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‘It is weird, people are very religious and still say stuff like ‘’are you saying god made a mistake?’’ Persephone, 20, tells me describing the reaction they get when they reveal to someone they are non-binary. This gaslighting and invalidation of one’s gender identity – instinctive as it may be to many cis-gendered Nigerians whose realities are rooted in hetereonormativity – is an example of one of the many forms of violence trans and non-binary Nigerians are forced to face and deal with.
Nigeria’s storied history with the queer community is no secret, it is systemic, mainstream and encouraged. And even in the most progressive subsections of the Nigerian side of the internet – the designated feminist twitter and queer twitter where conversations on human rights and marginalization are typically approached with properly-thought out nuances and context, trans rights are still delegated to the back burner. Even within the larger marginalized communities, trans people are further marginalized and shunned.
For most Nigerians, the mention of ‘transgender’ or ‘trans’ brings to mind Bobrisky, a trans-woman who has risen to fame as a media persona thanks to short snapchat clips that easily and consistently go viral .It isn’t a wonder Bobrisky has stuck to the mind of many – both her haturrs and fans who live for the whirlwind that is Bobrisky – but it is important to note that not only is Bobrisky not the only trans Nigeria and there is an actual community of trans Nigerians but also not every trans person is a trans woman.
Today, NewsWireNGR spoke to four Nigerians who are neither men nor women and identify as non-binary.
When i ask Temi when they first realized they weren’t cisgender, they laughed and told me;
‘‘I generally shy away from trying to answer this question because I hate how it’s often warped by transphobes. But it was just a nagging feeling that my assigned sex/gender and I weren’t a good fit for each other. I’m starting to learn that it was a way that my dysphoria presented but I always felt disconnected from the sense of self/personhood that should have been associated with my body’’. Temi tells me
‘‘But I couldn’t distill it into one moment of epiphany. It just felt like I woke up one day with the realization that I was meant to be a different person, and no matter how much I tried to ignore it, it never went away. Now that I have the opportunity to transition, I realize that all my attempts to ignore the nagging feeling was a response to how bleak my options in Nigeria were as a trans person. I think I was probably 16 at the time. But my memory is pretty bad and it wasn’t any one moment, so I can’t say exactly when. I did start my medical transition last year in May’’
Discourses that center or involve trans people and or their rights are still some of the more ‘controversial’ discourses that happen in Nigeria especially online and Temi wishes cis-people would just stop. Not particularly because these argument or discourses aren’t necessary but because as the discourses still dehumanize trans and non-binary people, they just cause more harm to an extremely vulnerable and already marginalized group of people.
‘‘I wish cis people would stop trying to discuss us in the abstract — we’re flesh and blood humans, not a political talking point, or a point of debate. Especially cause these debates often contain overt and subtle transphobia — born out of malice or ignorance — and sometimes, the “good” people slip up. I especially wish cis people would stop giving space to other cis people to debate our humanity in any way. I don’t wanna see them — no matter what side of the debate you’re on.’’
Persephone talks to me about their cis-passing privilege – the ability of a trans person to pass as cisgender which typically translates to not having to deal with particular or as much transphobic violence that a non-passing trans person would because people can’t tell you are trans – and how it has being instrumental in their not experiencing transphobia yet.
‘’I’ve never experienced transphobia.’’ Persephone said ‘‘I’m lucky that I pass, and I’m not seen as being fem, so I basically fly under the radar.’’
Like many trans people in Nigeria, Persephone is tired of cis-people always speaking over trans people and their lived experiences.
‘’Cis people need to stop speaking for and speaking over trans people. They need to stop making ridiculous assumptions, and basing everything off of religion and their VERY limited knowledge of secondary school biology.’’
The mere concept of existing beyond gender roles to many Nigerians sound and seem foreign and almost an abomination, the concept of existing beyond the gender binary itself to Nigerians is just unheard of. This makes the existence of non-binary people even more radical than it should be. Speaking with Aaron, the 20 year old tells me how for many Nigerians transness is usually equated to being a trans woman and how the concept of being non-binary typically exists outside the mental reality of many Nigerians.
‘‘I think what most Nigerians understand as “trans” is someone transitioning from one end of the gender binary to another.The media also facilitates this portrayal of trans people. So, for me as a non-binary trans Nigerian, the reactions I get are not the same as someone like Bobrisky. It is only in instances where my outfit speaks some sort of genderqueer that I’m usually harassed or verbally abused’’
One would think that non-binary people existing in what could be considered a mental blindspot of most Nigerians would mean they won’t face transphobia or transphobic violence but this isn’t the case. ‘‘Overall, I’d say being myself in this space has been scary for the most part. There’s just this constant fear of being targeted online, and being harassed in public spaces that I have to deal with. It’s not pretty.’’
Star, Age Undisclosed
When you spend a significant part of your life having your identity invalidated, being unrepresented and been forced to navigate the trappings of gender by yourself with very little information, it takes a toll on you. In speaking with these non-binary people, you get a sense of how badly Nigeria messes with you when you’re trans.
‘‘Nobody cares for us. Nobody can care for us’’ Star tells me when i ask them how they feel about how trans and non-binary people are represented in the discourse surrounding and focused on human and queer rights. ‘‘Even we can’t care for ourselves and it makes me horribly sad. We are a long way from being able to even ask for the right to conduct official business as our authentic selves. And most activists who don’t outright hate us seem to think rights will trickle down to us eventually after we’ve fought for everything else. Well trickle-down economics didn’t work in Reagan’s America and they definitely aren’t going to work here.’’ Star’s last sentence refers to a growing belief a number of activists or outspoken people on social media hold that people should stop pushing for awareness on trans issues and rights and rather, push for better quality of life for everyone in the hopes that it’ll trickle down to trans people as well. Not only is this dishonest, it is also dangerous and ignores that certain trans issues need to be addressed directly as well as increases apathy towards one of the most marginalized groups in our society.
Star’s last sentiments are ones that are shared and echoed by many who are trans and non-binary in Nigeria ‘’I don’t know. I’m tired. I just want to leave this place. Sometimes I long to live somewhere where if they’re calling me slurs at least they’re the right slurs.’’