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No Longer Silent: Guerrilla Writing Against Injustice

No Longer Silent: Guerrilla Writing Against Injustice

Is her happiness contagious?
I take for granted that ‘foreign-ness’ affords one a safety blanket not available to locals. So as they laze on the beach, she nestles her head between another’s bosom and strokes her side with her middle finger in a rather suggestive manner and at no point does she stop to think if this makes them uncomfortable. She never for a moment stops to think how her behaviour might impact them, in fact it is just in the moment before she closes her eyes in deep reverie that she realises why they choose to go to the beach at night because at least when the darkness falls those who plague the beach are all delinquent in some way, yet their kind…only their kind of delinquency is perhaps the most inadmissible. She doesn’t stop to think for a moment that her loud, boisterous games that cause her to speak of ideas and laws unimaginable to them and theirs may in fact be more than risqué and actually put them at risk. She doesn’t stop to think that when the time comes she can go back to her home where the law of the land and the law of the God she serves are separate, sovereign institutions. Institutions which she can choose to abide by or not, and yet she forgets they will remain here in this land where the law of man and that of the god they serve have been collapsed into one and the same code. So, she asks herself, “how does my happy differ from yours. Do our rainbows have the same colours? Do our hearts beat and break for the same reason? And is our struggle really the same?” Because while she can playfully look forward to the day when marriage could be a viable option for her, they dread the day their wedding bells will ring for a match will not have been made. While she speaks of her independence and freedom from eternal familial control, she forgets that here, in this place family defines who they are and will be. So again she asks herself, “does your happy differ from mine. Does my happy offend you? Does it colour you a colour to be recognised and scorned? Does my happy taint yours? Is it contagious?”

 

Due to the pervasive heteronomative cultures in many African nations, Nigeria inclusive, people in same-sex relationships face multiple layers of discrimination and are sworn to silence and often forced into hiding.

Home spits me out about three weeks into every visit. Home vehemently spits me out, and instead of standing my ground and fighting I pack my bags and run! I say no more of that because in the words of Audre Lorde, “your silence will not protect you.”[1] Feminist scholar Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”[2] So even if physically distanced from my Naija kin I join my voice to theirs and choose to guerrilla write my way to our collective freedom.

Even as I pen these words I question my authority and position as a liminal player at best. Admittedly I come to this struggle from a certain position of privilege having never truly lived out the sum of my identities in the land of my birth, Nigeria. The land that now challenges my very existence and right to human dignity. What I represent, and that of so many others like me poses such a threat to the heteronormative, patriarchal, islamo-judeo-christian Nigerian establishment that with the stroke of his pen our Oga at the top, President Goodluck Jonathan has deemed us criminal elements. Alas in the sea of corrupt politicians, human trafficking rings, 419ers, would be paedophiles, Boko Haram and other maleficent characters in Nigeria it is the homosexual person that is most frightful and dangerous. We are so dangerous in fact that just these words could land me in the slammer from anywhere between 10-14 years depending on what a judge requires as sufficient burden of proof, or indeed lack thereof.

One might ask why in the face of issues such as poverty, infant mortality, HIV/Aids, and Polio etc., I dare suggest fighting for the human rights of the LGBTQI community. The late Nelson Mandela said “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”[3] Simply because gay rights are human rights and it is the responsibility of any good and just government to dedicate itself to creating legislature that ensures the full recognition and protection of every citizen under the law and in accordance to international human rights standards and not at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of the particularly vulnerable minority populations. Development and Queer theorist Susan Jolly asserts, the “assumption that while in the North people need sex and love, in the South they just need to eat”[4], has become an impediment to defending the human rights of ALL people in the global South. Jolly goes on to say that “in fact, lack of freedom to express sexuality can threaten survival, the most basic of human needs”[5] companionship and love which are essentially private matters should be of no concern to lawmakers. And yet in the words of Anthropologist ElIen Gruenbaum, “the emotional tenor of the rituals {and process surrounding suppressing articulations of sexual desire and sexuality} seems to have played the role symbolic anthropologists identified as transferring physical sensations and emotions from the individual into loyalty to society’s rules.”[6] Thus the Nigerian government has essentially made policing sexuality and peoples most intimate lives an affair of the state, whereas they should be concerned with protecting the rights and full humanity of all its citizens and not just a privileged few.

On January 20th this year we commemorated his legacy, which remains a source of inspiration for liberation and human rights struggles the world over. Writing from the Birmingham jail, on justice, legislation and human rights, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., invokes St Thomas Aquinas, “…any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statuses are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”[7] With this new law President Jonathan and his cohorts in the Nigerian senate have connived to segregate and imprison all non-heterosexual persons and those who know them in Nigeria. They hope to erode the personality and human dignity of these persons, and parade them as fodder for corruption and mob justice. Environmental Geographer Jon Binnie argues, “sexuality can be defined as a private affair- belonging in the private sphere”[8] and as such should not be debated and legislated by government; as there are many more pressing issues at stake than who consenting adults love and what they choose to do in private. By legislating sexuality the government is denying citizens the full expression of their humanity and thus engaging in gross discrimination of people with same-sex sexuality. The Nigerian gay community has never rallied or demanded for marriage rights, this has never been on the agenda, and The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act has now been signed into law. This ruse of a law has essentially put a bull’s eye on the backs of otherwise perfectly law abiding citizens and made us Nigeria’s scapegoat.

Before I go any further I want to declare who I am for it is from the intersection of these identities that my authority, audacity and right come. I am a human being. I am a woman (cis-gendered female). I am a Nigerian, I am Edo, and I am an African. I am a Black person. I am also a God-respecting woman. Now pay attention to this part of my identity because it is this part that now renders me criminal, alien and fit for imprisonment in the land of my birth. I realise though that there is power in naming a thing for in naming my (our) sexuality and sexual identity, much like in naming a child into their destiny, we cease to be the person that was once invisible and explained away. At no other point in my young life than now have I appreciated the urgency and import of feminist Carol Hainsch’s words “the personal is political!”[9]

I am a Zami woman; this is my preferred term second to Amazon because both are rooted in the experiences of other women like me. Zami (n) is “a Carriacou word meaning women who work together as friends and lovers.”[10] Amazon, taken from the Dahomean Amazons[11], an elite group of warrior women who took an oath of loyalty to each other and swore to abstain from sexual relations with men. In fact men were forbidden to even touch or look at them, the punishment for which was death. Others understand this part of my identity to mean lesbian, Sapphic, dyke (another powerful term) or simply put a same-sex/gender loving woman. However one understands this, the bottom line is, I and other women like me are predisposed to pursuing romantic interactions with other women, much to the disdain of some straight men who consider women as objects for their pleasure and unfettered access.  Particularly when it dawns on them that this in fact means we are not very likely to “pullover”[12] and “wind am well”[13] for their sport or for any other reason.

While it is very difficult to know what pre-colonial African histories offered definitively on this subject, there are several instances that serve as clues in the historical archive that allow us to debunk this notion of homosexual/homosocial behaviour as fundamentally ‘unAfrican’. If we look at the examples in many cultures the continent over, we can begin to understand the local mechanisms, through which same-sex sexuality was and still is permissible in various African states, Nigeria inclusive. The Southern African archive provides many examples of this. Kendall investigates “motsoalle (special woman-woman friendships) relationships in Lesotho. She explains that the value placed on the need for companionship and love, over physical pleasure and penile penetrations, creates a safe space for women”[14]. Ruth Morgan tackles the issue of same-sex coupling amongst sangomas (female traditional healers) in Southern Africa. Through her observation she cites other female same-sex communities and traditions across the continent. In each instance there exist social parameters – social, economic, spiritual, or simply cultural, namely adolescent rites of passage that all allow for the exploration and elaboration of same-sex sexuality.[15] Here in Nigeria we have the tradition of the fattening rooms[16], where young women are pampered and taught by the older generation of women. These lessons include things from beautification, mercantilism and domestic behaviours, the young women also “receive instructions on how to achieve sexual fulfilment”[17] from their elders.  Yan Daudu[18] of the Hausa tradition provides yet another example of same-sex coupling. Chaka Zulus army considered intimacy between the male soldiers as fundamental in building battle loyalty. Let’s not forget the Igbo tradition of Female Husbands[19]researched extensively by scholar Ifi Amadiume. These examples may not speak directly to the issue of bodies coupling, but they do provide valid examples of same-sex communities that were revered, accepted and embedded in our cultural fabrics the continent over. Through this brief overview of various African traditions, it is clear that homosexual/homosocial behaviour is part of how African societies have forged communities and shaped identity throughout our known histories. What could be considered foreign, imported or borrowed is the overt sexual imagery and seemingly hedonistic values heralded as part of the protest of the western gay movement. These forms of protest are extremely context specific and cannot be translated on the rather conservative landscape of Nigerian and indeed other African cultural tapestries. That’s not to say that we do not have our examples of flamboyance, just look at the Wodaabe or Bororo[20] tradition amongst the Fulani’s in Niger or the reed dance of Swaziland where the maidens dance for the King and each other. Undeniably African cultural aesthetics tend to be sexually demure and frown on profligate displays be they homosexual or heterosexual.

A popular image floating around social media land now describes homophobia as “the fear that gay men are going to treat you the way you treat women and that a lesbian will treat your women better than you do.” The truth is such an analysis may in fact be too profound for Goodluck Jonathan and his fictitious 90%. For this descriptor to apply to the Nigerian case, people would have to be willing to question patriarchy, heteronormativity and hyper religious group-think and then be willing to accept that these models are deeply flawed and a better option exists.

Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right state, “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” and “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”[21]respectively. The preamble of the Nigerian Constitution states, “to provide for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country, on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people.”[22] As the highest law in the land, the constitution goes on to discuss the principles of democracy, social justice equality of status, and claims to frown upon discrimination of any kind. Clearly President Jonathan hasn’t read those parts. Aside from being a violation of international human rights, and the protections and rights enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, this law will also prevent people from accessing vital public health services and threaten their very survival. This law also doesn’t account for those between genders, intersex and transgender/sexual persons.  Professor Wole Soyinka affirms “the biological truth is this: some are born with imprecise gender definition, even when they have sexual organs that appear to define them male or female. Years, indeed decades of scientific research have gone into this, so what is needed is understanding and acceptance, not emotionalism and the championing of ‘moral’ or ‘traditional’ claims.”[23] I would argue that this law is yet another desperate attempt by our Oga at the top at misdirection. With this law, he has effectively thrown the masses a rather cheap and scanty bone to further distract them from the actual problems with governance in our society. The smoke screen is successfully deflecting attention because Nigerians seem to be susceptible to the same tricks throughout our history. We delight in creating vacuous binaries, highlighting difference, searching for otherness instead of looking for points of coalition in hopes of improving our collective situation. Nigeria’s own rapper and cultural icon M.I. admits, “life is bisexual anybody can blow.”[24] Indeed human beings are very complex and nuanced creatures, no one, not even Jonathan Goodluck, his cohorts and the fictitious 90% can begin to fathom the fullness of human condition. We are all the sum of our parts, and the law should strive to preserve, embrace, and protect the diversity of its population at all costs.

 By: OsaZami -lobuhle- Oh

 

References:  

 


[1] Lorde, Audre. “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action.” “Lesbian and Literature Panel”. Modern Language Association, Chicago, Illinois. 28 Dec. 1977. Lecture

[2] Hurston, Zora Neale, speaking on civil rights and discrimination see “Crazy for This Democracy” in Negro Digest December 1945 | “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, in The World Tomorrow May 1928.

[3]Mandela, Nelson R. “Address to the Joint Session of the House of Congress of the USA.” Joint Session of Houses of Congress. House of Congress, Washington, DC United States of America. 26 June 1990. Speech.

[4] Jolly, Susan. “‘Queering’ Development: Exploring the Links between Same-Sex Sexualities, Gender, and Development.” Gender and Development, 8.1 (2000): 78-88. Print.

[5] Jolly, Susan. “‘Queering’ Development: Exploring the Links between Same-Sex Sexualities, Gender, and Development.” Gender and Development, 8.1 (2000): 78-88. Print.

[6] Gruenbaum, Ellen. “Sexuality Issues in the Movement to Abolish Female Genital Cutting in Sudan.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 20.1 (2006): 121-38. Print.

[7] King Jr, Martin L. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Letter to Fellow Clergymen. 16 Apr. 1963. MS. Jail, Birmingham, Alabama. Via http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/resources/article/annotated_letter_from_birmingham/

[8] Binnie, Jon. The Globalization of Sexuality. London: Sage, 2004. Print.

[9] Hainsch, Carol. The Personal Is Political: The Original Feminist Theory. Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation. February 1969. Essay. Via http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html

 

[10] Lorde, Audre.  Zami, a new spelling of my name. Crossing Press. 1982. | DiBernard, Barbara, “ZAMI: A PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A BLACK LESBIAN” (1991).Faculty Publications — Department of English.Paper 28.

[11] Cummins, Joseph. History’s Great Untold Stories. National Geographic, 2007. | Edgerton, Robert B. Warrior Women. Westview, 2000. | Forbes, Frederick Edwyn. Dahomey and the Dahomans. Longman, 1851. | Shaw, Albert. The Review of Reviews. Review of Reviews, 1892. Via http://www.badassoftheweek.com/dahomey.html | See also Libyan amazons http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/ama/ama08.htm

[12] Kcee. “Pullover.” Pullover. Kcee Featuring Wizkid. Five Star Music, 2014. MP3.

[13] Ikechukwu. Wind Am Well. Ikechukwu Featuring Don Jazzy. Don Jazzy, 2008. MP3.

[14]Blackwood, Evelyn, and Saskia Wieringa. Female Desires: Same-sex Relations and Transgender Practices across Cultures. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Print.

[15]Morgan, Ruth, and Graeme Reid. “‘I’ve Got Two Men and One Woman’: Ancestors, Sexuality and Identity among Same Sex Identified Women Traditional Healers in South Africa.” Culture, Health & Sexuality 5.5 (2003): 375-91. Print. | Gunkel, H., The Cultural Politics of Female Sexuality in South Africa, Routledge Research in Gender and Society, 2012, Taylor & Francis

[16]Effiong, Philip. Nigerian “Fattening” Rooms: Reinventing the total Woman. 2013 Via http://www.philip-effiong.com/Fattening-Rooms.pdf

[17]Effiong, Philip. Nigerian “Fattening” Rooms: Reinventing the total Woman. 2013 Via http://www.philip-effiong.com/Fattening-Rooms.pdf

[18] Epprecht, Marc  Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic African CityAfrican Studies Review
Volume 53, Number 1, April 2010.

[19]Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. London: Zed, 1987. Print.

[21] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Articles 3, 5, 6, 7, 21, 27, 29, 36 and 38. It is also in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Convention against Torture, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

[22]Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, § Preamble (http://www.nigerialaw.org/ConstitutionOfTheFederalRepublicOfNigeria.htm 1999). Online.

[23]Soyinka, Wole. “The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry.” http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/the-intimate-minority-and-legislative-zealotry/132815/. This Day Live, 7 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

[24] M.I. “Anybody.” MI2 the Movie. M.I Featuring Timaya & Loose Kaynon. Chocolate City Music, 2011. MP3.

 

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