Book Review: ‘She Called Me Woman. Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak’

A deeply touching collection of essays, laying bare the struggles and hopes of queer women in Nigeria. Humanising those who are often dehumanised and at the receiving end of hate and prejudice. 


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fter reading the superb collection of essays written by women of colour ‘All the Women in my Family Sing’, I knew my next read that be extraordinary, and ‘She Called Me Woman. Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak’ definitely lived up to my expectations. This book is a collection of personal essays written by queer women who are from Nigeria or who live in Nigeria.

The Same Sex Prohibition Act, which took effect in January 2014 in Nigeria, criminalises same sex relationships, and has made many LGBTQ+ people extremely vulnerable in their own country. It has also made the publication of this book and the authors’ participation at once a dangerous and an incredibly important act of rebellion.  

For personal safety, the names of the authors have been kept anonymous, and identifiers such as places, school names, etc. have been taken out. In the Introduction of the book, the editors (Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Rafeeat Aliyu) explain that some authors wanted to remain anonymous, that some never showed up for the interviews which would eventually become the essays, while others wanted their names to be printed because they are tired of hiding who they are. The editors, however, decided to keep everyone’s identity anonymous.

The focus of the book lies on the voices of queer women, since the predominant narrative about queerness is often dominated by the experiences and relationships of queer men. Ironically, that same narrative  is also often controlled by the voices of non-queer people. Talking about queer people seems more common (and acceptable) than actually hearing queer people speak for themselves.  This fantastic collection of personal essays now gives a voice to one of the most vulnerable ‘subgroups’ of an already alienated and marginalised queer community: queer women in Nigeria.

The collection of essays reaches far beyond the stereotypical notion we might have about homosexuality in Nigeria or in deeply religious and dangerously patriarchal countries in general. It does tell stories about seriously dangerous and heartbreaking moments the authors have gone through because of who they chose to love or who they chose to be, but it also tells the tale of hope and resilience, of relatives who do accept or at least tolerate their children’s life choices.

It’s not all black and white, or bleak and desperate.

Some essays sound timid and suggest that the author may have been hesitant to tell her story, maybe due to circumstances or past experiences, while the essays of other authors are bold and almost roaring. All of them are brave and important. The essays explore important themes and questions such as what it means to be a woman in Nigeria, what it means to be a queer woman in Nigeria, what it means to be rejected by one’s own family and friends, or by one’s own government. The stories of the authors also explore what it means to be at the intersection between homophobia and misogyny. 

The essays painfully show what it feels like to be the target of the law, to be unjustly criminalised for being different – not for being a menace to society, but for loving outside of the accepted norms, for behaving, feeling, and looking outside of the narrow confines of societal acceptance. The stories of the authors are heartbreaking as well as encouraging, they show that no matter the adversity, there will always be people who have hope for the future and who are ready to fight for themselves and for what they believe in.

I hope that reading this book will touch people in Nigeria and across the world – because homophobia is widespread across the globe, even in countries in the West, and this book humanises the people who are often at the receiving end of hate and prejudice. To finish, I’d like to leave you all with one of my favourites lines from this book, which is at once a word of encouragement for everyone sharing experiences with the authors and cautioning for people who may perpetuate negative stereotypes and harbour prejudice against queer people:

‘To anyone being hated, be strong’ (BM, age 30, Plateau)

 

*This book was sent to me free of charge by Cassava Republic and the publishing date is 24th April 2018.