“This article is part of a collection of articles commissioned to celebrate Transgender Remembrance Day.”
By Nelson Paul
Transgender remembrance means different things to different people, especially trans folks across the globe. But to me, it takes me back to what life was before I heard the word transgender for the first time. One Sunday morning, I was around 14 years old; I heard the village town crier announce that my mom was wanted by the council of elders, who charged her for failing to keep her family in order and training the kids left behind by her dead husband. S therefore, she has two market days to send me her last child away and out from the village or risk being banished from the village.
4years earlier, there had been continuous complaints from the village women that they no longer felt comfortable using the same stream and bath spot as me, who, to them, is becoming a man; I, on the other hand, feel and see myself as a girl child, growing up with my two elder sisters we bath together, played together and perform the house chores equally. So when the time came for gender roles to start taking effect on my expression, it became a concern to the family and villagers as I exhibited more of a feminine trait.
I hate the company of men so much that I prefer using the female stream and, in school, performing the lead role in our dance group (a position traditionally reserved for girls). The frustration and shame of noticing some strands of hair growing at my pubic regions greatly disturbed me, and I became so depressed because I had wanted my hips and breast to grow and fill up like my female classmates. The only moment I am ever happy is when I sing or dance with the girls and when I am in the kitchen (of course, I was already the best cook in the house by age 12, and nobody competes with me in domestic affairs). One time at the age of 13, I was flogged naked by a group of boys at the village square as is the custom to initiate me into manhood, and once this final ritual is performed, taking your bath or using the female public latrines is a grave offence against the tradition of the land punishable only by banishment or ex-communication.
The distance from our little village of Okon-Aku, present-day Ohafia local government of Imo State then but Currently Abia State, to my maternal home town of Afikpo covers a journey of two days through the bush part. As the road was not motorable, I was left to fate as to if I Will Make it safely, considering the deadly land dispute raging between our village and two other surrounding villages. My Mother could not be controlled as she wept loudly behind the village youths who came to whisk me away. My uncles have passed a judgement not to allow their eldest brother’s wife to go on such a dreaded journey because of a disobedient and cursed child who chose the opposite of what he was sent on Earth to represent. My mother had earlier directed me to a friend of hers in a nearby village where I would stop by and continue my journey the next day. I was well received by the woman who sees it an honour to treat well the child of her best friend ( after numerous questions about why I was making the journey alone.
I was too depressed, frustrated and hungry to attempt any of the questions). I continued my journey the next day, being EKE market day of my maternal home. I couldn’t stay more than a year in my maternal home, as phobia from mates and complaints from my grandmother about why I had chosen to share her wrappers with her made me leave for the town in search of self-discovery and the meaning of life. This happened two decades ago, and since then, I have not been able to set foot in my village again. I have not set my eyes on my mother for twenty years, And I doubt how possible it will be for me to see her again now that I am fully out as a transgender woman. My outing as a transgender woman occurred in November 2016 during an outreach event led by MX Elle Ette (an executive director of a recognised trans-led organisation in Nigeria). The restaurant I was managing at Lugbe Abuja was rented by one of the community facilitators as a venue for the event. Tears streamed down my face as I listened for the first time to a speech on the ideology of Transgender; I immediately volunteered my space free for subsequent outreaches and abandoned my cooking career to take up trans rights activism which has shaped my life and expression in every positive way. Transgender remembrance day is not just an event to me; it defines my journey of life and all I have been through to become who I am today. It defines the obstacles, shame, depression and numerous attacks that built my boldness and courage. It made me not just a woman but a strong woman who can take a bullet for the community and is ever ready to passionately serve and contribute to engineering the affairs of the transgender community. Transgender remembrance day, on the other hand, means a moment of reflection on all that has happened within the Transgender community lately.
The gruesome murder of some of my transgender friends, the high rate of transphobia in our society and all we had to go through each day to make sure our heads remain on our necks, to the recent harsh laws by the judiciary that incites hate and attacks on the transgender community. We will continue to strive for equality in rights and expression.