we are more than bodies is about third culture kids—children of immigrants who grew up in a place different from where their parents grew up—who are Queer, specifically looking at Nigerian Americans. Many of us try to hold onto as much of Nigerian culture as our parents can give us while living in America, but what happens when that culture seeks to kill us? Homophobia is steeped in Nigerian culture by way of religion and colonization. Carrying their conservative, colonial views on homosexuality over the Atlantic Ocean, immigrant Nigerian parents continue to practice homophobia as part of Nigerian culture and reject the acceptance of Queer people citing queerness as a 'western' concept. In "She Called Me Woman: Nigeria's Queer Women Speak", the editors write


“the second type of erasure is the rewriting of the rich histories and cultural traditions of diverse sexualities and gender norms in the land now known as Nigeria. Living outside of gender norms and heterosexual relationships, or fluidity in gender identity, is not new. They may not be the same as those reflected in the language, films, and TV shows of the west, as well as contemporary Nigerian cultural industries, but they are part of Nigerian history, culture, and tradition, not in opposition to it.”


Looking at the effects of the erasure of this rich history on Nigerian Americans who already exist on the outskirts of two cultures, coupled with Queerness, we are more than bodies explores the internal, intergenerational, and familial conflicts cultural homophobia causes Queer Nigerian Americans by combining photography and digital design to create digital collages.


The digital collages were formed from photographs of the muses' favorite body part(s). I took photos of body parts to avoid exposing their faces while still showing a physical part of them—an undeniable testament to their existence and story. Each collage contains the Nsibidi (a pre-colonial Nigerian language) symbol for love because that is what Queerness is. Lastly, I interviewed each muse with questions about home, family, culture, identity, and community. 


*select work


“I came out to my parents January 25th, 2018. The family as a whole, I’ve told individuals, certain people—the women. I told them at different times. I had to understand that my dad doesn’t support this because it is not part of our culture. But also, he has to understand what exactly this is cause my dad doesn’t support homosexuality but my dad supports me. And he is learning how to mesh the two. I said ‘daddy I don’t want you to go to the parade and wave the flag but in supporting me, you have to support who I really am.’ I told my dad that I’m about a year and four months old because I didn’t live my life until that moment that I told YOU, man of the house, that I was a gay man. Everything I did before then was hiding. Every movement I make. I’m a very calculated person. What I went through, how I wasted years, how I wasted school loans just to do certain things to evade the questions of my autonomy as a person. 


Being a Queer Nigerian in America and in my family before I accepted myself was the worst imprisonment ever. Think about three different people in one body. One of those three different people keeps trying to kill the other. But to kill the other you have to kill all three. To kill all three, you have to kill me. I wanted to kill that part of me so bad. But I would’ve had to take myself with it. Living in all these intersections, I wanted to all-a-carte my life. It’s funny, I thought coming out would be the hardest thing in the world and it was hard to say those words but once I came out, I didn’t care that auntie and uncle were looking me. Keep looking! Worry about why you are a cab driver, driving a lexus truck—You’re trying to live up to a mentality. Don’t worry about my sexuality. Because at least I’m proud enough to be myself and say it!”

“My heart is pounding. This is how I feel everytime I am home. It feels like I can’t breathe, paranoid that any second, I would be exposed for who I really am: A lesbian. I hate this term. I hate it because the label has such negative connotation to me. I have been raised to know that such acts are a sin. That people like that, people like me will never be able to enter into the gates of heaven. God punishes people like me for eternity in a burning hellfire alongside his traitor Lucifer. The wrath of God will remain with us. Their God is so evil, it makes you question if the God of love that you know even exists. 


I have always felt this way: Since I was 5, I have always had an attraction to women. I have prayed for those feelings to go away. Forced myself to never act on them. But I couldn’t make them go away. I cried, I fasted, begged God to take those 'sinful' thoughts away. I thought if I suppressed the feelings long enough, I would outgrow it. It only got stronger. And what scares me is that all I want to do is run. I don’t have the courage to even come out. Coming out isn’t what scares me: Being outed scares me the most. I can’t be queer and want to implement change in Nigeria, because they will kill me. They will harass me. My life would be in jeopardy. All because I love differently from them. All because their God made me to seem like a bad person because I have utter love for another woman. It hurts and sometimes I can’t even fathom moving around Nigeria with my identity. It is not safe for us to exists in our current tradition/culture. Honestly, truth be told, being Nigerian and queer is an anomaly. It exists, but many of us are hiding, because it is just not safe for us.”


"I identify as pansexual. It took me awhile to get there because there’s all these different categories so you’re trying to figure out where do I make sense? Definitely Queer. I’ve always known. But it took me awhile to not only accept but then understand. So at first, I took it as well, I’m willing to do stuff with girls but I wouldn’t get in a relationship with girls. And then I realized it’s not just a sexual thing, I could actually have emotional feelings and ties towards these people. Again, I’m struggling with all this other stuff I was taught as I grew up about sexuality and gender. It was just me constantly trying to understand what it was that I was feeling physically and emotionally but also struggling with society telling me what I should and shouldn’t be. And so, I don’t know at what point I realized, it’s definitely not that, it’s just you like girls too."

“Gender’s so weird. I guess it’s not something I think about which maybe is a privilege but also maybe not a privilege. If I chose to think about gender more, I think I would combust. I can’t. Like right now, I’m struggling with fatness and Queerness and Blackness. Those are the things that occupy so much of my space and I definitely choose she/her pronouns because for me, it’s a declarative statement that feminine pronouns can also be masculine.”

 

“I have little pockets of people within my family who know and that make jokes with me. I remember one time I was standing in the pantry and my brother was like 'oh look at that, in the closet yet again.' And I said 'haha, look at that no more talking. No more talking today, you’re on time out.' My cousin is always sending me these little things like 'look at the way you did that, she’s just so gay.' Bruh my cousin’s actually a joke! But it's cause they know my personality and they know that I take everything as a joke so it’s cool having that and being able to mess around with them. As for the rest of my family, it’s just so much. This sounds cliche but the burden on my back is just so much.”


"I think that it is very unAfrican to be homophobic. Because before colonizers came to Africa, I guess I should speak on Nigeria, homosexuality wasn’t something. It didn’t really necessarily have a name but it wasn’t something that was so frowned upon and homophobia wasn’t a thing until white people came. Why is that what we took and kept and cultivated and let fester for so long? It’s not intrinsically Nigerian but it’s something that we hold onto from colonizers which I hate so much. Along with that, a fear or hate of our traditional religions and practices."

"Being Queer Nigerian American both within my own culture and in the US means that I have to pick and choose which parts of me can enter a space. I’m trying to get rid of that ideology because I’m me and I can’t split me up. I also think that being a Queer Nigerian American within my culture means that I want to feel more connected to my culture but then sometimes when I bring the Queerness in, it adds a level of disconnect. The fact that I was raised here is not a type of disconnect, it just changes my relationship with being Nigerian. But I really think it means that I have to remember to be unapologetically myself because there literally is no other option. And the people who fuck with it, those are my people."

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