Bobrisky, Jesus and the tax collector By Festus Adedayo

In the 19th century and even before, Bobriskys were lynched like common criminals. Their sin was their considered unusual sexuality. Until then, homosexual activities were classified as “unnatural crime against nature” while sodomy got punished with, sometimes death. In comparison, Okuneye Idris Olanrewaju, famously known as Bobrisky, has suffered one of the mildest fates. Between 1877 and 1950, over 4000 of such lynching occurred. As recent as April 2017, Kenne McFadden, a black transgender woman who didn’t have experience of swimming, got drowned when she was pushed into the San Antonio River in Texas on account of her “nauseating” sexuality. That much was said in 2020 by Emily Lenning, Sara Brightman and Carrie Buist in their “The Trifecta of Violence: A Socio‑Historical Comparison of Lynching and Violence Against Transgender Women.” Writing for Critical Criminology, they said five months after the McFadden case, specifically in September, 2017, Ally Lee Steinfeld, a white 17-year-old transgender teen, also got brutally murdered. Her cruel fate was brought about by three teenagers. She was stabbed in the genitals, her eyes gouged out, her body set alight and her remains dumped “in a chicken coop near a mobile home park in Missouri.”


Two months later, in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, Sherrell Faulkner, a forty-five-year-old Black transgender woman, got cruelly beaten and then dumped behind a dumpster. Days after, the injuries she suffered led to her death in the hospital. Till today, Faulkner’s murderers have not been identified. The three cases, according to Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) 2018, represented a tiny strand of at least 29 murders of transgenders that the United States recorded in 2017, ranked as the deadliest year for the Bobriskys in recent history. HRCF also reported that between 2013 and 2019, it tracked 157 cases of fatal anti-transgender incidents.


Perhaps this was what weird but hugely talented Nigerian singer, rapper and songwriter, Habeeb Okikiola, a.k.a. Portable, was referencing in Brotherhood, a short musical he did attacking Bobrisky recently? In the song, Portable condemned Bobrisky for morphing from “brotherhood to sisterhood.” While body-shaming the embattled cross-dresser as “a disgrace to brotherhood” and having ameoeba-shaped buttocks that looked like a clay pot worth only a pound – e wo idi e bi koko ponun kan – Portable asked that Bobrisky be stoned to death – “e le l’oko pa!”


Like Portable, from ancient times, the world has never hidden its hostility against people who profess sexual orientation different from its. Like, it says, can only be compared to likes – ohun t’o ba jo’hun l’a fi nwe’hun. The world even gave its anger towards homosexuality religious validation. Following this route, Italian priest, philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, condemned homosexuality as “unnatural.” The biblical book of Leviticus 18: 22; 20:13 is often cited: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination,” as well as Romans 1: 26 where biblical Paul hoisted up lesbianism for condemnation: “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”


The Bobriskys come in various names and appellations. They are either bisexual, in which case, they are attracted to persons of both sexes; Butch, male and female who dress in stereotyped male ways; “In the closet,” because they do not disclose their gender identity; Femme, due to their acting and dressing in feminine ways; gays, for their attraction to persons of same sex and as LGBTQ, a sweeping categorization of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Questionings. Bobrisky is Nigeria’s own daughter of the historical Greek woman, Sappho, an Archaic Greek poet, who hailed from Eresos on the Island of Lesbos. Sappho was the first known woman “accused by some of being irregular in her ways and a woman-lover.” She is venerated by lesbians as the foremother, the near mythical prototype of people with queer sexual cravings. Lesbianism, the community of same sex women, was forged from Lesbos, the name of the island Sappho lived. Bobrisky patterns her life towards Sappho and has become a controversial self-confessed transgender, LGBTQ personality and campaigner.


According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (2015, 47), the umbrella term used to describe the Bobriskys of this world, called transgender, refers to “… people whose gender identity and expression does not conform to the norms and expectations traditionally associated with their sex at birth. Transgender people include individuals who have received gender reassignment surgery, individuals who have received gender-related medical interventions other than surgery (e.g. hormone therapy) and individuals who identify as having no gender, multiple genders or alternative genders. Transgender individuals may self-identify as transgender, female, male, transwoman or transman, transsexual, hijra, kathoey, waria or one of many other transgender identities, and they may express their genders in a variety of masculine, feminine and/or androgynous ways.”


Homosexuality, cross-dressing or lesbianism is as old as humanity. The holy writs seem to abet the cruelty and violence that humanity has inflicted on these creations of God. While some antiquities tolerated their sexual fates, others visited their wraths on the offspring of Sappho. Well-known lesbian Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, Christine Downing, in her Lesbian Mythology, suggests that lesbianism is a grueling life of isolation, confusion and terror. This was her conclusion while re-casting Roman poet, Publius Ovidius Naso’s myth. Naso, simply known as Ovid, had told a story which has almost become a global lesbian epistemology. Heroine of the story, Iphis, born female, desired to be male. Her mother had hidden her gender from her father, a poor Cretan peasant who badly wanted a male child. Iphis’ mother was in despair in her pregnancy until the goddess, Isis advised her to deceive her husband about the child’s gender. At age 13, Iphis fell in love with the most beautiful girl on the island called lanthe. Raised as a male, there was confusion, making her mother to cry to the god, Isis. As Iphis and Ianthe walk home one day, Iphis’ features suddenly change to a man’s and “the boy Iphis gained his own Ianthe.” Downing apparently retold this story to reduce the tension of horrific encounters of the children of Sappho.


Bobrisky leapt into the news again recently. He/she had been named winner in the ‘Best Dressed’ Female Category of popular Yoruba actress, during the premiere of Eniola Ajao’s Beast of Two Worlds, Ajakaju movie premiere. Scalding criticisms erupted on the social media. Bobrisky’s choice sparked uncomplimentary reactions. Not even Eniola’s immediate apologies on her social media handles and reversal of what she declared was a stunt gone sour were enough appeasements. A few days after, the EFCC arrested Bobrisky, charging her to court for mutilation of Nigeria’s currency totaling N490,000. He/she was immediately convicted, ranking it as one of the Concorde supersonic airliner -speed convictions ever given by the Nigerian judiciary. We hope the Nigerian judiciary and the EFCC will give the Kano State government-filed criminal charges against the immediate past governor and APC chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, same expeditious trial. Kano had resorted to try Ganduje over alleged $413,000, N1.38bn bribery during his governorship and has assembled 15 witnesses to testify against Ganduje.


In a country where mutilation of the national currency is an off-the-cuff weekend pastime of the elite and the political class in Nigeria, it was obvious that a deeply religious, conservative, African-centric animosity against unusual sexuality was fighting back. When stunned about how odd events fit into one another to form a mesmerizing wonder, Yoruba will say Ó jọ gáté, kò jọ gàté, ó fi ẹsẹ̀ méjèèjì tiro. It is similar to the case of a limping masquerade (atiro) who enters the “Igbale”, where masquerades remove their mask regalia –ago. If an agbada-clad, limping person now walks out of the Igbale immediately, it shouldn’t be difficult to situate who the atiro was. No one needed to be told that the masquerader, like the nightingale – the beautiful Awoko bird – had shed its quills. Such is the wonderment and clinical precision of Bobrisky’s lynching. A highly religious Nigeria was obviously taking vengeance for Bobrisky’s sexuality audacity.


Some scholars have said that, until about half a century ago, lesbianism or gay relationship was a nonexistent phenomenon in Africa. According to them, per adventure it even ever did exist, it was an aberration imported from the West. Anthropological researches have however proved that the existence of same-sex sexual practices predates the now in Africa into before, during, and after colonialism. The practice was however disparaged. Dobrota Pucherova said this much in her “What Is African Woman? Transgressive Sexuality in 21st-Century African Anglophone Lesbian Fiction as a Redefinition of African Feminism.” Africans saw lesbianism as an example of a woman’s corruption, moral depravity and even madness. Pucherova uses the Kenyan Rebeka Njau’s novel, Ripples in the Pool (1975) and Ghanaian Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy (1977) as affirmation of this thesis. In Njau’s novel, the protagonist, Selina, gets infatuated with her husband’s younger sister. She was cast as exhibiting “predatory sexual desire” toward the two siblings. The book consigns Selina’s behavior into the trash basket of egomania and a damaged personality. It also suggests that Selina makes use of witchcraft to control her victims. No wonder she ends up murdering the young girl and her male lover. Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy sees same-sex as less predatory. In it, a German housewife becomes obsessed with Sissie, the Ghanaian protagonist. Marija’s obsession is painted as a measure of moral degeneration reminiscent of post-Holocaust German society. All these and other African literature openly thematized lesbian desire, showing however that black women are victimized through patriarchal control of their sexuality. An example is Monica Arac de Nyeko’s short story, Jambula Tree, which is the first East African text to so do.


Last week was Easter, a sacred day in the annals of world Christianity. Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service’s (FIRS) communication agency would not allow the day go by without marketing its tax portfolio. So it put out the brilliant, catchy and arresting phrase “Jesus paid your debts, not your taxes.” This brilliance and mental ingenuity should earn any student of PR a Distinction. Not Nigeria’s churchpreneurs. They saw it as a reckless audacity operating on same dangerous Fahrenheit as Bobrisky’s. I haven’t heard the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) lament the danger in the current obnoxious hike in electricity tariff. That won’t make Bola Tinubu know that CAN is a combine of Christian principalities. On FIRS, CAN reached for its ancient pouch immediately. It brought out those archaic, boring refrains of “offensive” “derogatory” and “religious harmony.” I have been struggling to find a difference between CAN’s obvious intolerance and a similar one that happened in Kaduna in November, 2002. Twenty one year old Isioma Daniel, who worked for the Thisday, had written on a Miss World contest Nigeria was to host. She off-handedly and harmlessly suggested that Prophet Mohammed might have approved of the contest and probably wished to marry one of the beauty queens. Hell was let loose. The newspaper’s Kaduna office was burned down. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed. The ensuing riots lasted for several days, prompting the organizers of the Miss World contest to relocate it to London to protect further lives from being lost.


One thread links our Bobrisky demonization, CAN’s hypocritical anger and Islam’s pesky religiosity. It is called intolerance. I referred to the witch-hunting of same sex people as “our” because, if today, Bobrisky offers his/her hand to me for a handshake, I will shudder. I am almost too sure I will refuse it. My refusal will not be strictly me in action. Rather, it will be centuries of culture, religion and our collective aversion to change which have bored deep roots in me. These three hate change. Their mantra is, as it was in the beginning, so shall it be. Static as statue.


Take for instance our cultural and religious perception of child-bearing and polygamy. For centuries now, Africa venerated procreation almost to a point of deity. Whoever brings forth a child owns this world – “Olomo l’o l’aye” – our mothers proudly sang. In Africa, barren women were stigmatized because women were seen as procreation vehicles called motherhood. In the bible, Peninnah scorned Hannah’s barrenness. Our mothers, who, due to no fault of theirs, couldn’t bring forth children, were witches. In earlier centuries, some cultures abetted barren women being stoned to death by scorners. Today, the world has re-interrogated the whole corpus of child-bearing. Couples willingly decide they don’t want to be encumbered by it. Is it really true that Olomo l’o l’aye? Great men and women have traversed this world without bearing children. Their corpses were not fed to the swine. Nor are we told that child-bearing is a passport to the hereafter. We have had parents who gave birth to children but died miserably, due to their abandonment by their children.


Today, there is a huge traffic back to where we were before the advent of colonialism. Soon after Britain and its Middle East allies came with their Bible, Quran and guns, we abandoned our centuries-old medicine, dressing and culture. Now, Africans are going back to those same abandoned roots, apologies to Lucky Dube. One of such is polygamy. Last week, Bassirou Diomaye Faye was inaugurated as the fifth Senegalese President, flaunting his two wives – Marie Khone and Absa. I could see the west squeeze its face like excreta beaten by rain. The hypocritical west flushes monogamy and homosexuality down the throat of the world while abhorring our ancient practice of polygamy. Reproached in high places as Faye just did, monogamy and its icing of hypocrisy are getting perforated. The truth is that, the stringent rules of monogamy have destroyed more homes than they built.


We must interrogate every teaching and dogma of religion, culture and society and hold on to those that will assist us live quality lives. That is what existentialist philosophy teaches. Today, churchgoers are asking questions about the stupendous wealth of the Daddy G.Os and the poverty of the congregants. We must not be slaves to them, nor be their mannequins. While upholding values that will strengthen humanity, we must also show respect for otherness and recognize individual human rights. What is Jesus’ business with FIRS’ quest to bring more people into its tax net? Parodying Isioma, if Jesus were here today, He would recommend a national honour for the fellow whose brilliant idea birthed that FIRS line. Why drag Jesus and Mohammed into this needless pettiness? What should infuriate a sensible human being about Mohammed enjoying Miss World? Why should we be captives of dogmas? Why should we allow the bigotry of CAN and zealotry of Islamic fundamentalists drive our thinking? Religious charlatans and their naïve accomplices merely make their enemies the enemies of God. If CAN has been slumbering and needed to talk by all means, couldn’t it dig a hole like that old Yoruba fable of Alade’s friend, who couldn’t stomach the confided secret of Alade growing a horn on his head, who then dug a hole, inside which he shouted, “Alade has horn on his head!” – Alade hu’wo? From that same hole grew a tree and whenever anyone brought a flute beside it, the rhythm sprouting off the flute was, “Alade hu’wo.”


Earlier, it was society’s view that people like Bobrisky were suffering from psychological disorder. Or that homosexuality was an abnormal condition. Science has since discovered that many atimes, the Bobriskys may be prisoners of their biology and psychology. Researches have shown that you do not choose to be gay, bisexual, or straight. And that homosexuality is a natural and normal sexual orientation, expressions of human sexuality. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its radius in 1973, and with it the stigma of mental illness that had long been associated with the children of Sappho. Why do we demonize those who, like accidents of birth, have no say in the kind of sexuality they are imposed upon by nature?


Do I agree with Bobrisky’s open flaunt of his/her sexuality? No. I think one’s sexual orientation should be a private affair. I also advocate that children of Sappho deserve pity from society and should be clinically lured out of their natural affliction. I also think that, if dug deeper, Bobrisky’s untapped major infraction against the law may just be that she has turned her cross-dressing into commodity. EFCC should openly admit that it is acting the script of a vindictive, homosexual-hostile Nigerian society in lynching Bobrisky. Singling him/her to face the wrath of the law is akin to the lynching treatment given homosexuals in the early centuries. Currency mutilation is a fad which very few Nigerians are not guilty of as charged, from Bola Tinubu, to the lowest Nigerian. An orgy of celebration on the social media has since followed Bobrisky’s lynching by the law. It reminds me of a hunter who proudly hoists the decapitated head of a buffalo as symbol of his masculinity.

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