a Nigerian lesbian, living in Nigeria I totally get what you are saying.
Its terrible that with the prevailing issues within the country they chose to ostrasize us.
Thank you for this. It hit home in many ways than one. A few months ago I had the displeasure, yep, displeasure of trying to re educate my aunt that no one’s copying anyone, and that this was how people were born. She tore me apart, and I dropped it. It’s difficult, because many people are speculating my sexuality back home, so I can’t go back either. Homosexuality is now a crime in Ghana. it hurts but hey, maybe it’s for the best. Plus, I’ll definitely be seeing Pariah when it comes out on dvd.
Hi, thank you for sharing this. Your article brought me to your blog and to the guest posts from your brother and then your sister. I recently came out to my brother. I relate to you in many ways ( the chinese are rampantly regressive, I understand how you feel when you’re back home around your parents and relatives and I have a wonderful brother who i love so much and felt the need to be honest with) The guest posts on your blog made me tear up as well as smile. I just sent an email to my brother with links to the two posts and asking him to share his thoughts with me. Thank you for making that doorway possible. By sharing your story, you allow people like me to relate, to experience, to learn and to share with others as well. thank you, thank you, thank you.
JT, I can’t express how moved I am by your comment. That you see my words (and that of my brother’s) as a way to connect with your own brother is beyond what I could have ever expected as a reaction to this post. I am so humbled, really. You could have read it, felt the way you did and moved on. But that you took a few moments to express it to me means so much. Thank you :)
This was a very beautiful article. Thank you sharing your story with us!
“I hadn’t reached out to her for fear that…soon after she’d tell her mom, who would tell other moms, and eventually the rest of Lagos where my parents lived, forcing my mother to endure becoming the center of gossip and ostracizing her from the very social networks she needed to survive…”
My parents no longer live in their home countries but are surrounded by people from those places, places with attitudes very similar to Nigeria/Uganda and similar, and my parents still have strong links to their countries so I understand this so much. This is my biggest fear.
Spectra thanx for sharing :-)
As a zami naija womyn also, I completely understand the feelings your expressed about feeling invisible on home soil. Its even more incomprehensible for family and folks in Nigeria to understand my sexuality/sexual identity given that I am as womynly as I am. In some warped way, I guess it figures in their minds that non-straight womyn can only present in varying forms of masculinity.
As for the religious bigots like the reverend somewhere earlier in this thread, only God can judge me! Also having grown up under a religious scholar (PK over here), I can tell you with all confidence that the Bible is to be read taking context and culture into account. Not everything those people wrote is relevant today, the convenant of old testament is not valid by the time you reach the new testament! And it just grieves my soul that we continuously use the gospel divisively, as a tool of discrimination and hate. Correct me if I’m wrong by I do believe the basic premise of Jesus teachings was LOVE, the unconditional (judgement free) kind!
Thank you for raising the issue of femme (in)visibility! I agree with your point about perceptions of homosexuality (only being expressed in varying forms of masculine gender presentation).
I know for a fact that my community wouldn’t have cared as much if I still dressed in a way they could attribute to being traditionally feminine. It’s my gender presentation that is causing the stir, less so than the fact that I actually date women, especially when I get comments like, “But do you have to change the way you dress? Okay, so you’re a lesbian, why must you show it by being soo different?”
Definitely something to think about…
Amen to that!! The Bible should never ever be used to judge other people. Of course human nature is to judge others but I try my hardest not to do it because who am I to claim to know what’s in someone’s heart? Sadly a lot of people got the message wrong and like to condemn others to make themselves feel righteous. Aaargh the world we live in.
Those who cannot feel pity and passionate for such a heart wrenching and eye opening plea as this essay is are ‘inhuman’. Remember only sleeping with opposite and pouring out babies doesn’t make u qualified for humanity. You must have the heart to understand and respect all different races, sexes and sexualities, only then u are truely ‘human’ no matter who u sleep with then. But if u are so heartless that you hate and want to kill somebody who is not harming anybody but only wish to lead their lives as who they are, then you are neither human nor true Christian. Only those whose hearts are kind and compassionate for eveyone irrespective of race, sex and sexuality are true lovers of Christ and humanity.
Happiness, sadness and anger all filled my heart and battle with each other as I read this….
Happiness fills my heart because if we as African, as the children of the diaspora, don’t raise our voices and speak out, no one else will do it for us. As always, you did such an amazing job expressing how you felt and as the reader I almost felt as if I was there, feeling your pain as you supported your friend on her big day. Being able to experience it all through your eyes is so powerful, as a “femme” identified lesbian it is so much easier for me to blend but I know and relate to the struggles that comes along with homosexuality all together. As I mentioned sadness also filled my heart as I sat back and took it all in and thought this is 2011 and we are here still fighting to be accepted as humans. Our sexuality is being categorized as crime in many countries yet those are the same people who claim we are all created to God’s image. How can people be so judgmental of who we love when all we ask is to be accepted as human, as individuals who happen to love the same sex, that is far from being a punishable act and to be punished as people who commit acts of violence makes me angry…. Who gives them the authority to decided what should we wear, who should we love or how should we love?
Anger fills my heart when I hear….”Being Homosexual is UnAfrican”… No actually “Persecuting Homosexual is UnAfrican”. As West African, I was raised aware of the struggles our people have suffered over the centuries and that as Africans we need to be there for one another and now seeing how our sexuality has earned us a Jail sentence in our land I am hurt and offended to have to fight to be who I am in our motherland. LOVING, CARING and SUPPORTING EACH OTHER is AFRICAN… no where does it say that being homosexual makes you unworthy of being African and unworthy of being loved and supported by our community… It is through education and through people like you that we have a chance to leave our children and their children in a better and safer environment with a little less prejudice. I have not seen the movie but now I am even more excited to see it.
Thank you!! Thank you again for those wonderful, powerful words of yours!!
“Happiness fills my heart because if we as African, as the children of the diaspora, don’t raise our voices and speak out, no one else will do it for us.”
TRUTH! Thank you, Sandy! I kinda want to put this on a T-Shirt: “Loving, Caring, and Supporting Each Other is African” because it is. When did we abandon our natural inclination towards community unity for social ostracization? Something is very wrong.
Always enjoy hearing from you. Thank YOU for your “wonderful, powerful” words :)
Thank you. This is beautifully written and has given me a lot to think about.
So humbled to read this; eloquent and all heart. Thank you for your willingness to be so vulnerable, and share your personal experience of going home to your family and friends in Nigeria.
The comments evoked by this piece show the very power of empathy you wrote about, Spectra.
Very VERY nice!
This beautiful article got a shout-out on the Permanent Wave listserv (they were planning to go see Paria together)! I think it was the first time an Autostraddle piece had been mentioned by the PWers (rad NYC feminist group). Thank you so much for writing this. I can’t wait to see the movie. I hope your mom sees the movie, too.
Wow — Daisy, that sounds amazing! I’m honored that a group of rad feminists (who sound like they mean business) decided to shout out my post! Is this just a listserv or an organization? I’m so looking you all up this minute!
I wish I had something more eloquent to say in response, but I LOVED this piece. I felt it, and am still carrying that emotion with me(still tearing up. You better believe I plan on passing this on to as many people I know.
Thank you for always bringing ALL of you, and ALL of your identities – naked heart especially – to your writing. For allowing me as a queer Latina the hope that others will recognize the complexity of my experience too. * hugs * If the comments on this blog are any indication, you are already making a HUGE difference.
Keep on writing Warrior Woman…
Wow, beautifully written Spectra.
I’ve read this article a couple times today and yesterday because it really hit home for me. I’m struggling to come out to my father and family in South Africa out of fear that they will disown me. My father has always been the ‘gotta be strong/emotions are a sign of weakness’ type of person. A couple of years ago, for the first time ever, he said that he loved me and now after every conversation we have, he always ends it with ‘I love you’. A couple of years ago, he also ‘Found the Lord’. I think that’s why it’s been extremely difficult. Those three words were something that I’ve always, ALWAYS wanted to hear him say and they’re also something I’m afraid I won’t hear again.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and for being an inspiration to so many people.
I really, really hope this movie comes out in Australia.
I’ve never felt more accepting of being African American and LGBT. It is so hard to live in a culture that seriously will kill you for loving the same sex. I came out this past year and my mom did not accept it. So naturally to avoid conflict I went back in the closet. This article brings me hope that the African community will someday have its day when acceptance of the LGBT community cannot be avoided. With a new year now I do plan on coming out to my mom again but this time I may just take her to go see Pariah and see how she feels afterwards and we can just talk about who I really am. Even if she doesn’t accept me, coming out to my mom is something that I know needs to be done for me (I’m ready). Anyhow, great article! Happy New Year!
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m glad you survived the ordeal. I’m also Nigerian. Moved to the UK for college and Uni and have been very uneasy about going back, even to visit. The current wave of homophobia in Nigeria is terrible. My heart goes out all those that live in it daily. I recently interviewed a lesbian living in Nigeria here
Here answer to question 9 says it all. And my mum is on the phone preaching to me about partaking in these sins as I type. How very rich!!!
anyway, I really hope Pariah comes to the UK. There is a large population of Nigerians/people of Nigerian descent that need to see this. I personally cannot wait to see it.
i love this article and i can relate on SO many levels. when i first came out my catholic haitian family not only did they disown me, they acted like i was some completely americanized aberration of a haitian by stating that there were “no gays in haiti” and that being gay is “american behavior”. this is why i think imagery of black lgbts is so important. not only do queer black films help affirm the identities and experiences of queer blacks who rarely see themselves depicted; they show straight blacks of all nationalities that queer blacks DO exist, that we have our own communities, and that queerness is not only the province of white folks. being lgbt is not just an american thing, its a PEOPLE thing and we exist EVERYWHERE.
I. LOVE. THIS –> “Not only do queer black films help affirm the identities and experiences of queer blacks who rarely see themselves depicted; they show straight blacks of all nationalities that queer blacks DO exist, that we have our own communities, and that queerness is not only the province of white folks.”
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aww, thank you. i absolutely loved your entire article. i totally bookmarked your website and hope i get to see some more writing from you on autostraddle. i even read a few like your halloween article on blackface (you should see the racefail and clusterfuck that discussion turned into on this website).
i also sincerely hope that your parents one day come to terms with your gender identity and your sexuality. one part of your article that particularly resonated with me was where you pointed out that what your family and extended nigerian community thought of you was important to you, even if they are homophobic. my family and hatian culture are my foundation, without which i would not be who i am. there is no way for me to be impassive and detached and not want help my family, the people who i love, change and grow. i’m just not ever going to completely turn my back on them, especially not in exchange for an american culture that barely tolerates and acknowledges my existence anyway. that is why even when they say their homophobic bullshit, like they think my sexuality is a phase, or that because i’m feminine deep down i want a man, i attempt to use those occasions as teachable moments so that hopefully they won’t continue to be so homophobic in the future. films like pariah where black people can identify with characters who at least look like them have the ability to provide an opening for many black lgbts to teach their families and communities about who they are.
incredible article. hope it reaches the people who need to read it, and hope you continue to find the support/representation you’re looking for.
What an excellent post. It’s unfortunate there are so few films regarding queer sexuality in Africa. (I’m definitely no expert, but a fairly big movie buff, and I can’t think of a one. Does anyone else know any?) Movies are indeed one of the most powerful media forms we have to humanize us as queer people and put our experience within a wider context that can be accessible to all.
I’m glad that Pariah meant a lot to you, Spectra. I bet the director and movie crew were hoping to reach a person such as yourself, as any respectable film crew would. It’s the reason movies are made. The movie sounds great, and I can’t wait to see it. Thanks again for the great post!
Growing up in Lagos, I wasn’t aware of the lgbt movement, and was homophobic and bought into the traditional narrative. I’m a PK so I grew up with the church as a focal part of my life. To say I was devastated to discover I had an attraction towards women would be a major understatement.
I agree with Osazeme’s comment about femme invisibility. I’m not out to my parents or Nigerian friends (did university and now law school in the US). Partly because I lack the courage, but also because I’m concerned about how having a gay daughter would affect my parents’ ministry. Since I don’t fit the stereotype Nigerians have of lesbians, I’m able to fly under the radar. That seems more like a curse to me than a blessing sometimes, as it intensifies my family’s (well-meaning) efforts to hook me up with a nice Christian man and the violently homophobic comments that are casually thrown around when I go home.
It’s great to see that there are other Nigerian lesbians out there. There were times when I thought I was the only one…. I pray for Nigerian culture to change, and almost dread the inevitable day I go back, but movies like Pariah give me hope that attitudes might one day be different.
I don’t know which I love more, the article or hearing from other queer Nigerians in the comments! I adore this piece. I adore it to little delicious bits. I want to hear more stories, straight out stories, from other queer and gender non-conforming Nigerians. Can we compile them?
I get so tired that sometimes I forget about my gender identity, to be honest. I identify as an effeminate genderqueer femmeboi (why not) and to cope with my dysphoria around having le boobs, I bound for a long time then it got to the point where the only way I could cope was by going hard femme in the paint. I can’t wait for the day when my body matches up to my gender and I can go around in gorgeous embroidered caftans and pointy shoes to my heart’s delight. They will not catch me in iro and buba #shudder. I am so sorry you had to deal with that, so many people dont understand how horrible it feels to not be able to express your gender in the way you want, it’s something that majority don’t even have to think about.
Hiya Spectra! I read this piece when you initially posted but didn’t get around to telling you how powerful and incredibly beautiful it is because I wasn’t sure if autostraddle was the right space for my (personal) response to it. For me, this piece was a revelation on how even your biggest straight supporters– me, included– can be extremely insensitive to some of the identity issues that LGBTs face. The BIG IRONIC example is the conversation on what to wear and where to stand as a member of a bridal train. The fact that I had this SAME conversation with you, presenting the binary “dress” vs “tux” option, and being just as dismissive as your friend and later your father was about your need to wear something in keeping with your identity makes me thoroughly ashamed of myself. It is remarkable HOW MANY times you have to have the same conversations over and over again, banging your head on the wall, wondering when we straight supporters would get it. In view of this, I am amazed at your restraint and thank you for tagging me on what you knew would be a teaching moment for me, a gentle smack on the wrist, instead of the full-out tantrum that you’d have been justified to have. Thank you, and I apologize. On a different note, I have observed with some alarm that the latest thread of Nigerian movies with LGBT themes tend to present lesbian characters as over the top, immoral, and over-indulgent. I agree that more movies like Pariah and narratives like yours need to make their way into our culture so that our people can see people and not caricatures, and so that the Nigerians who are outraged by the new law (and there are many!) can have conversation-starters that are grounded in realism.
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Omg Omg Omg, Okay, i love you. seriously. I’m gonna kidnap you and keep you in my pocket. So, I’m Nigerian. I grew up in Nigeria.. well as grown up as i could be.. i was raised there till i was thirteen.. which is a long time for me as i’m just 16. I still visit most summers and of course.. i have family here whom i have to see like every other weekend. I’m also a lesbian. When i heard of Pariah it was like a Godsend. I still don’t know how i’m going to tell my parents i’m gay. This isn’t just about them not liking it but about the fact that i could be hurting my family by telling them. Of course by family i mean my mom, dad, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and every other person under the sun.My parents will become the subject of whispered conversations and may even loose their jobs, so for now it’s a secret. But i have to deal with not only the sense of exclusion that comes with being part of the lgbt community but a sense of invisibility even within the community. So thank you, for giving hope to me that maybe, just maybe, i’m not as alone as i thought.
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Wonderfully written piece. Sadly Spectra, that which you feared has come to pass at Nigeria has legalized anti-gay laws. Any offender is liable to 14 yrs imprisonment. Queer folks live in constant fear of being jailed. As a citizen, I fear for my partner who is masculine in her dressing and mannerisms. I pray more activists will come home to challenge these barbaric laws
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