In celebration of Trans Day of Visibility, we interviewed transfeminist activist, Somi, on what it is like to live and love as a trans woman in Nigeria.
It is eye-opening. Enjoy.
Assume we absolutely have no idea what it means to be Trans. What does it mean to be Trans?
By Trans [I take it] you mean transgender.
For me, it is when your gender identity and expression do not align with the gender assigned to you at birth. Transgender [can] mean different things to different people and [the trans experience] can be interpreted on an individual level. To me, it’s just [about] aligning my body and soul.
You are a non-binary transwoman, what does that mean?
Until recently, I identified as a bigender. I believed I fluctuated between being a non-binary person to being a transgender woman, but I soon came to understand the power of language and the autonomy to self-identity.
Non-binary can go with any identity and it’s not mutually exclusive. There’s this weird perception of trans women that’s so deeply ingrained in our society – people expect us to fit into cisnormative beauty standards. I vehemently reject that. I could present masculine or feminine, it doesn’t make me less of they/them or less of a woman. I like that I’m breaking the binarist language of gender.
There is this trope born of years of often violent erasure, that to be anything but cis-heterosexual one must not be Nigerian or if they are they must be influenced by the West. Were you born and brought up elsewhere?
It is a horrid lie. The truth is that the idea that gender as a binary is a colonial and white supremacist concept normalised for the sole purpose of asserting that the white cisgender heterosexual male is the pinnacle of human existence.
I think we black trans queer folks should read trans and queer history. We’ve been existing until one day when the white man told us otherwise. Cisheteropatriarchy has its roots in colonialism, it is these western agenda we need to dismantle and unlearn. It’s necessary for the liberation of all oppressed people.
What were your formative years like here?
There were the good and not so good times. I don’t really want to touch on that.
We ask that to lay the foundation for this question. How hard was it to come to the realization of and accept your trans identity? We don’t reckon you had any role models to look up to. Did you?
Acceptance was difficult because I’d internalised harmful stereotypes about transgender people it took years of learning, unlearning, relearning.
Now I have people ask, “How do you know you’re Trans?” The simple answer is, I just do, in the same way you know you’re not.
It may not be the clearest answer, but then I don’t think there’s a clear answer because like many other things to do with how we feel and love, you just know. I admire Munroe Bergdorf if you’re talking about a figure that had an impact on me.
Gay and Lesbian persons can lay claim to community no matter how fragile. Is there community to be found as a trans person within or outside the LGBT+ umbrella?
I’ve found a good support system even though we’re a small close-knitted group. I have trans friends from different part of the world and they lend me their support emotionally, financially and otherwise.
Transphobia is a major issue for the trans community, even where laws and attitudes are in the favour of the LGBT+ community, what has your experience been like with that?
Well, laws and attitudes are not in favour of the LGBT+ community here in Nigeria.
There are laws – the Same-Sex Prohibition (SSMP) Act being one and the most recent, that criminalises our existence.
Transphobia is everywhere, in women’s spaces, in LGBTQ spaces. I personally do not want to relate the horror that is my experience.
The world for trans people is distinctly lacking in love. I’ve received death threats, I’ve been exposed to bullying both on online and offline spaces.
Just the other day, someone anonymously bullied me on my Curious Cat. I’m met with disrespect in some spaces, if someone is not calling me a man, I’m deliberately being misgendered. I’ve been taking anxiety medication, my anxiety level is terrifyingly high. There are days I just lock myself in because memories of these traumas haunt me.
There is a concept called transmisogyny introduced by American Writer, Julia Serano, which captures the intersection of misogyny and transphobia. It is vicious. How have you been able to hold your head above those dark waters?
It’s been plain awful. Transmisogyny is like regular misogyny but intensified. It treats trans women with the disdain of misogyny while dehumanizing us by dealing with us as men cosplaying womanhood.
Misogyny tells us that femaleness is undesirable so trans women are scorned for ‘reducing’ themselves to being female.
I could be walking down the street and there’s a guy catcalling me, I would have the same emotional response that any woman would feel but what’s more terrifying is that this man could kill or harm me when he discovers that I’m trans because he would feel deceived by me and see me as both a pathetic man and a deceptive woman.
To break from assessing struggle, let’s talk about love. How has dating been?
Dating generally is difficult for trans people.
I deleted Tinder because I couldn’t put up with invasive questions about my body and identity
“Are you a ladyboy?”
“Did you cut off your penis?”
These are the kind of questions I get from my matches and it unsettles me.
I’ve experienced genitalia preference/discrimination – where someone tells you they won’t sleep with you because you have a genital they don’t desire in a lover because the idea that some women have a penis is too off-putting for them.
Tinder is a harsher world where rejection is just a swipe away. Rejection is the order of the day even though I decided dating within the community was safer for me. I’ve had relationships and I just throw myself into them, by throwing myself into the relationship I mean I went all intense and full-on, with a side of emotional unloading and eager obsessiveness.
Dating is just hard because it feels isolating and so intrinsically connected to who we are as trans people. It feeds into the cycle of self-loathing and poor self-esteem we develop as we navigate life. Every rejection, every dismissal, hacks at your self-esteem. It makes putting love out there seem like the last thing we’d want to do.
What would you say to every other person who at this point is struggling or trying to come to terms with a different identity other than what is visibly perceived?
I would tell them the truth: Self -identity is a hugely personal thing. We all have a lot of words to describe how we identify, and we also attach various meanings to those words.
Self-identifying with conviction comes with the highs and the lows, the dizzy feeling of euphoria, the dark crashing wave of disappointment, the pain and the joy.