A Twitter netizen, a few days ago, decided to pass on some “advice” to the Nigerian gay community: advice targeted at the effeminate gay men in our community. (And I use the word “targeted” because his are the words that does more harm than good.)
“Being a bottom doesn’t mean you are a woman,” the account @kormaway tweeted. “Stop acting like a Rumukalagbo girl in public. Put your pussy together.”
He made sure to clarify that he isn’t “against effeminate guys (I mean most of them were born that way) … BUT” went on to advise that they should “reduce the drama in public if you are in Nigeria till you travel out. For your own good. Some people really hates [sic] us.”
This Twitter thread caused a storm on Nigeria Gay Twitter, with the words receiving as much approval as it did stoke an outrage. In the midst of those who tweeted things like “Loud it please!!!” and “The delivery is not the best, but the message is important. Stay safe… simmer down in public. Try not to draw too much attention to yourself. You can get taken away by law enforcement just for existing”, there was also the backlash.
There are so many things that are wrong about this “tone it down” message we keep pushing onto effete gay guys in our community.
Firstly, there is a message of rejection that is inherent in that “advice”. Effete guys are already a heavily-discriminated-upon group in the society at large. The only time the aesthetic of an effeminate man is found acceptable is in comedy – when Instagram comedians are able to trade on it for laughs and the boost of their profiles. Other than that, effeminacy is often targeted, mocked and beaten out of men. What this tells the effeminate man is that who he is is unacceptable unless he is a joke. This is a harmful-enough burden for him to shoulder in the society he has already recognised as being against his sexuality (so what else is new?). But to turn to his own community to hear sermons about how he should be less of who he is, sermons that are then dressed in packages of “it is for your own good”?
This ultimately NEVER works for the good of the effeminate man. It never does. All it does is damage the self esteem of such a person. Those who bow to the pressure of such stigma and work on themselves to be less effete come out of the experience with a little or a lot less of who they are, and usually turn into monsters, hurt people who in turn hurt people. (Let us never forget the APOLOGY of the cultist who victimized fellow gay guys in Rivers State, and how his reign of terror started.) And those who don’t or aren’t able to turn more masculine oftentimes end up getting crushed under the weight of the self-condemnation they have to live with.
Secondly, this kind of “tone it down” rhetoric is very synonymous with the respectability politics of those gay people and LGBT allies who tell us to live less of our authentic lives because being too gay is dangerous in our society. It is also reminiscent of the words of the homophobes who mock us to stay in the shadows and not express ourselves because Nigeria doesn’t belong to us, and that we should wait till we travel abroad to be gay. (Remember when Police PRO Dolapo Badmus graciously reminded us that “if you are homosexually inclined, Nigeria is not a place for you”?)
If you are ever the LGBT person who gets enraged and provoked by these “well meaning advice”, if you ever felt resentful of those who told you not to be gay in Nigeria, to essentially not exist until you have enough resources to travel overseas, if ever you clapped back at those who come on Gay Twitter to lecture you about your audacity to live, like the fool who came to tell me that “una community don dey plenty o. Una don even get mind dey identify for social media”… THEN you ought to know exactly what it feels for an effete gay man to be told by YOU to not be himself.
Every time you preach that effete gay guys should tone it down, relate that message back to yourself as a gay man and see how that feels.
Thirdly, how can anyone who is ever interested in the liberation and equality of LGBT people in Nigeria ever to tell LGBT people to tone it down, to stay invisible, to disappear? Just how? Do you imagine that you are doing our community any favours when you strut around with your straight-acting masculinity? If no one sees you and feels destabilized in his homophobia, if no one looks at you and feels forced to stare at the truth of the existence of diversity, if no one sees you and sees that GAY PEOPLE EXIST IN NIGERIA, then you are doing NOTHING for LGBT advocacy in Nigeria. If you have succeeded in straight-washing yourself so much in action and words, that people aren’t challenged by your life into believing – or at least getting the impression – that your community exists in Nigeria, then you have failed in providing visibility for us.
And that is fine. (Maybe). Visibility is after all a choice. Being part of a movement that advocates for the recognition of the LGBT existence in Nigeria is not for everyone. But effeminate gay men, whether by design or through no fault of their own, are by their very existence challenging Nigerians into confronting diversity. VISIBILITY IS IMPORTANT. However much you’d like to tell yourself otherwise, the change we want will never be attained from the safety of our comfort zones. If you won’t do it, at least have the decency to let those who are doing it for you live.
Finally, it is IMPORTANT for us to understand one thing: Nigeria’s homophobia is NOT selective about who it persecutes. It is universal in who it targets. So, whether you are the most straight-acting guy that ever existed in our community or the girliest guy who ever sashayed his way through the community, whether you plotted your way into a marriage to further solidify your “straight” status, or you are determinedly single because you either can’t stand the deceit or the touch of a woman – when the ire of Nigeria’s homophobia becomes directed at you, it doesn’t pause to ponder how gay you have presented yourself.
The problem therefore isn’t in our presentation.
The problem is their homophobia.
Stop making us the problem!
Stop making those in your community who are just trying to live the problem!
The problem IS THEM!
Spend those energies you have to preach about how we should present ourselves instead on coming against a society that makes it so we – all of us – ever have to be less of ourselves in order to live.
Telling effeminate gay men to “tone it down”, to not be themselves, because it is for their own good, does no one any good at all, however you slice it. It is a very damaging rhetoric that has to stop.
Do better please. Queer better.
Written by Pink Panther