photo by Johnson Temiloluwa
11 Sept 2023

By Obumneme Ahanonu

With the unmistakable self-persistence of a resisting body, the Ibadan queer community, mostly centering University of Ibadan students, gathered on 18th February to commune on their lived experiences as queer students in a Nigerian campus, and to address the complexities of such performances.

Starting with self-identification and individual definition of queerness, it was clear that most persons present at the programme had achieved a remarkable level of self-awareness, a motivating self-acceptance, and a strong sense of defiance and dislike for heteronormativity. Perhaps this comes from the eccentricity of queerness which abhors the normal ways of life and seeks succour at the feet of unconventional leanings.

On the performance of queerness on campus, this is sometimes expressed through artistic elements like fashion. Most queer people are known for their grandiose and fabulous fashion expressions, which often draw a lot of attention from onlookers, so it was little wonder when the comments that rolled in from the attendees revolved around this topic. For some, fashion is simply a mere act of self-expression, an extension of who they are. For some, it is a political statement, an act of resistance with a clear purpose. And for others, it is a careful mixture of both. However, one thing is for sure, all forms of these intents are met with queerphobic reactions.

Queerphobia, because people will often relate certain kinds of fashion expression to homosexuality, and while they may be right or wrong, the case is that no one should be persecuted for the way they choose to dress. One of the attendees commented on her experiences as a student in the Faculty of Education, where she had been asked by many lecturers to remove her nose ring, to which she refused. Or the boy whom the lecturer asked to remove his nail polish. Or the other one who always fought his lecturers over his dressings, while other students clustered behind his back to throw all manner of vitriols against him. These experiences often have an impact on the academic performances of the affected students, because hardly anyone can survive in an environment where self-expression is a luxury they cannot afford.

A solution presented to this menace is perhaps conformity, because it is evident that sometimes, a war of resistance cannot easily be won. So one has to choose to give in or lose everything. As a student with less power to effect any real change, especially in a country that has been rigged against them, conformity often becomes an easier path to tread. Giving in to the exercise of power by the lecturers and shrinking oneself to a harmless point of obscurity. This is what one of the attendees referred to as self-preservation, because the idea is to suffer as quickly as possible then come out into the world and express yourself as much as you want.

However, this act of self-preservation is equally status-quo-preservation. For what brings about change if not stubbornness? If we continue to choose to preserve ourselves at every occasion of confrontation, how then do we expect change to take place? Because change, radical change, always requires sacrifice of sorts. At this point of confusion, the wisdom of balance must take prominence. Balance self-preservation with resistance. Self-preserve yourself today, resist all forms of conformity tomorrow. Perhaps that way one can be rebellious while still maintaining a reasonable obedience to the status quo, considering the powerlessness of their studentship.

An important discussion on how to confront homophobia was held. This is the part where every person must have that innate ability to tell willful ignorance from genuine ignorance. Often times, trying to convince willfully ignorant homophobes is nothing but a useless engagement, because it isn’t that they don’t know the truth, they just choose not to think. Our concern should be with the ones who really need the education, and are willing to unlearn, relearn and learn. Equally, we must protect and guard our mental health from exhaustion. Take a break. Breathe. Go out and touch grass. Take adventures. Give your body and psyche love, they deserve it all.

At the core of all these lies the need for safe spaces. This is where we go to let it all out, to reboot our energy through exchange of stories and traumas, to comfort each other, and to know that we are never alone in our struggles to navigate the unwelcoming environment of Nigerian campuses. Everyone deserves a safe space, and the Queer Naija Convo provided just that for this conversation to thrive. 

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