I have always known the danger of living as a queer person in Nigeria but I think the danger faced by trans persons is highly underrated and it’s even more painful when you realise your fellow community members are even indifferent to Trans issues and does not see you beyond someone who wants to change their gender for clout and the likes.
I currently live in a student suburb in one of the eastern states of Nigeria and have suffered from body dysphoria for most of my adult life, I knew as a child I didn’t like the body I had and tried many times to change that but many factors were not in my favour. Poverty, society, religion and general prejudice were out to get me so I endured it despite how hard it was and looked forward to leaving home for the university. When the time finally came and I left home there was still very little I could do to have the life I had always wanted, until I met Meky.
Meky is also a trans-woman, she carried herself with grace and gait, and she practically has the life I had always wanted. You can’t miss her in a crowd and I always made it a point to say hi whenever we run into each other and we became friends by “queer providence”. Do you know that force in the universe that makes it easy for queer persons to connect in any space? That was the only explanation for how we connected because there was no special event prompting our friendship but we did and before long we shared so much about each other, the most thing we have in common is how much we don’t like the bodies we live in and how much we wanted to change them.
Being friends with Meky did so much to my confidence and self-awareness that I stopped seeing my limitations. I remember how much I cried the day she gifted me a really cute dress, it still is the most beautiful gift I have ever received, and my first dress as well. I was so happy I cried. Several times I wore my beautiful dress but was afraid to wear it outside my room, I couldn’t, I even convinced myself I didn’t have the strength Meky has, she is fierce and cared less about people’s opinions of who she is, a girl who owned her shits. But I’m not built with strength and no matter how much I pushed myself I still couldn’t get myself to attempt to look beautiful.
Meky understood my struggles, as she always does and she was kind about it “nobody started being great without self-doubt togged in somewhere so take your time and you will find the strength when you are ready” she admonished, and the advice stuck, I stopped worrying. A few weeks later she invited me to a party, a private party in town and even though I was reluctant about accepting the invitation she added “It’s a good place to start looking beautiful if you would like that, my friend is trans too and you will see many beautiful girls like you but it’s also if you are not up to it yet but bring your dress along in case you find your motivation in between”
I did that, I brought my dress, well tucked in my backpack to the party and that was the best decision I made, that night changed my life. The party was the most lively party I had ever been to. Many trans girls looked radiant and free, and for the first time, I felt a freedom that can be touched. I didn’t think this type of freedom was possible in my lifetime. I just sat and watched them live their best life, I was already on my third cocktail when Meky emerged from dressing the celebrant with another lady, she looked pretty in her make-up, glistering beards and bald hair and from just standing next to her I could tell her dress was expensive but she had a casual air about her, I guess Meky made me out gazing at her friend before she interrupted my thought “This is my friend Radiant, she owns the hotel and another in another part of town, the richest trans woman ever liveth” she teased and we all laughed to the hype but she continued “I hope you don’t mind but I told her about your struggles and she just wants to chat a bit” Radiant pulled me into a hug and asked if I am comfortable but Meky had to go “the celebrant is my gurl and so I’m going to be on my feet all night so if you need me just look around and I’ll be somewhere around making sure everything is perfect” and with that she excused herself, leaving me with Radiant.
“Hope you are having fun?” She said not really paying attention to me but looking at the new set of girls who just walked into the party
“Yes,” I said, almost screaming to pitch above the loud music. Turning to face me she smiled as she scanned my whole body with her eyes.
“Hope the place and people are not overwhelming for you? My sisters and I don’t know how to be small about anything, especially when we party” she said with a cool smile that revealed her gap teeth.
“It’s new for me but I am so thrilled to be here and I can’t believe how many trans-women there are” We both looked around the crowd and she laughed lightly.
“We actually keep growing every day,” she said almost inaudibly “Do you know I threw the first trans party in this city? The dress code was Fancy and you needed to see the girls and the glow we had that night but it didn’t end well as we got invaded by the police and more than fifty of us were whisked away to the police station, luckily I wasn’t arrested but I followed the van anyways, its the only way to get my parents to process everybody’s release and they did” she finished with the same soft smile. I just continued to nod, happy they didn’t stay for too long but also sad they got arrested for dressing up and throwing a party. once again my bile spun for this country and its injustice against the community. We were interrupted now and then by people saying hello to Radiant and pulling me into tight hugs like we have all been friends.
“Meky said you have been struggling with self-acceptance” she pulled my hands on the table and continued while holding my gaze “and I understand how much pressure that can be. I struggled for eleven years before I was able to get myself to get into a dress and put on make-up so I get it but body dysphoria is not a sickness that needs a Dr, it’s a mental state and the first aid treatment for it is accepting yourself beyond who people see you as who they want you to be. This is about you, about who you are on the inside, about the little girl in you who just wants the world to see her and tell her she is beautiful” she squeezed my palms a little.
“We are not deranged boys looking for attention, we are women in mind and soul. At the end of the day, womanhood is more than just bearing a child and having female genitalia, it is also about women’s extraordinary capacity to extend love, care, and affection to other people regardless of the challenges they face and that is the kind of woman I represent despite how I was born or seen by society, I see myself as a woman who believes in humanity and the beauty in diversity” I didn’t know I had been crying till a strand of tears rolled down my cheek but she didn’t stop neither did she let go of my hands.
“Sunny” she continued “the dress and the make-up don’t define the little girl in you, we don’t know her yet, it is up to you to give her a face and personality so first of all, what kind of person is she, does she carry love and compassion because that is the first personality of great women, is she going to hide in a corner of the world or play her role in making life easier for women and girls in her time and afterwards? Once you have these figured out I don’t think it matters what she wears. She will dress when you have given her a personality to dress” focus on being a good woman Boo, the dress is like paint on a building but it’s the structure that ensures the building is solid and that is what matters” she looked softly into my eyes and smiled broadly, someone came over to exchange pleasantries and that came me some time to think about what Radiant just said, it filled my heart and I knew then who I wanted to be and what I wanted the baby girl in me to be known for.
“Can you help me put on my dress, please? Plus my make-up isn’t that good, can you help?” the joyous smile on her face was the encouragement I needed and she leapt from her seat and led me to a room, we struggled a bit with my facial hairs and brows but Radiant’s skills in make-up and fashion is undaunted, all the while keeping me away from the mirrors.
Standing in front of the mirror I almost peed my body, I couldn’t recognize myself but this person in the mirror felt really familiar like I had waited all my life to meet her and it was the best feeling in the world to finally do. “Hi, nice to meet you Sunshine, you look really beautiful” I whispered to my new self in the mirror.
There was a knock on the door and I didn’t even bother to look, Meky walked in and froze at the sight of me all donned up. Her palm covered her mouth and in no time she had tears in her eyes but she was quick to unfreeze and squash me into a hug, “You look stunning Baby girl, absolutely beautiful” she said as more tears trailed down her cheek, messing up her makeup but she didn’t care.
I turned to Radiant who had been standing in a corner tearing up nonstop at all the moments I have been having, I spread my hands for a hug and she almost jumped at me still in tears. She pulled away and looking into the mirror from my shoulder ask “So what shall we call this beautiful lady in the mirror?” without any thought I responded “Sunshine!!!!! Because she would never have to hide again” We all cried some more before they led me outside to the party, I felt like I was the celebrant because I don’t know if it was planned or not but I got a standing ovation from the crowd and was cheered on throughout the night.
I tripped on my heels(Radiant’s heels anyways) a few times but I will get better at it with time. I will let that night linger in my heart for a long time, if not a lifetime. The warm hugs from strangers, the love from the crowd and the sisters that I got who have been by me and supported me in being the very person I have hidden from the world all my life.
I know it will not be easy to navigate, Nigeria will surely happen to me at some point but I am certain I will never be alone. I’ve got my sisters cheering for me and holding my hands when I need them.