By Ayodele Olofintuade
When Non-binary writer, Ado Aminu approached me to collaborate with YNaija to curate this year’s Pride Month Issue, “Loving in Colour: A celebration of Queer Love,” I began to ruminate over what it means to be queer and to love in Nigeria.
The word ‘love’ itself is something I struggle with, not only as a concept of love for the self, but love for other queer bodies. I came to the realisation that with the violence that lurks around every corner for queer bodies in Nigeria, choosing love for the self and for others is an art of self-determination – the greatest invention in the English Language, the art and craft of defiance.
I discovered that defiance is the most beautiful word in the English Language. It is the only commonly used word that talks to the individual choosing themselves, of seeing themselves as different from others and that it’s totally alright. It speaks to self-determination, the right to think for oneself and choose ‘not to’ participate- in cis-heteronormativity- in the cycle of abuse and violence. Defiance is fluid, a very queer concept.
Defiance is breaking the laws criminalising your existence. It is creating safe spaces where we can come, wholly, as our highest selves. Defiance is queer music, fashion, food and dance. It is attending another underground queer party in a seedy neighbourhood and owning the night like you are partying on a luxury yatch.
Defiance is grinding on your favorite cis-/ non-binary/intersex/trans-/drag queen/king through the night. Twirling them, twerking with them, butterfly touches with consent. It is revelling in their utter gloriousness, worshipping them/with them, being blessed by a gathering of bodies unconsciously sending up prayers to the universe for safety, funds and joy unadulterated.
Defiance is waking up next to your lover, rolling over and being cuddled in arms made tender by years of trauma. It is choosing your drag of the day- Is it going to be soft butch, masculine, feminine or pure ‘craze’? Do I want to drag as a luxury brand, a rich Lagos hunty, an oloshoe or a tramp? – the possibilities are endless. Hell, waking up in Nigeria, as a Queer person is the definition of defiance.
Defiance is loving in all the colours of the rainbow, it is coming correct, as your true selves, thus freeing others to exist in the fullness of their selves. It is waking up to choose yourself, with all your flaws and perfections. It is waking up at all. Rather unfortunately, the ugliest word in the English Language is love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV
On the surface, the definition of love as stated above is so beautiful, the words are simple, tear jerking. Without looking at these words through the lens of the intersection of sex, power and race dynamics, they can even be considered achievable, harmless.
However, once you put on your queer lens and add the daily (lived) reality of the harms (both mental and physical) that are perpetrated by the simplest construct in the capitalist/patriarchal system, that of the nuclear family(father, mother and the children), on queer bodies or bodies percieved as different, these definitions become not-so-harmless, not-so-simple.
Love, as defined by the parameters listed in Corinthians, asks you to make yourselves less, not to get angry at injustice. It teaches you not to value yourself or achievements. It asks you not to demand more from your community. It demands that you forget your trauma instead of acknowledging it, and maybe, through this knowing and understanding where your pain lies, start to heal from it.
Love protects abusers, calls itself the truth and dismisses other people’s lived realities as ‘evil.’ It asks you to ‘persevere’ mostly through manipulation and power plays. It places the onus of failure on you, for love, more often than not, fails. Love is not enough, it has never been.
In 2011, the landscape of queer organising in Nigeria changed, so did the faces of the LQBTIA movement. Before the passage of the SSMP Act, 2013, the faces, platforms and voices of queer organising was established in the diaspora. The voices of Nigerian-based advocates and activists, overshadowed by Nigerians living and loving in the global north.
It was defiance that galvanized a whole generation of queer Nigerians to claim their voices and create their own spaces and platforms. Defiance gave us the courage to ‘come out of the closet’ and in the words of Toni Morrison “[…stand] at the border; [stand] at the edge and claim it as the central and let the rest of the world move over to where [we were].”
Love created ‘the closet,’ conceptualised its parameters, documented the definitions, outlined the punishments and used it as evidence of why ‘the closet’ was valid, in fact an absolute necessity to make ‘the world a better place’. Love made us chop ourselves into tiny little bits so as to ‘fit in’.
It was defiance, borne out of the need to survive and the urgency of questioning these ‘established’ parameters, that gave us wings to fly.
This defiance enables us to continually examine, theorise, research and question what it means to be queer, black, Nigerian, dis-enfranhised, minoritised and brutalised.
Defiance led to the establishment of safe queer spaces and to keep expanding the meaning of what it means to be a safe queer person in Nigeria.
Defiance has birthed a new generation of queer bodies, children of disobedience, distruptors of the status-quo. Àwọn ọmọ k’ògbẹbẹ̀. These ones who demand justice and restitution, these ones writing new stories, their stories in their own words, the ‘baby gheys.’
Defiance makes the world go round.
And in this beautiful month that we have chosen, at this moment, as our pride month. This month that we have claimed as our own, giving the middle-finger to The Establishment, to the strict parameters of love, we raise a toast to the frontliners, both queer and non-queer bodies. Those in the trenches, those who came before us.
We raise a toast to ourselves, the ones who changed the course of history when we stood up to fight instead of fleeing. We raise a toast to the ones who shored us up by standing with us, some, standing behind us, choosing anonymity so the fight can go on. We raise a toast to the ‘baby gheys,’ the new generation whose future is urgent, it is now!
May we continue to find the well of defiance which is stronger and greater than love, the defiance that makes us demand justice and accountability. May our wine casks never be empty, may we always find support, wealth and tenderness in the arms of those who value our bodies, minds and spirits.
May defiance continue to be,
May it lead us home to freedom.
All through this month of the Òsùmàrè flooding our lives with the fullness and gorgeous of all their brilliant colours, we will be gifting you with essays, interviews and a documentary exalting queer bodies. These are our prayers to you.