WE ARE HERE.

WE ARE HERE.

“If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” – Zora Neale Hurston

February 16, 2017, I was privileged to be at a symposium organised by the Bisi Alimi Foundation and brazenly tagged “Not Dancing to Their Music.” True to character and my shameful sense of timing, I was so late I might as well have been at the end of my first trimester, but I did catch the last hour and a half or so of a panel discussion between Bisi Alimi, Pamela Adie, and Ifeanyi Orazulike, steered by interlocutor, Harry Itie.

Their conversation, expectedly, focused on the woes of being queer in Nigeria, the mortal dangers, the susceptibility to exploitation, and the pervasive fear that is a quotidian reality of being in an ill-defined margin of what’s normative. There was talk of police brutality, inaccessibility to proper healthcare for queer Nigerians living with HIV and the dehumanising treatment meted by healthcare professionals, so-called. There was a lot to be angry about, to be worried and sickened by, horrifying figures, but I also found myself puzzled by something else.

I had in my hands a pamphlet with statistics, based on a survey conducted by the Bisi Alimi Foundation, of people who suffered abuse and had been treated inhumanely by co-workers, family, healthcare professionals, and the police, on account of their sexuality; and I came to a realisation: a lot of the things outlined in that pamphlet were remote to my personal sense of possibility. And I suppose the same was true for some others in the audience. In many ways, we were a privileged gathering, but there seemed little awareness of this.

Bisi, Ifeanyi, and Pamela talked at length about the extent of their involvement in championing LGBTQ rights in Nigeria: conferences they had attended, people they had met, in-roads being made. Towards the end of the programme, when it was time for the panelists to take questions from the audience, I found that, collectively, with the questions, there was an underlying transferal of Volksgeist. By implication: a delegation of will and agency by queer people present to the three panelists to represent in vicarious capacity.

I couldn’t help but think: but these are three people. Influential and fierce in their own ways, but three people nonetheless. How do we progress if we keep delegating our agency?

While it is true that queer people in Nigeria are under bombardment, it’s also important to acknowledge that the extent of exposure to adverse conditions for reason of one’s sexual orientation is impacted by such things as class, education, proximity and access to political power etc. While the challenges of being LGBTQ in Nigeria are well-known, it’s hard for me (based on my reality, of course) not to insist there’s a bit of fear-mongering in the way issues peculiar to queer Nigerians are talked about and addressed: weaknesses are constantly outlined, with little to no mapping of (potential) strengths.

To put things in perspective, I am a lawyer from a middle-class background, and this comes to bear in the manner I traverse spaces, what and how I experience as a queer individual. I, for one, cannot conceive of a combination of events that would lead to my being lynched for my sexual or gender identity. I’m not at all suggesting this is impossible, but such an outcome is remote to my immediate reality. This is privilege, and it’s important I’m aware and stretch this to the limits of its ramifications. For myself, principally, and, consequently, for queer people in whose realities the indices of and for power are less pronounced.

Towards the end of the panel discussion, the unlawful trend of members of the Nigerian Police Force accosting random individuals in the streets and going through their phones and personal effects cropped up, with regard to queer Nigerians and the likelihood that a cursory glance through phone galleries and social media accounts could arm such invaders of privacy with evidence of – or at least, grounds for suspecting – a “crime”.

To avoid such a situation, advice from the panelists ranged from password protection to constant deletion of any vaguely incriminating material, and, when shit hits the fan, knowing who to call.

My reaction to some of the anticipatory measures proffered was: Well, can I live?

The panelists, based on the things they’d seen and the experiences of queer Nigerians they were privy to, knew exactly what they were talking about. If some of their recommendations seemed dramatic and over-the-top, then it’s only reflective, I imagine, of the situation on ground. I could afford to thumb my nose at some of their advice, but for some other queer Nigerians, those same things could be the difference between life and death.

Privilege.

Fear is a factor with immense proportions and effects amongst queer Nigerians, and it’s important this is addressed. It’s true; queer Nigerians are endangered and this endangerment has been elevated to policy by an unfortunate piece of legislation, but the extent of endangerment varies from one individual to the next. Some of us have wiggle room, some have crawl spaces, while others have fields.

Without self-effacement, how much room do I have to express, to be? What can I do to make my life easier in the long run?

These are questions we all have to start asking ourselves. We need, as queer individuals, to engage each person with his/her/their own reflection: probe for what privileges you have, what powers are in your grasp, and then use them.

The first gain against a system of oppression is wresting the power to define and initiate narrative from the oppressor. On a whole, we queer Nigerians are too defensive, too reactive, and the problem with reactiveness is its being in response to; by its very nature, stemming from and, inadvertently, feeding the original action or narrative necessitating reaction. Queer Nigerians have to start to steer conversations, move beyond the short lifespan of a hashtag when a queer Nigerian is hurt or killed, only to settle into obscurity until it is expedient to once again, anonymously, take up arms within the white-noise halls of social media. Our approach to the struggle for the sanctity of our lives, rights, and humanity should be more pre-emptive. We should try more to hold the milk jug and oversee its placement than scurry to mop up spilled milk.

It is important to state that this isn’t intended as an indictment but as a wake-up call. Even so, for queer Nigerians, like myself, who can afford to be vocal to the extent to which their individual realities allow, without necessarily putting themselves in harm’s way. This is not a matter of self-indulgence, it is an obligation, and I’m not referring to some altruistic nonsense. Once you’ve made peace with who you are as a queer individual, you owe it to yourself – and yourself alone – to be true to what you know of you, and if that’s not possible, to do the work, however small, to make it so.

Of the 446 LGBTQ Nigerian respondents who took part in the survey conducted by the Bisi Alimi Foundation, 55% had been physically or sexually attacked or threatened with violence in their homes or workplaces, 54% percent had been threatened or harassed online, 64.6% had been abused by a gang; 20.8% by perpetrators acting alone. 12% reported verbal abuse by doctors and nurses telling them their health problems were their own fault. When one considers these statistics on the backdrop of the number of respondents, it becomes clear we are in the middle of a crisis. Queer people are being denied treatment or abused to the point they’ll choose death over having to bear dehumanisation at the hands of healthcare professionals. This is a travesty! More so for its being little-known or dealt with by the general public, a marker of the otherness from what’s human with which LGBTQ Nigerians are branded and choked. We queer Nigerians are being stifled by internalised oppression and its unwitting function as compliance to our own careful erasure into society’s oblivion.

We all have a stake, for ourselves, to refuse audibly and visibly to be recreated and distorted by the fears, the self-hatred, and inadequacies that drive people to want to see themselves in others, and, in cases, seek to destroy the self they find in others (S/O self-starting homophobes a.k.a. latent homosexuals). We have to do a better job of representing and defining ourselves. It’s how we say we are here and we are powerful, too.

To reclaim our humanity, to define and demystify it in earnest, WE FIRST HAVE TO BE PRESENT, VISIBLE IN THE HERE AND NOW. And it needn’t be as crowd or a parade.

As an individual, I come in contact and am friends with all sorts. Not all my friends share my views on LGBTQ rights, but all my friends and anyone I am constantly in contact with respects my views and position on LGBTQ rights. One, because my position is unequivocal. Two, because I leave them no choice.

I have had a lot of conversations and been in a lot of arguments on said issue, from legal and moralistic tangents, to the effect that anyone who knows me knows that they will not get away with homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, misogynistic, or misandrist remarks around me. It might not seem like much, but the fact that people would be mindful what they say around me is very important and underlines a few things: one, regard for boundaries; two, an understanding that their sense of morality and their world view is not superior to mine. When people censor themselves in deference to me, subconsciously, whether or not they realise it, that deference reflects back on the things I represent within the context of their self-censorship.

I always insist prejudice in and of itself is not problematic – we all have our little prejudices, and work on doing away with them, if we’re sensible. What’s problematic is the prejudice that is not conscious of itself, that takes all it can see through a keyhole to be all there is of the world. The only way to shock such narrow-mindedness into reality is by throwing open the door. And yes, there is no way of anticipating how people react to this, but in the circles in which I roll: of educated and “exposed” people, who have cable TV and have a basic understanding LGBTQ people aren’t aliens (even though they stand with their Pastors and My Book of Bible Stories), I have the luxury of not caring. Of being vocal and honest without being endangered. I’m privileged to be able to make a point of not pandering to anyone’s sensibilities or sense of morality, holding a firm line in saying: you don’t have to agree with me or believe in the things that I believe, but you’re going to have to respect the fact that I believe them, and stay on your side of the fence if you’re not inclined to be neighbourly.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, and GQs, check your fathers and your mothers, your brothers, sisters and colleagues. That’s how we start to get there: a small voice in an office, a firm tone at dinner table, gentle correction, intense debate where necessary. That’s how we stop being outlined in chalk, by filling the outlines of our persons, complete with cast shadows, silhouettes and souls. That’s how we stop being cardboard and start being human in all its appreciable glory, with all the boundaries humanity affords. We have to say we are here, not only as a rebuttal, but, more importantly, as a statement of fact.

When someone says something homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic at work, perhaps even to you or directed at you, how do you react? Do you let it slide because it’s the easier thing to do?

In the end, easier for whom?

A lot of us have voices that can and do hold attention. We have to decide we are worthy of our own stories, of being the objects of our own self-determined narrative.

Every struggle takes its martyrs, finds its heroes and symbols, but what it needs more than anything else is life-blood: fathers and husbands and wives and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and brethren and colleagues. Not romanticised notions.

We need to be aware of the collective, not as a pooling and giving off of spirit to a select few, but as a complex mechanism made of individual functional parts. Some parts would be more tasked than others, some parts would have lighter roles, but no part is negligible. As a queer person, it’s important to find your power, however small, in privileges where they exist. And more importantly, use it.

“Not Dancing To Their Music” – I loved this tagline for its cheekiness and defiance, but it does have its limitations. “Not dancing” may be bold and, in certain circumstances, fierce; but it is an action that piggybacks on another’s. It doesn’t set its own tone. And herein lies another point of engagement: Is defiance enough?

If we aren’t dancing to their music, are we dancing to ours? What would be the point of not dancing to their music if we aren’t making ours, less to counteract but as a whole number, at once able to compliment and stand on its own?

Questions that need answers.

Written by Chiedozié

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Previous Writer defends ‘The Assignment’, the film about forced sex change
Next Facebook Post Of The Day XXI

About author

You might also like

Our Stories 50 Comments

Dancing The Mad Dance With Mr. Right-Now

They say those whom the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. I’d never taken any meaning to that saying until I met Ephraim. Our brief rela-fuck-ship of a

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Our Stories 21 Comments

A Collaboration With Kito Diaries

So, there’s a silent KDian named Sarah, who is seeking to do some work with KDians. She is Nigerian, an LGBT activist, believes every single person has a right to

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Our Stories 51 Comments

On The Road To Who We Are

A line from one of Khaleesi’s past comments (I forget which post it was made on) has prompted this, my first ever submission to KD. He’d said: “… A casual

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

15 Comments

  1. Simba
    April 07, 08:54 Reply

    Nna daalu, but oyibo grammar plenty.. Easy next time.
    One thing i can add is, not all of us will be firece activists like those aforementioned names. But singly and individualy we can still help the community, we can encourage those firece activists, we can send them encouraging emails, and calls. Shun gossips and discourage it in its entirety. And if ur in position of power, when they call u pick their calls etc. Cheers

  2. Mandy
    April 07, 09:07 Reply

    ???????
    This is brilliant! It’s not about being an activist. It’s about making change starting from your environment. We have to be more proactive changing the things we want changed and in controlling the narrative.
    When you hear colleagues/fellow students talk trash about the LGBT, do you just keep quiet becos, well, they’re not directing their vitriol at you? When your family members spout homophobic stuff, do you look the other way becos you’re trying to protect your closet?

    If that’s the way it is with you, how can you expect things to change? Nigeria won’t wake up one day and see us differently as a country. Change starts from the grassroots, from what you’re doing in your immediate environments.

    Thank you, Chiedozie for this. Haven’t read something this braingasmic since Dimkpa went mute on us.

  3. peach-head
    April 07, 09:25 Reply

    Haven’t read
    something this
    braingasmic since Dimkpa
    went mute on us.

    lmbffao mandy tho’ you would be fine

  4. beejay
    April 07, 11:19 Reply

    Personally, I think there’s a blind spot, an essentially ignored portion of the homosexual community this part of the world – the lower classes, those often regarded as illiterate and/ ignorant. To quote George Orwell’s book 1984, “until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious”. This stratum of the community, it would seem have no idea that they have a part to play or even that there is a struggle going on. Arguably, they’ve been excessively desensitized and numbed by a towering institution reinforced by hate, myopia and intolerance overtime – An institution, might I add, comprised of the most relevant members of their support systems; family, friends, religious leaders etc. – My point here, is that there is need for an effective reaching-out plan that would include especially, the reorientation and dis-indoctrination of said class. If those at the grassroots can truly come to terms with the realities and truths of their existence, then a major war would have been won, wouldn’t you say?

  5. Eli
    April 07, 11:27 Reply

    chiedozie, its good that you hsve realized tge privilege can make some judge others, but this epistle was too long. but in my own little corner, i know the support we give each other in this community is what will save us all…

  6. Delle
    April 07, 12:01 Reply

    This couldn’t have been put better. We owe it to ourselves to lend our voices to this cause. I’m very passionate about the LGBTQ movement and would continue fighting for what I believe in, what I stand for and who I am.

    That one soul you convince goes a long way and I do not know about any other person, but there’s this inner gratification I feel when a homophobe changes his view after an intense debate with me. It’s our cause to fight and we have to do what’s necessary.

    Thanks Chiedozie.

    One thing though, the ambiguity of the write-up could deter people from reading. Something simplistic would have been more appealing to the readership, I’m sure.

    Intense entry anyway. I love the power behind each message.

    • Pink Panther
      April 07, 12:13 Reply

      The ambiguity? Lol. I find it almost offensive that first Simba then you seem to think that KDians are just a bunch of simpletons who can’t handle the understanding of a writeup such as this. If that’s how you feel,could you keep it in that personal space and not project unto everyone else?

      • Morgan
        April 07, 12:57 Reply

        How does someone drop a post on here

      • Francis
        April 07, 17:07 Reply

        You seem to miss the point Simba, Delle and some others are secretly raising.

        This is not a book club community where “big English” reigns supreme. Every class of Nigerian visits this blog. To get the message across to all it doesn’t hurt to keep things simple, straightforward and easy to digest.

        I for one tend to start skipping sections and looking forward to the end of an article when “the English” becomes overwhelming. Yes I can be that mentally lazy.

        I did get the point of the piece and I applaud it sha. I’m guilty of keeping quiet most times when LGBT issues are brought up as I don’t want to get worked up and transfer aggression but I guess I’ll have to find a way to do the needful without aggression (or too much of it).

  7. OJ
    April 07, 12:36 Reply

    There is so much to be said, so much to be done.
    “There is nothing we cannot achieve if we raise our voices as one.” – Michael Jackson

  8. Jide
    April 07, 14:21 Reply

    Loves this. Took notes as I read.

  9. cedar
    April 09, 20:21 Reply

    Mhhm, dis is delicious. More like an Aluta dishout.
    Not to worry Dozie, there are men (like myself) in the infantry who do not let a precious moment of plucking a single homophobe off the bunch pass them by.
    We must get there someday.
    A step at a time,
    A person at a time.

Leave a Reply