When we talk about the continuing discrimination faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and other sexual and gender (LGBT+) minorities in Nigeria, we tend to gloss over the Trans community and more so the + which includes among other groups the intersex community.
It is understandable too because the pesky anti-gay laws in Nigeria can appear at face value to be targeting only cis-gender gay men and women. That, like heteronormativity – which leads many heterosexuals to settle into the false certainty of the rightness of their sexuality alone, is born of the reality of a majority of the human population that is cis-gender and so can fall into the assumption that theirs is the only valid reality.
Trans people make up a paltry 0.6% of the population whereas the prevalence of intersex is about 0.018%. A person could go their whole lives without ever coming across an intersex person or trans person.
These communities are minorities even within the LGBT+ minority community, making them double-minority communities.
Trans – short for transgender, people have gender identities or gender expression that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term is also an umbrella term that in addition to people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex (trans women and trans men) may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are non-binary or genderqueer, including genderfluid and agenda people.)
Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a sexual/reproductive anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. A person can, for instance, be born appearing to be female but having mostly male anatomy (say, a penis) on the outside.
Many babies born with this condition undergo surgery approved by parents to make it easy for family and friends to fit them into the binary ideas of gender “female” or “male.” Growing activism is putting to question these procedures.
Legal provision against cross-dressing in Section 405 (2) (e) of the penal code means that trans persons and intersex people who choose to present in any gender but one they can defend by their outward appearance (which in the case of the intersex can be impossible) can run afoul of the law. The penal code prescribes up to two years imprisonment for this.
This legal discrimination coupled with negative attitudes towards intersex and trans Nigerians contributes majorly to the erasure of this double minority community.
Even the great equalizer that is social media has not aided a lot in the fight of these communities to be seen and treated with dignity. The LGBT+ community itself has been caught up in debates about the place of the trans community under its great umbrella. Transphobia is a common pastime of many members of the LGBT+ community.
Non-binary transfeminist activist, Somi, captured this in a recent interview with YNaija when they said of the transphobia they face daily, “[It] is everywhere. In women’s spaces, in LGBT+ spaces. The world of trans people is distinctly lacking in love.”
It isn’t just being shunned, deliberately misgendered or rudely questioned about your transgenderism either. “I have received death threats and been bullied both offline and online,” they revealed.
While legal protection won’t immediately change attitudes towards trans and intersex persons in the country, it will at least give room for them to seek justice if/when violated.
It is not asking too much to implore the Nigerian government to consider protecting these double minority communities, however much like screaming into an abyss it may feel sometimes. Trans and intersex people deserve legal protection. The sooner it is achieved the better.