More often than not, queer people are excluded from a lot of conversations – conversations about relationships, consent and a host of others. For our #21DaysOfConsent campaign, we spoke to some queer people to understand what they thought about queer relationships, rape and sexual abuse, consent and existing in Nigeria generally.
We spoke to Desmond who is gay, Temilade who is lesbian, Victor who is gay and Adaeze who is bisexual and here’s what they told us
Hey guys! Thanks for being here. What would you say consent is to you?
Vincent: Consent to me is when someone enthusiastically agrees to engage in sexual activities without their agreement being forced or coerced out of them.
Temilade: Consent is the voluntary, informed, enthusiastic and clear agreement to partake in sexual activity
Victor: Consent is giving a person the opportunity or freedom to have sexual activities with you. And this should be done verbally, literally saying “YES” when a person asks to have sex/sexual activities with you. Consent can be giving at the beginning of sex and can be withdrawn at any time, even during sex. It is important that both the person seeking consent and the person giving it verbally come to an agreement as to what exactly is happening. For example, like most queer relationships start, mine started from a hook up. When my boyfriend arrived my place for the first time, I asked him categorically, “I want to kiss you, are you consenting to it?” and later, “I want us to have sex. Are you consenting to it?” And we only did those things because he gave a clear YES. Not a nod, not a hum, not a gesture. A verbal YES. And even during sex, I kept asking if he was comfortable with everything we were doing along the way. That is basically what consent means.
Adaeze: Consent is an enthusiastic YES to a request to engage in sexual contact or activity whether physical, verbal, virtual in any form.
Would you say Queer people are deliberately removed from the narrative of Consent and Rape culture?
Vincent: I don’t think it is deliberate. I think because of the society we live and the laws in place, people actually forget that these conversations are supposed to include queer people too. It’s like how Nigerian filmmakers forget that statistically speaking some of their characters are supposed to be queer. It’s not necessarily deliberate, just a product of the society they come from, this doesn’t make it less dangerous however.
Temilade: Yes, at least in Nigeria. Due, to the SSMPA and general homophobia and transphobia, no one really thinks about queer people or cares. Also, in Nigeria, the law defines rape as when a man penetrates a woman so that literally excludes queer people from the narrative, it excludes queer men because rape is defined as being between man and woman and it excludes queer women as penetrative sex is emphasized. In addition, queer people face corrective rape too which is when they’re raped to “correct their sexuality”.
Victor: Yes and this stems from the conscious effort of straight and homophobic people to erase queer people and their experiences from every discussion. It is a narrative that queer activists like myself have and will continue to fight against.
Adaeze: Yes and No. Being a largely homophobic, patriarchal country, Nigeria does center heteronormativity and deliberately erases queer people by refusing to positively acknowledge their visibility. Although, queer identity is not illegal in Nigeria. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2013 criminalizes sexual relation and marriage between queer people in Nigeria. This act is a human rights violation that has encouraged blatant queerphobic violence against Queer Nigerians including sexual violence. While there is attempted erasure of honest, healthy dialogue about queer sex & sexual identity within the society at large, LGBTQIA persons & NGOs keep advocating, promoting visibility and fighting for rights.
There’s also a hypervisibility of queer persons that comes with the queerphobic conflations of consensual sex and pedophilia, which why I said No. Within the LGBTQ community conversations about consent, rape culture and sexual violence openly occur. So while it may not be mainstream and may be sidelined by queerphobic persons, it does visibility exist. I and other Queer feminists have often run twitter campaigns to discourage corrective Rape that is sexual violence perpetrated against lesbian, bisexual and trans women in Nigeria under the false premise of “curing” them. Often, cisheterosexual Nigerian men who make up the largest number of perpetrators of sexual violence against queer women and men would comment that it doesn’t exist. That is erasure of queer women’s issues. With the recent #StopRapingUs online protests, gay men have spoken about their sexual assault and rape experiences. But cishetero men make harmful, homophobic comments and jokes without focusing on their experiences of sexual violence. These are a few examples of such erasure.
Is rape and sexual abuse in LGBTQIA+ relationships as common as rape and sexual abuse in heterosexual relationships?
Vincent: I believe so. Nigerian men – cis het and queer – have a very twisted view of consent and it shows. In my experience, rape and sexual abuse are as common in LGBTQIA+ relationships as they are in cis -het relationships
Temilade: I’m not sure but what I do know is that anyone is capable of rape and sexual abuse regardless of sexuality. I do think that rape is part of systemic gender based violence against women (regardless of sexuality) by cisgender heterosexual men. Rape is used by them (cishet men) to violate, control, humiliate, punish and show power and dominance over women.
Victor: I believe so. Personally, I’ve had my own share of sexual abuse in my past relationships even though I don’t really talk about them. Rape and sexual abuse is very common in LGBTQIA+ relationships because for the most part, members of the community see sex as drinking water. This is not a bad thing, the bad side of it though is that we don’t take good enough measures to make sure everyone is on board before going ahead with sexual activities. Take for example, if you attend a queer party, there is a fat chance you’d get groped from nowhere, or if you’re drunk enough, you might just find a tongue in your mouth. Or if you follow a date a home, they automatically assume you’re interested in having sex. These are as common as they happen in straight relationships so yes, rape and sexual abuse happen in queer relationships as frequently as others.
Adaeze: I think, the question should be, “what ways do LGBTQIA+ person experience sexual violence in Nigeria?” romantic relationships aren’t the major or only confines queer persons experience SV. Sexual violence and rape culture are sadly a reality of the average Nigerian, mostly women, regardless of their sexual or gender identity. Often a large percentage of sexual abuse and rape queer persons experience occur outside their romantic relationships.
Firstly, Corrective Rape. Sexual violence that is perpetrated against queer person to cure or punish them for being queer. Then, there’s child abuse and intimate partner sexual violence. There’s also violence by other queer people and sexual harassment and assault online. Even openly queer women who share their pictures, stories, vlogs, especially with their partners are sexually harassed online. By fetishizing men or cishetero women who think it’s a fun escape from men. By queerphobic comments that threaten them with corrective rape or past partners that threaten to /post revenge porn. Yes, queer persons experience sexual harassment and assault online which affect their safety, mental health, self expression.
Do you think that the erasure of LGBTQIA+ experiences with Rape and Consent is the fault of the Nigerian Justice system?
Vincent: Oh yes. With the way the laws against the queer community are set in Nigeria, the community is discounted from many conversations because the community is largely criminalized and has been forced to become invisible. This has resulted in conversations on consent and rape to center heterosexuals and heterosexual sex – the only legal type of sex in Nigeria.
Victor: It is, but there are other factors at play too. Sure, the Justice system of this country have marginalized and descriminated against queer people so there are not so many conversations about consent in the community because for starters, you can’t even talk about a community that is a taboo in this country. It is indeed a huge factor, but queer people too, the members of the community owe it to themselves to protect one another from sexual predators by having the conversation within the community. We all know that irrespective of all the odds, we have our ways of meeting, connecting and gathering. These platforms could be used to tackle issues like consent, rape, STDs, etc.
Adaeze: In part, yes. Other factors like those I’ve mentioned before now contribute to discriminatory, violent and oppressive reality queer persons face in Nigeria.
What are the common misconceptions about consent, and rape in LGBTQIA+ relationships?
Vincent: The most common and dangerous is that because the parties are of the same gender it means rape isn’t possible. This is not just very wrong but also creates an atmosphere where people disbelieve stories of rape from people in same-gender relationships. It also makes victims of rape and abuse in these relationships to self-doubt their own experiences and effectively self-gaslight themselves.
Temilade: That rape and sexual assault doesn’t happen and that because it doesn’t involve penetration, it’s not rape
Victor: Everyone in the community assumes every other person is a hoe. We assume that we are all sexually active, and always ready to have sex. I’m not saying being a hoe is wrong, hell, I’ve had my days in the industry. Lol. What I’m saying is that even though most LGBTQIA+ persons are sexually active, it doesn’t mean they want to have sex every time the opportunity arises. If we begin to incorporate this school of thought, then we’d understand that we need to ask first rather than assume somebody wants to have sex because they winked as us.
Adaeze: There are a lot. Masc-presenting women are always the abusers. This is a harmful misconception. They are also women, they can also be victims of sexual violence from their feminine presenting partners or other (queerphobic) persons. You don’t need consent because it makes things awkward. If you don’t get an enthusiastic Y E S for any sexual contact or activity, you are sexually violating another person.
Women can’t rape other women. This view comes from harmful phallogocentristic views that state rape only happens when a man rapes using a penis. This erases women’s sexual agency and experiences, especially queer women. Some people do not believe women can sexually assault other women or girls. Making survivors have difficulty getting their experiences understood. People need to understand rape isn’t about sex but power. Rape is a painful, traumatic experience, do not mock survivors when they share their stories. These are just some instances.
Do you believe that there is a possibility of Queer inclusion in the Consent and Rape culture narrative in Nigeria anytime soon?
Vincent: I think so, And I think it is going to be Gen Z and internet-powered. Young people are using the internet to create digital spaces where people – especially people from the LGBTQIA community can talk about these issues. It is a slow process and one that I honestly believe in.
Temilade: Yes, queer people are speaking up and coming out more than ever so I have faith but not in the law.
Victor: I don’t know how soon, but I believe so. Already, many queer persons in Nigeria are getting vocal, especially on social media, which I might add is a very valid platform to be vocal. We’ve raised issues that concern us and made the general public know that we exist and are not afraid to live our truth irrespective of the odds. So I guess it’s only normal to say that consent and rape culture will join the conversation too.
Adaeze: It is already happening. Visibility aids Inclusion. Advocates and NGOs will keep having conversations, consent workshops, provide psycho-social support and health care for queer persons who are survivors of sexual abuse. While also fighting for the legalisation of same sex relations, marriage and other human rights.