The conservative nature of the Nigerian society leaves little or no room for non-binary debates to get to a positive end. We have rigid constructs that define what clothes, shoes, and activities are appropriate for each binary gender. Typically, we do not treat people who exist outside societally defined confines kindly.
These constructs are far more rigid for the males. While females are to a large extent able to cross these gender barriers as ‘tomboys’. But this narrative is slowly changing.
While we are yet to come to full acceptance of a spectrum of gender, we are at least beginning to realise the futility of such rigid gender constructs. We are starting to acknowledge and appreciate the right and freedom of all individuals to express themselves freely.
Indeed, we owe much of this progress to cross-dressers who have ‘crossed boundaries’ notwithstanding the discrimination and stigma that comes with such decisions.
Leading this pack is the popular ‘Bobrisky’ who is perhaps the greatest example of Nigeria’s changing narratives on non-binary and transgender people. Staying true to breaking the norm, Bobrisky has evolved from being shamed and discriminated against to being one of the most popular influencers in the country.
Another popular cross-dresser is Denrele Edun, perhaps Nigeria’s most controversial TV presenter,and media personality, who made headlines in 2015 when he crowned himself Nigeria’s ‘Caitlyn Jenner’.
Even though Bobrisky and Denrele are the proverbial ‘poster boys’ of cross-dressers in Nigeria, there are many others who exist within and outside the public eye.
Talk about James Brown who, despite a run in with the Nigerian police in 2018 under the suspicion of being gay, has gained a large following on social media. Others are Jay Bugatti and Bryan Nwakoro.
There are no laws against cross-dressing, but the cultural association between cross-dressing and homosexuality enables stereotypes and widespread discrimination – with law enforcers exerting forceful energy in such cases. For instance, in December of 2019, 26 cross-dressers were arrested in Kano only because they were believed to be homosexuals.
In a country where homophobia and transphobia is so deeply entrenched, it is the effrontery with which these individuals express their true selves that is challenging our collective views of gender and sexuality.
They are blurring the previously distinct lines between gender and are responsible, at least in part, for keeping the topic of gender and sexuality in social media conversations.
The fact that they continue to thrive is an indication of hope- hope that perhaps, Nigeria is slowly transitioning, from a largely intolerant society into a more accepting, inclusive one.