She Called Me Woman (Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak) edited by Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan and Raffeat Aliyu
Published by: Cassava Republic Press
Release Date: 2018
Find It: Cassava Republic
This stirring and intimate collection brings together 30 unique narratives. To paint a vivid portrait of what it means to be a queer Nigerian woman. Covering an array of experiences – the joy and excitement of first love, the agony of lost love and betrayal. The sometimes-fraught relationship between sexuality and spirituality, addiction and suicide, childhood games and laughter. She Called Me Woman sheds light on how Nigerian queer women, despite their differences, attempt to build a life together in a climate of fear.
Through first-hand accounts, She Called Me Woman challenges us to reconsider what it means to be a Nigerian ‘woman’. Negotiating relationships, money, sexuality and freedom, identifying outside the gender binary, and the difficulties of achieving hopes and dreams under the constraints of societal expectations and legal terrorism.
She Called Me Woman is full of beautifully told stories of resistance and resilience, joy and laughter, heartbreak and victories, collecting the realities of a community that will no longer be invisible.
She Called Me Woman is a very important and necessary book. And I’ll tell you why in as few words as possible because what could I possibly say about this masterpiece.
You see, it’s not a masterpiece because it’s beautifully written or even because of its subject. I call it a masterpiece because it called bullshit on everything that is mainstream about homosexuality (lesbians) in Nigeria.
Despite my very sheltered upbringing and current lifestyle, I like to think I’m enlightened and generally open-minded but the thing is everything that informed my tolerance was foreign. The stories I heard or knew about homosexuality and so on had no relevance in my reality and I just wasn’t conscious of how close to home it all really was.
Whenever conversation around homosexuality comes up in Nigeria, there’s always that person or people who go “Oh, it’s not from here”, “It’s not natural” etc. Reading this book has made me realise that on a tiny level in my subconscious, I believed this to be true. Why else wouldn’t I be bothered that human beings could get thrown in jail for choosing to live according to their natural desires?
I wasn’t bothered because the people I knew to be homosexual Nigerians didn’t live here, right? So what does it matter if the government decides to give itself high blood pressure over other people’s business?
She Called Me Woman says I’m a freaking idiot if I believe that I don’t know or have never known a single homosexual person in my life.
The stories in this book are difficult to digest. Especially when you process the pressure to be something “other” to yourself, the lengths people have gone to try “fixing” themselves. In many cases, forced by their loved ones to be “delivered”.
It’s interesting to note how much religion fuels the resistance to accepting homosexuality in Nigeria. Also noteworthy is that majority of the subjects in this book still hold on to their spirituality despite having given up on organised religion.
She Called Me Woman is a collection of stories from every day, not so special human beings. Truth is, that they are so ordinary is the most shocking thing here. The running commentary in my head all through was, “In this Nigeria?!”.
Yes. In this Nigeria.
This book is not about converting anyone. Neither is it about painting these woman as pure, full of light and the perpetual victim of an intolerant society. In fact, some of the women featured in this book are completely unlikable. Personally, I consider a few to be terrible human beings, which is fine because that’s what human beings are.
I believe this is what makes She Called Me Woman natural and true.