She Called Me Woman 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 were tired of hiding who they really 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 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 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, almost roaring.
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.
*This book was sent to us free of charge by Cassava Republic ahead of publication.