Hope for queer people in Africa is bleak, and among queer Nigerians, it is even more dreary. Since the passing of the Same-Sex Prohibition Act of 2013 into law – which criminalizes everything relating to same-sex relationships, from public displays of affection to marriage to cohabitation – the queer community has largely had to live in fear and make itself invisible.
The latest form of repression took place in 2022 with the introduction of the anti “cross-dressing” bill. It has not passed but is nevertheless meant to serve to further harm and discriminate among gender-nonconforming individuals.
As fear becomes the principal reality of identifying as LGBTQ+, this marginalized group continues to invent ways to celebrate “queer joy” amidst the repressive laws dictating their lives.
Finding the shine
“Queer joy” translates into so many contexts for LGBTQ+ Nigerians. For one nonbinary individual, it means using drag to escape the day-to-day stress that comes with choosing to be different in an orthodox landscape. Known as Countess Sasha Seduction on social media, the 21-year-old discovered drag in 2020, before they could even put a name to it.
“Before 2020, I had always loved dressing up and wearing makeup, but it wasn’t until much later that I learned what the word drag meant. From there I was able to finally put a name to everything I have been doing prior,” they told LGBTQ Nation.
“Drag to me is one of the biggest mediums I have used in practicing and reveling in queer joy. It’s an escape. It’s the most perfect form of queer joy.”
But where and how can someone like Countess Sasha Seduction shine the most with their personality? It is at places like the special themed ball hosted by Pride in Lagos – a queer-owned collective championing inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community in the country. It is also at the annual Cool-Off Zone Awards, a Clubhouse page that acts as an international safe space for queer Africans. For the latter, Sasha attended in full drag and the reception was heartfelt.
Another nonbinary drag artist known as Onyx Godwin was one of the big faces of an exhibition that took place in Lagos last October. The exhibition, alongside a documentary, explored the untold stories of gender non-conforming Nigerians.
“The exhibition was one of the best projects I have ever been on,” Godwin told LGBTQ Nation. “Also the message that the exhibition was trying to get across is very much needed. I believe the representation of gender non-conforming individuals, which was the overall theme of the exhibition, is much needed. With conversations like this in the media, I believe the faster things can change going forward”.
Godwin is an extroverted person whose own definition of “queer joy” revolves around attending the latest inclusive jamboree. They said it has helped in filtering the never-ending cycle of homophobia.
Fola Francis, an openly trans Nigerian woman, told LGBTQ Nation that one of the best ways she has continued to experience the euphoria of being queer is by being able to “give back.”
“While It might sound political, being able to uplift and help other trans people with access to the little privilege I have has been fulfilling. It’s one of the things I vowed to do when I started out my journey as a trans woman.”
Trans people consist of a smaller fraction of the LGBTQ+ community. Here Francis has taken it upon herself to help this smaller minority group. Through advocacy and panel discussions, she is using her voice to champion the rights and inclusion of the trans community in Nigeria.
While queer individuals are redefining on their own what “queer joy” means, there are also queer-owned collectives helping to foster this joy among queer Nigerians. Take hFactor, for instance, which fosters community through a series of queer-centered projects ranging from film screenings, parties, pop-ups, balls, and raves. But it hasn’t been an easy task.
“When we started creating queer spaces, our biggest concern was security against violence and discrimination,” Dolapo Hannah Osunsina, the collective’s community manager, told LGBTQ Nation. For two years, our collective engaged and sensitized our immediate community before we proceeded to host and develop queer programs.”
“In the course to educate our immediate community, we created spaces for honest expression of our culture because cultural expression gives us an idea of what the manifestation of freedom as a lived experience looks like and this is crucial for queer generations to come.”
Hope comes in different forms
“My hope for the future is that queer people get to a point whereby the cis-heterosexual community just let us live our lives,” said Francis, “and stops using us to gain more traction on social media by hating and being homophobic, transphobic included.”
She is referring to the various gossip blogs and podcasts that have spread on social media by churning out content to cater to their widely homophobic audience. “I hope we get to a point where we can just live freely, a point of liberation, I want and hope trans people get visibility without the fear of being killed, attacked and the violence that comes with that.”
For hFactor, hope as a collective is rooted in being able to create self-sustaining queer communities while using culture, consciousness, community, and collaboration to administer solutions.
Another nonbinary artist, Babatunde Tribe, hopes for a future and a society that celebrates “genuinity.” Tribe is a fashion model and multimedia abstract artist. They are talking about how the creative industry mostly ostracizes gender-nonconforming creatives.
At the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week back in October – during the last hour of the 4-day event – a genderless fashion brand, Maxivive, was forced to cancel their showcase at the last minute after the organizers deemed the collection “too gay.” Tribe was one of the models meant to walk the runway for the show. As a form of resistance, the model assertively walked down the catwalk with a placard in hand calling out the “insensitive act.”
Countess Sasha Seduction hopes for proper and nuanced representation of gender non-conforming and queer individuals across various media. The mainstream media has a history of depicting queer characters as mostly immoral and egregious. This was most common in the early 2000s before the Same-Sex Prohibition Act of 2013. The films being produced were then referred to as “Nollywood movies.” At the end of these productions, these characters faced tragic endings. It is such representation that has blindsided the majority of Nigerians when it comes to recognizing the rights and existence of queer people in the country.
“I want to see people like me who aren’t afraid to identify as what I identify as on billboards, on TV, and the media in general.”