Bit of a rocky start we have here. “What is Denrele Edun?” No one asks that. Not if they are sub-Saharan African (thanks CNN Africa). Actually, no one asks that; irrespective of where they are from. You either know who Denrele is, or you don’t. If the latter is the case, then your only excuse is that you do not watch TV. Or more appropriately, you must have taken a cave for a home. But it’s okay.
Denrele Edun is a Nigerian TV presenter, a show host and all round entertainer with as much energy from within him as there is that unending controversy around him and his sexuality. There it is. Except for that time he broke his neck when he fell off a stage, every conversation about Denrele spirals into questions of sexuality- is he gay? Is he a woman? Is he transgender? Why has he not come out? Why does he dress like that? Or is he cisgender and it’s all just a ploy to remain relevant?
We admit that it’s a very volatile topic and probably best to let sleeping dogs lie, but the problem in doing that far outweighs the tempers that might flare up.
It is very important though that we address this because, in 2016, much of the conversation around sexuality is being framed by the technicalities of being transgender.
Identity is now fluid. Almost.
Established sexual orientations ebb into new and constantly evolving standards of individual identity usually defined by the individuals themselves.
Notably, the media buzz around individuals like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have generally shaped our understanding of the issue of being transgender. You are either born a man or a woman and then you choose (or realise) that you’d rather be of another gender.
However in Nigeria, this fast-paced and usually out-of-context media buzz has far outpaced our grasp of the issue. Such that people like Bobrisky and Seun “The Diva” are no more than entertainment for the “open-minded” and a constant source of irritation for those who aren’t so “open”.
But we have always had Denrele Edun. Denrele is an only son with two sisters. A situation that normally excuses boys that express effeminate traits in boys because here, you were either a boy or a girl and in each case, you behaved accordingly. When you deviated, it was because you were raised in the midst of the opposite gender. So, a tom boy acted the way she did because she had xx number of brothers and by so and so age, she would generally have out grown it. It was that simple.
But Denrele is over thirty now, at an age where the said tom boy, or ‘girly boy’ would have moved past all the ‘childishness’. But that’s not the case here.
That’s the Nigerian speak; ‘tomboys’ and ‘girly boys’ (and the latter wasn’t even common because: boys are men). Today, there is more lingua to describe people of the transgender community than there are traditional words to go round.
A person’s gender identity is what they identify as outside of the standard norm. So you could be a Woman, a Man or ‘Other’ (usually non-binary). All of that is a matter of choice. What isn’t (choice) is gender expression. So a person (biologically male or female) could identify as either (or none) but still express as the other or be fluid (in which case they are gender nonconformist).
Thus, a person born male can identify as a man but his expression might be feminine. Easy, no? Good. He could also identify as a woman while his expression remains masculine or maybe feminine. It can go as many ways as anyone’s imaginations can roam, keeping in mind the non-binary, the nonconforming and the genderqueer.
The question however remains that what are the measures of defining expression? Of course, going by the previous paragraph, Denrele would easily be put in the category of those born male, who identify as men, but whose expressions are feminine
Or do we really know this?
But Denrele has blurred even that seemingly clear line. By retaining his patent masculine anatomy, one would assume that he identifies as a man and his constant feminine appearances – hair, clothes, mile high shoes, and gait even – would inform anyone who says his expression is feminine. But Denrele doesn’t always dress like a woman. There’s still a question as to whether he began wearing the Agbadas we now see him donning so casually only after asexual fashion became a thing. Whatever the answer to that is, that he doesn’t always dress like a woman is a fact and he proved thing in his last birthday photographs. Denrele appeared as dapper as they come dressed like every man’s man.
For people who are within the transgender community, traditional gender is something “assigned” to all of us at birth. The belief is that each person is the gender they identify with and in fact, saying a trans person “became” a certain gender is considered offensive. For Jordan, a 26 year old American youth engagement specialist, he’d known he was a guy as early as age 2! He identifies as a man and narrates how his express denial of any feminine associations became extreme from the moment he could talk.
For Caitlyn Jenner, the process was long and painful. She began the surgical and hormonal process of transitioning in the 80s but it wasn’t until March 2015, that 65 year old Bruce Jenner took the plunge to go finally go under the knife in what is the single most celebrated gender transition/coming out event to date.
Denrele is no Caitlyn. Neither has he intimated us that he has always or even ever wanted to be identified as female. In fact one can argue that all of the traits that raise our eyebrows are not more than what he has often called an “eclectic” sense of being; be it fashion or general characteristics. But how do we reconcile the sultry pictures, the #WomanCrushWednesday posts on Instagram and that cover page kiss with the ‘Areafada’ – Charles Oputa?
How do we explain posts like this?
Or vague and suggestive comments like this one?
Denrele definitely gives off the vibe that he belongs to at least one trans group. He has however managed to never come off straight about it so we can only speculate. While people like Bruce Jenner expressed their inner ‘Caitlyn’ in personal and less conspicuous ways like how he “secretly wore panty hose and a bra underneath his suit so he could at least feel some sensation of his true gender identity,” Denrele doesn’t hide his skinny pants and tank tops and indeed the skirts. So is he just transvestite? Is he essentially our own Noel Fielding?
Noel is the English comedian, actor and musician who identifies as transvestite – his over the top appearances not being too far off from our Denrele’s. Noel has said that he’d like to be remembered as a jester and maybe that’s another clue to figuring out Denrele. Is that it? A brand identity of sorts- to differentiate him from other presenters who also claim to be crazy and eccentric.
Even if we agreed that it is all a ploy to stay relevant- all that air of mystery around what Denrele really is, there is still a lot more to ask.
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Like what photos like this one suggest.
Photos like this raise the question of sexual orientation.
When it comes to sexuality, transgenderism takes its own complexities a notch higher. It is amazing the nuances that exist within this community. We already mentioned the subtle but very important difference between gender identity and gender expression. Now if a transgender woman were to have sexual inclinations towards a/another woman,-keeping in mind that she is traditionally male, then is she lesbian or straight? German Lopez brilliantly broke it down when he wrote:
A common misconception is that gender identity and expression are linked to sexual or romantic attraction. But a trans person can identify as a man, even though he was assigned female at birth, and be gay (attracted to other men), straight (attracted to women), bisexual, asexual (sexually attracted to no one), or attracted to a traditionally undefined gender. Trans women, gender nonconforming people, genderqueer people, and non-binary people can also be sexually attracted to men, women, both, no one, or another preference.
Great. So it means that Denrele could really be anything from gay to lesbian to straight and even bi- or asexual (though the last is highly unlikely). To really be sure of this, one would have to know for sure what gender he identifies as. Of course, we’d also need to be sure what the gender of his love/sexual interests are.
While Denrele has actually promised on several occasions that he will get married someday, he has been just as adamant about his decision not to reveal whether he is gay or not. In this interview, Denrele declares himself a “sexual outlaw” while promising that his partner is not male nor transgender. This ambiguity could be for several reasons but our guess is that societal reaction to a declaration that he is anything other than an eccentric ‘sexual outlaw’ might have been a major consideration. The only Nigerian gay person to come out on national TV, Bisi Alimi, had to seek asylum in the United Kingdom shortly after coming out.
Nigeria might just not be ready for it. But with Nigerians who fit into the LGBTQ community showing up on screens regularly now, is it still wise to feign unawareness? The whole point of this exercise was mostly to point out the obvious likelihood that we have individuals with gender and sexual fluidity amongst us. The earlier we acknowledged this and started real conversations around it, the better. As opposed to just considering it as entertainment.
In the United States, questions like which public toilet- the male or female- a transgender person will use have become the crux of legislative battles with transgender people feeling discriminated against that they cannot use the toilet that people of the gender they identify as use (as opposed to the gender they were born as).
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