The belief that queerness is not African is a myth, as queer and trans people have existed and will continue to exist on the continent of Africa. This belief that queerness and transness are western imports have perpetuated harm and violence done to queer and trans people, backed by laws that are based on specific ‘western import’ religions.
Trans Awareness month is a time set apart to honour the lives and experiences of Trans people who are existing despite the hurt and violence. It is a time to bring light to issues that directly and indirectly influence the lives of trans people. Even though November has been assigned to bring awareness to the Trans community, it is important to remember that every day and every month, we should speak out against trans violence, because transphobia and transphobic laws exist every day of the year, not just in November. Every day of our lives is supposed to be a constant cycle of learning better ways to be there for the queer and trans community and unlearning the ways we’ve assumed these communities should be seen or treated based on the societies we live in. We need to learn, through trans people themselves, how to look into lives we haven’t been conditioned to understand, and how to wrap our minds around concepts we have no range of, based off our being bound by a society that cannot see beyond a binary lens.
Transphobia is a very disgusting and traumatic kind of violence. It makes trans people embark on the often scary journey of self-discovery and awareness with no assurance of an unconditional love that would always support you no matter what comes out of that journey, no assurance of a family to return to. Fola Francis(she/they) is a trans Nigerian Woman who grew up in a hyper-religious family. She always knew she was trans, but it wasn’t something they could speak to anyone about in their family, because of the well known consequences of that seemingly innocent action. Because of Transphobia, trans people are forced to keep their identity to themselves, to shrink themselves because of hate from people who have decided to despise what they do not understand. This places trans people in a state of hyper-vigilance and secrecy, always hiding, always with their walls high up and never letting them down because of the fact that other people knowing about themselves in the way that they do could cost them their family, homes or their very lives.
Some days ago, Fola posted screenshots of a conversation they had with their mother, who, on hearing about Fola’s trans identity, resorted to emotionally manipulative comments, instead of learning about her child who has come to know and accept themselves as a trans woman.
Unfortunately, that is the usual reaction from religious parents of trans Nigerians. It should be noted that when trans people ‘come out’ as trans or nonbinary, we are not requesting your understanding of our identity or your acceptance of our journey. We are not asking for your transphobia-laced opinions or telling you as a suggestion.
It is impossible to talk about Transphobia in Nigeria without referring to Christianity and Islam and their joint involvement in promoting discrimination towards minority groups of women, queer and trans people and perpetuating transphobic violence. Through sermons demonizing queer and trans people, many Christians have the tears and blood of trans Nigerians on the same ‘holy’ hands they raise to God on Sunday morning. In the name of doing God’s will, Nigerian Christians and Muslims have held their religions as weapons to alienate, punish and in some cases, murder queer and trans people. The SSMPA laws are proof of religious people using their majority privilege to create laws that make life difficult for trans people. These same laws give license to everyday Nigerian citizens and the Nigerian police to join forces in extorting and kito-ing queer and trans Nigerians, as well as perceived queer and trans Nigerians.
“There is beauty in diversity” and “Variety is the spice of life” are terms used to refer to everything ranging from food to flowers. Why does this sentence exclude some human beings? Why is our first response to difference hate and fighting to ‘other’ them and creating divisions when there’s no need to?
Trans Awareness is a fight for Trans lives. It is saying “We are here. We exist. We will continue to exist and take up space that is rightfully ours” as a middle finger to Transphobia. It is radical disobedience to the voices that insist we must die to appease their gods. Affirming trans lives should be a priority, by echoing their voices, listening to learn from them, donating for gender-affirming surgeries and therapies and just spreading the word against transphobic hate.