Quite often these days, I have been listening to Nigerian radio online. Never mind the popcorn music and hyperbolic ads; I reckon that I would be rich by now if I got a pound for every time a radio presenter projects homophobia or transphobia. Fresh in mind is the time a man called one of those single-and-married shows to ask for advice; his wife was having suspicions that his relative living with them was gay or bisexual, and she was worried that their 12-year-old son might get raped and hence become a homosexual.
The problem was, the man didn’t know what to do about his relative. He was always at work and couldn’t confirm his wife’s suspicions. There was a counselor on the show and she advised him to send his relative away, her tone sharpened with poison as she doled out her ‘advice’. Swift, blunt, homophobic, even the radio presenter joined in to echo her bigotry.
However, conflating homosexuality with pedophilia wasn’t what the riled me; it was the fact that this relative in question had done nothing wrong. It wasn’t a case of child grooming, nor was there any incident of molestation. Just suspicions, fuelled by paranoia and prejudice.
Not long after that, I heard a male presenter, while casually reporting a story on a different station, refer to the “T” in the LGBT acronym as “tranny” instead of transgender. This usage is thanks to the adult film industry that has helped to popularize that slur by fetishizing trans bodies. The usage of “tranny” by a non-trans person isn’t only offensive, but dehumanizing. By focusing on their genitals and nothing more, it erases their humanity and excludes them from cis spaces.
The Nigerian society operates with a patriarchal framework that imposes compulsory heterosexuality on men, so before a male presenter says something “homosexual” on air, he introduces the homophobic “no homo” phrase to reassure his listeners that he is straight. Pervasive homophobia in Nigeria has robbed men of the chance to sustain or enjoy the slightest hetero-masculine contact, let alone express themselves emotionally. The female presenters aren’t left out. They can be as homophobic as their male counterparts. Last year, I heard one mockingly saying a prayer for Graham Norton—that he find a partner to “warm” his bed given that he is currently living as a single gay man. This ignorant idea parrots the false, sexualized narrative about gay men and their incapacity to have meaningful, emotionally-driven relationships. Hook-up culture is common with straight people, and believing that gay people are hard-wired to always crave sex is heterosexist.
There are those radio presenters who haven’t stopped using the Caitlyn Jenner reference whenever they make transphobic jokes. They think it’s funny. They ridicule trans-ness and trans experiences from a position of cisgender privilege. They know nothing about gender. It’s worth mentioning that gender isn’t inherently fixed and to identify as a man or a woman comes from a deep sense of self. It’s called gender identity. In binary terms, some people feel like the opposite gender; and while some medically transition to effect the changes they want, others don’t. On the other hand, non-binary people don’t conform to the binary concept because it’s restrictive.
Since LGBT people are now second-class citizens owing to the anti-gay law in Nigeria, it gives anyone the license to freely express his/her bigotry through the influence of radio. Someone calls a current affairs show and before they say their views, they are cautioned against saying anything inflammatory or inciting—and that’s where it ends. This policing isn’t extended to anyone who could potentially propagate hate or prejudice towards LGBT people because, after all, homophobia and transphobia are the norms and should always be upheld.
In March, two male presenters hosting a Christian-oriented show asked their listeners to call in and share their experiences on same-sex tendencies and how it has affected their relationships. It was, indeed, interesting to hear different stories on such a hot-button issue but, after a while, it all sounded contrived and predictable. The presenters acted like priests in a confession booth as callers narrated how they first came in “contact” with homosexuality or lesbianism, how they overcame it through the power of God and how prevalent it was in same-sex boarding schools. They regurgitated the usual myths and half-truths to justify their disdain for same sex tendencies. At the end of the show, it was agreed that gay people shouldn’t be judged but they needed help—prayers, counseling, some kind of intervention.
Apart from using religion to perpetuate homophobia, this toxic message can be damaging to the mental health of LGBT people struggling with their sexuality. There is also the possibility of risky sexual behaviour, internalized homophobia, substance abuse, low self-esteem, self-harm, etc. In progressive countries where LGBT rights are taken seriously, a radio presenter who uses a homophobic or transphobic slur is suspended or sacked, and the radio station may be asked to pay a fine by a regulatory body. That homophobia and transphobia have polluted the airwaves is just a microcosm of the Nigerian society itself. It’s hard for people to conceptualize gender as a never-ending spectrum because it challenges what they have been conditioned to know, and LGBT people are seen as deviants and will never achieve equality—at least that’s what the average Nigerian radio presenter thinks.
Written by Bernard Dayo
Bernard Dayo is a speculative fiction writer and he is currently writing his second unpublished novel. You can follow him @BernardDayo