By Alexandra Maduagwu
People who understand this essay through lived experience know the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about and interact with one another. However, what I’m focused on are personal triumphs of being in community with bois rather than keying into the patriarchal idea imposed on women and masculine people that we are opposed to one another.
I’ve chosen to celebrate the siblings, sisters and brothers who nod their confirmation of a shared identity at you from across a room, with a solidarity hug or handshake that keeps you company through the day. That first touch that makes friendship, and the many joys those moments have brought me.
When I was a young boi, I bought into the idea that girls who were masculine like me had to be in some kind of competition. I’d often hear about how, of the three of us in my hostel, I was the only dark-skinned one and therefore the least attractive. Our mates compared our clothing, friends, eating and spending habits and so on. If you ate beans in the dining hall your rating dropped the next day. If you showered gifts on someone it would rise instantly.
It was a daily occurrence, as boarding school required that we create our own entertainment, no matter the cost. That gave room for falsehoods which got darker and more divisive by the day.
I wasn’t friends with these other bois, as I wasn’t capable of making real connections in a space where I felt completely misunderstood. When I tried to befriend them, spend time and talk about shared interests, the next week I heard we had been at an extension site at midnight (some faraway site unfit for kids at night), practicing cultism in our boxers and singlets.
That rumor got back to my parents and the series of events afterward led to my first suicide attempt. A lot of what happened inside that miniverse is mirrored in the “real world” too.
As queer masculine women, trans masculine people or gender non-conforming people, homophobic, transphobic and enbyphobic violence is the order of the day.
We are conditioned to think that there are only a handful of people who won’t see us as anomalies and that those people could only handle one person at a time. We know the typical reactions cisheterosexual, gender-conforming people give when one of us walks into a room, which could either involve having personal boundaries breached via questions about one’s gender or sexuality, being villainized or othered by some silly rumor or flat out attacking when the wrong person’s ego is bruised. It’s expected that the more bois there are in a room, the more amplified those reactions would be.
You could walk into a place and get sized up by the only other boi there, as if the two of you couldn’t be in the same room without inviting attention and comparison at the least; and violence, at the worst and so one of you had to go.
In a society that deceives us into thinking the best approach to preserving our bodies and spaces is to be territorial, assert dominance, and live in isolation, more of us are choosing togetherness as an act of resistance.
It starts from a nod or a smile on a good day — reaching out that leads to community. The importance of that first contact cannot be overstated. More often than not at underground queer gatherings, I’ve gotten warm welcomes that feel like the acknowledgment of a shared identity.
Now that I belong to a community of bois I met at such gatherings or off the internet, I know that a lot of psychological turmoil can be avoided by talking to people who get it. They understand the isolation that comes with being gender non-conforming in a world where everything is gendered and your expression of your gender is policed.
A lot of my childhood angst as an unwilling participant in a competition with the only people who got it could have been avoided. Back then I thought attempting to be friends was my mistake, and that keeping a “low profile” would protect me. What’s different now is knowing we can only go it together, and that the idea that three bois is a crowd is a by-product of phobia-related trauma.
I’ve had the pleasure of drawing strength and sharing banter with inter-generational bois and the impact is far reaching.
For one, someone else’ experience is the best teacher. Older bois show you stability is possible, gate-keeping bigots be damned. Younger bois remind you to look alive.
Many of my personal heroes have been bois.
When I got picked up by the police before the pandemic and couldn’t think over the sound of one of them saying “you go get belle for cell”, a boi chased after the police van to make sure no matter what happened, I didn’t reach the station, and she got me home.
When I had COVID twice last year (it was really three times but who’s counting), two bois counseled me through it. They came with their rainbow accessories to the drab ward I was admitted to when I had acute food poisoning earlier this year.
One of my more recent worries is going out and having to deal with being misgendered. The host at this event, a boi I hadn’t met before that moment, made it a rule that no one misgendered anyone and she enforced it, even when it got challenging.
After another failed attempt at a civil conversation about my sexuality and gender identity with my parents, I nursed my hurt in the company of a boi I hadn’t met before, whose priority it was to show me care. Goodwill is in short supply, and I don’t take it for granted that the people who have shown up for me at those times look like me. It’s been liberating for the child who believed goodwill couldn’t come from us, as a result of being othered.
More frequently space is held for me by bois who understand. I can’t say it’s been all roses, as anyone who belongs to any community would know, but at 25, I’ve never had a more fulfilling friend group and support system. These women and people show me daily what masculinity that is not confined by the patriarchy looks like, and that is my practice. Masculinity that makes space for more of us to feel held, as opposed to excluded.