Here we go again… It’s a new year! 2021 has barely kicked in, and Nigerian queer youth are already rocking the Nigerian social media sphere. They are pushing Twitter and Instagram trends and those tabloid feeds that circulate to satisfy the Nigerian public’s appetite for controversies.
The trending topic is Bolu Okupe, a young Paris-based Nigerian activist whose ‘coming out’ has dramatically gone viral. This story could start some new thinking within the Nigerian queer community and wider Nigerian society in many ways. It is also a twist to the narrative of the rare queer people that have gained celebrity status, thanks to social media.
We entered the year with the public feud between Bobrisky and James Brown. With their followers of over half a million people, these two are known for their bold videos turning Nigerian gender norms upside down. This month, they have turned on each other, providing much glee and satisfaction for the tabloids.
Throughout October 2020, we lived through a truly historic moment with the #ENDSARS protests against police brutality. We saw rich youths and poor youths in our largest cities – Abuja and Lagos – forming a joint social justice movement. In this epic struggle, queer people did not want to be left out of the #ENDSARS movement. Activists like Mathew Blaise and Amara, the Lesbian, made their voices heard, repeating tirelessly to crowds that we (queer folk) are also frequent victims of police brutality, too.
The inspirational Bolu Okupe on Twitter
Nigerian queer youth increasingly creating visibility on social media is a fact. Still, the visibility of our issues in a mass public protest is definitely a historic one. There has been celebrity coming out stories before. We saw how Dewy Oputa – Charlie Boy’s daughter – came out last year and the social media reaction.
So. What is so different about the coming out of Bolu Okupe? It is not so much the flamboyant imagery that circulated on social media. Or his athletic body, good looks and charming smile. No. Bolus’ unapologetic ownership of his queerness left our tabloids looking for which angle to take. What made Nigerian social media influencers react in disbelief is that Bolu Okupe is the son of a prominent politician – Doyin Okupe – a top aide to our former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Many commentators praise the father’s response to his sons’ coming out story by rejecting his son’s sexuality based on Christian religious views. Social media commentators have turned the father into the victim and the son into the villain. And again, the narrative of Africa being alien to same-gender-loving sexualities are reinforced. The West is to blame. Many now want to warn Africans who send their children to Western countries for further education.
A prominent social media commentator asked her audience:
« If your child, whom you’ve raised and nurtured to university level, tell you that he or she is gay. As a parent, what should you do? Its a question that we Africans better start thinking about, as we send our children to school abroad. Some parents will have to confront this in the future. Your thoughts, thanks. »
So, my thoughts are:
The debate should change course. The claim about homosexuality being an import from the West is tired and old fashioned. Bolu Okupe’s story should spark more debates about homophobia and how it is tearing families apart. Where is the space for non-gender conforming Nigerians who have no interest in becoming social media celebrities?
So far, the Nigerian public rejects any debate about LGBTQ inclusion, but are willing to laugh at the hustles of James Brown and Bobrisky. Yes, their tales of defiance, lavish parties and praise for high paying clients taking them to Dubai can be fun. The legendary Nigerian hustle needs to feed off from those entertainers. After all, no one wants to take their source of income away.
But how do we feed on the subjects of gender and sexuality to advance real debates about progress towards inclusion and acceptance of diversity?
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