Manoeuvring Queer in Nigeria is Like Learning to Parallel Park

Posted on December 6, 2012

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I have now been in Nigeria for over a little over a month and while the overall experience of catching up with family has been wonderful, a number of things have also happened that have ticked the queer in me off. I am learning with time how to react to some of them and exploring the different ways to react to each scenario. I thought I should share some things that happen in Nigeria that can really rub the queer in you the wrong way.

Overzealous and frankly hypocritical hyper-religiosity

Yes, that was a mouth-full. But did you know that there are churches around every corner? Nigeria is probably one of the most “church-dense” countries in the world. My next door neighbour is a pastor. The neighbour who lived there before him is one too. In the compound next to me, there are two churches, and both host services nearly every day, from the same building!

I recently met a guy who invited me to church. I asked him if his head pastor owned a private jet. He said yes. Did you know that according to this newspaper, Nigeria owns 200 private jets?  The number of private jets acquired have jumped from 50 to 200 in the last three years. Forbes Magazine estimated the joint wealth of the five wealthiest pastors in the country to be at least $200m (£121m). Meanwhile, around 60 per cent of the country’s population live under US$ 1.75  each day. You can see a list of some of the pastors who own private jets here. Some of these jets were apparently gifted to pastors by church members or well-wishers. These overzealous church-goers think the answer to everything is in church. Suffer now and reap your reward in heaven is what these pastors preach. “Sow a seed and let church turn your life around”, pastors beckon their members. These clever pastors have managed to convince members that morality devoid of their religious dicta is void.  Well, their obscured sense of morality gets on my queer nerves!

An unhealthy obsession with gender roles: the case of dressing 

On my second day back, I visited my friend’s parents at their office to say hi and when my friend’s mum hugged me, she whispered in my ear that her daughter had warned her that I was dressed like a boy. I felt like consciousness had just rained on me. There I was thinking I was pulling this androgyny thing off in a pink Oxford shirt, cropped denim pants and cute moccasins. I wasn’t wrong about getting my androgynous look, but not dressing to show off your ‘femininity’ equals dressing like a boy. There is no such middle ground as androgyny. Too bad if you are skinny and have small boobs. You should work harder at ‘being a woman’!

Walking down the road without being stared at is a luxury. I can’t ask people to shut their eyes if I happen to be in their line of vision and sadly for me no one ever taught them that staring is impolite. On two consecutive days I was asked if I a girl or a boy. This question was yelled across the road several times and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I wondered whether to answer that I was a woman, ask how it concerned them, or simply yell, “Your mother-fucking mother!”, topped with a fuck you sign.

Another day, I was at the bank with my sister when the officer attending to us asked why I didn’t have a chic handbag like my sister did. I tried to explain to him that my backpack was more practical for my day. It held my laptop and a bunch of other things that would be easier to lug around in a backpack.

Oh, my sister also refuses to go out with me when I sag my trousers. And, no, I do not sag like I’m a rapper. In her words, seeing my knickers even in the slightest bit “affects our sensibilities”. Well, it affects my own sensibilities to not be able to go out dressed comfortably.

An even unhealthier obsession with marriage

Over here, marriage is the shit. I forget now who said this but the average Nigerian’s attitude to marriage is that , “no matter your achievements as a woman you have not arrived until you get married”. Weddings are the typical social events. Each weekend, someone is getting married. Thankfully, I’ve been able to escape attending any of these ceremonies but the frequency of them means that they are hot on the lips of most people. People often ask you whether you have a boyfriend or simply assume that marriage is on the cards for you. By the way, you cannot just have a boyfriend for dating sake. The value of each relationship is calculated against the potentiality of it resulting in marriage.

A disgusting patriarchal culture that teaches men to treat women like a piece of meat

Each time I walk down the road even if I’m looking dishevelled, perhaps I’ve been to buy bread, or to take out the trash; men will not let me walk in peace. They will stop me to tell me that I look beautiful and they would like to get to know me better. This is really a sugar-coated way of saying, ‘you look like something I could have’, ‘want to have’, ‘in fact am entitled to have’. These type of pests don’t shake off easily. It can get really embarrassing someone tailing you in their car or even getting out of it to walk with you. My resolution, I go out armed with dark sunglasses and my headphones but I usually keep the music low so I can hear what’s going on around me. It does help me to see less evil and to pretend not to hear their untrained desperate asses.

Now, to the question of when its safe to come out

In the past few weeks I’ve told two men who tried to chat me up that I date women. One asked me why and before waiting for my explanation went on to lecture me on how it was unAfrican, against God’s teachings, and that I should only keep women around as friends and nothing more. If I couldn’t do this, then I should date them in secret and not tell anyone about it. The other swiftly brushed it aside like it was nothing and went on to compliment me on my beautiful smile and general awesomeness. I obliged both men by listening and then politely saying I was not swayed by their advances. I also wondered how safe it was for me to be out to these people. You never know who might try to use this information against you.

Oh, bear in mind that they automatically hate you for being gay

To put it mildly, being gay is a no-no in Nigeria. Our rulers are currently trying to pass an anti same-sex bill that punishes you for being gay. Being gay is so offensive to Nigerians that perhaps it had blinded them of the implications that the clauses in the bill have to each individuals private life. This bill proposes to criminalize the public show of same-sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly. It plans to punish same-sex affection — yes, even a simple hug or kiss — with 10 years in prison. It also punishes you for promoting homosexual behaviour directly or indirectly, physically, electronically or otherwise. So, I guess if we construed this literally I could be thrown in jail for writing this blog. You can read the rest of the monstrosity here.

I’m not trying to say that it’s impossible to be queer here. I think it’s just unnecessarily hard and requires a resilient attitude. As a person who is interested in knowing more about why things are the way they’ve come to be, I end up getting drawn into debates where I try to use logic to understand these queer unfriendly standpoints, and to also explain mine. Nine out of ten times, I’m successful in getting people to understand my view points but such a low conversion rate can get frustrating. So, on other days, I just say fuck it, life is too hard to deal with this extra bullshit. It’s tricky knowing when to adopt what attitude and being prepared to adjust to and deal with the next queer unfriendly thing that gets thrown your way.

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