by Daniel Nkado
Some people still respond with a hiss when the name of Nigeria’s (probably Africa’s too) most famous crossdresser, Bobrisky, is mentioned.
But the truth remains that Bobrisky has done much more than most Nigerians his age in pushing social boundaries and challenging the raging hypocrisy of the society we live in.
Here is a country where politicians gather to call a harmless crossdresser a “national disgrace” and threaten to seriously deal with him while there are so many among them who have been twerking on the lives and wellbeing of the common people of Nigeria way before I was born.
The mean-looking street thug that did a video about how he was going to rough up Bobrisky anytime they meet gave no thought to the fact that threatening people with violence is a far more hideous crime than a man dressing up in female clothes.
A country saturated with numerous security challenges, from terrorism to armed robbery and high-profile kidnapping, but the Force’s most coordinated course of action since anyone can remember is sending troops to the venue of Bobrisky’s birthday celebration to disrupt the event.
I am not a fan of Bobrisky but I can’t deny the power of what he represents now.
These past few years, Bobrisky has single-handedly shattered all of society’s deeply held norms about gender and identity. The default way Africans think of gender identity is that it must be binary. You are either male and acting male or female and acting female. There is no room for in-betweens. Tomboys can be overlooked, but effeminate boys go through the worst form of shaming.
So when Bobrisky came with all his difference — and it is not just that he was different, he was unapologetically so too — it felt like a big, giant disc has been dropped at the very centre of Nigeria’s social fabric. There was a disturbance and many reacted to it with apprehension.
Mothers bothered if their sons, when exposed to Bob, might become like him. Girlfriends feared they might lose their boyfriends to the same madness that has overtaken Bobrisky. The law officials struggled to understand if crossdressing or even transgenderism, just like being gay in Nigeria, is illegal too.
Despite the chaos, Bobrisky remained fearless. I would imagine the number of times friends, relatives and anyone close to him must have advised him to go hidden. And yet he didn’t. When you look at Bobrisky, you may see a man wearing female clothes, but in him, you will find the defiance of a thousand men.
It takes that much strength to turn something usually met with shame to entertaining art and – to a lot of people now – beautiful.
Bob’s difference, we couldn’t understand nor did we have any readiness to accept. Whatever it was he was manifesting was totally frowned at — a man behaving like a woman — a ready-made abomination! The expected thing would have been for Bob to remain hidden, like every other different person is forced to do. Because in Africa, nonconformity (whether it has to do with gender or any other thing really) is taboo.
Because we are so many behaving one way, we did not understand why anyone who’d dare to be different. Nigerians were not raised to accept difference. We are highly conservative people who’d rather keep swimming in our ocean of facade than come out open and true to ourselves.
Because we are not familiar with our history, nor do we ever find any interest in learning about it, we simply thought Bobrisky is the first of its kind. But he isn’t. Before him, many have come and gone.
We might not know now what this fearlessness he exudes means. The amount of change it could bring. How for many years to come people would look at Bobrisky and realize that even though it might not be easy, it is still possible to live one’s truth.
Even now, a lot of us have begun realizing and accepting that being different is okay, as long as you are not harming anyone.
“Shey na Bobrisky be our problem for this country right now?” many were asking on Twitter in reaction to what the police did on his birthday.
Bobrisky might not have tagged himself one, or even know that he is one, but the fact is that he has become one of Nigeria’s most powerful social activists right now.
We look at Bobrisky and see who we all could have been — wild and free — if our restrictions had let us. If the fear of society and what people will say will let us.
Hate or love him, the truth remains that Bobrisky is everything a lot of us can never be!