Blessed Body: A peep into the lives of LGBT people

A review of Professor Unoma Azuah’s edited book, Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender Nigerians by Steve Aborisade.

What stronger narrative poignantly, yet fluidly but powerfully espoused the lived realities of individuals who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) in Nigeria than ‘Blessed Body’, a rare, compelling, even racy peep into what it means to be a sexual minority in a country that officially denies this reality and which shuts its doors as it criminalises the very notion of the plausibility of any other sexual orientation aside heterosexuality?

Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Nigerians, edited by Unoma Azuah, produced and published in collaboration with Queer Alliance, a Nigerian non-governmental LGBT advocacy organisation in Nigeria, is a cogent collection of 38 personal narratives by 36 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Nigerians who laid bare their struggles of contemplating, discovering, accepting and living their identities as sexual beings in their families, immediate communities, in their country, and within the contexts of their faiths and culture.

This book provides a context to better understand and appreciate the erroneous, but often reflected notion of homosexuality as contentious through individual stories about discovering the meaning of their sexuality as human beings, and especially being Africans in the light of the expressed impression that Zethu Matebeni of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, described as ‘‘common version of Africanness that denies different forms of sexualities.’’

On offer are testimonials of 19 gay men, 12 lesbians, four transgender persons, and two bi-sexuals, who are based here in Nigeria and abroad, some having fled in search of refuge as a result of the harsh realities which a mere suspicion (rightly or wrongly) of being LGBT portends to individuals, and now made worse with a 2014 anti-LGBT law that has brought about increased targeted persecutions and blatant abuse of rights of LGBT persons by both state and none state actors alike.

This collection of stories is particularly outstanding when considered against the intrigues, passions, fears, shame and shaming, the grip of pretences, barriers and boundaries, and the uncertainties in the quest to be true to self and the triumphs of her narrators, which captures the pain and joys and the sufferings in an effort to discover the self and of exploring the meaning of those identities in a geographical space with a linear and rigid construction of what sexual identity entails.

Without doubt, Blessed Bodies punctures our denial as a people about this group of Nigerians. It provides a roadmap to exploring what it means to be different while offering personal narratives of the challenges of being misunderstood, loathed, rejected and despised from nothing but ignorance which has fuelled and as well entrenched a somewhat deep rooted negative coloration of diversity.

Unoma Azuah presents the themes of the anthology under eight compartmentalisation of: Discovery: Coming of Age; Blurring Lines; Facebook Fantasies; Homo-sexing; Unwanted Marriage; Secret Lives; The Church and Unapologetic, Blessed Bodies offer Nigerians a chance at remorse and an opportunity to renegotiate our understanding of sexuality within a cultural context heavily influenced by imposed religions.