If you live in Nigeria, you’re probably aware that our country is one where minorities are either misunderstood, and/or explicitly discriminated against. Because of this, BellaNaija presents Living Your Difference, where sexual, gender and physical minorities tell their stories about living and surviving as Nigerians in Nigeria.
We’re hoping, with this series, that Nigerians see that there are several ways to be human, and that no matter how different we may be, we all feel the same emotions on the inside.
Here’s Tom, a 22-year-old trans man with a degree in Computer Science from a private university here in Nigeria. Tom describes himself as a gentle, playful and kind man. One thing that struck us particularly was when Tom said “I shrunk from who I originally was, to this managed, more controlled version of myself.” This must have been very hard to do.
We are grateful to Tom for sharing his story with us and it truly warms our heart that he is living his life in a society that is largely and predominantly homophobic and transphobic.
We do believe that there is still hope for empathy and kindness as Tom says about one of his friend’s reaction to his coming out as trans: “The understanding and encouragement somehow gave me the courage to want to be myself as openly and truly as I could manage. It inspired me to come out for the first time in my life to a group of people I’d barely known for months and to take the first steps towards living my difference out loud.”
We hope that his story will touch someone today in a positive way.
Tom on himself
Growing up was a lot of things, but it was generally easy. I got almost everything I asked for, but being aware of my difference started early, so dealing with that bit all alone wasn’t so easy. I was very playful, very rough as a child. Lots of scrapes, cuts, scars, and bruises. I played ‘defender of the universe’ a lot; do anything unkind to someone I cared about and you’d have me to contend with. I’ve always been very expressive, caring, and mindful of people. Now, my relationship with my parents is fake, strained, and needs fixing.
I’m a man who enjoys the company of people as much as I enjoy being alone. But my ideal situation is a comfortable space with two people I care the most for, and a fast internet connection. I switched schools as I switched countries growing up; part of elementary school in Nigeria, finished it in America, started high school there, then finished back in Lagos. College was one of those private universities, and all imma say is… nothing, haha. It wasn’t a fun time. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and I plan to pursue more degrees and a career in that line along with some other personal interests, but it’s primary.
What I will say is, both at home and in school, I was myself, but I wasn’t myself. I never hid my self, my likes, my self-expression. But pressure from my family to act, dress, and behave a certain way took its toll more and more over the years. So, I shrunk from who I originally was to this managed, more controlled version of myself.
Tom on his difference
I am a Transgender Man. I don’t like to refer to myself as different just for that reason; in the real sense of it, everyone is different in one way or another. Lots of things make me different, but in this case, the mismatch of my assigned sex at birth and my gender identity is what we’re referring to.
For as long as I can remember, from the time I was developing a personality as a child, I remember that I’ve always been different from other females around me and that I didn’t want to be female. It didn’t feel right to be female. I don’t remember a time when I ever acted typically feminine, and it was obvious to everyone that ever interacted with me that my mannerisms were always so masculine. Growing up, I was almost always asked questions like, “did you grow up with/do you live with boys?” or “how many brothers do you have?” And when I tell them, “no” or “I have one younger brother,” they’d be surprised, and then conclude with “she’s a tomboy”. How they came to that conclusion didn’t matter to them. They’d come to the conclusion they could understand, a conclusion they were fine with. So I don’t have a specific moment, place, or age when I discovered I was different. I just always knew, always felt that way, and it became more and more prominent in my life as people interacted with me and would make observations about me to me. Making it more and more real for me that what I was feeling wasn’t just in my head, it was who I am. But I didn’t know what it was or that there was even a name for it. I just knew that what I was, the body I was in, didn’t feel right and I wished desperately for it to have been different.
It was never a big deal for me, never something I saw as a heavy load I had to deal with. I was just living my life, being myself, and expressing myself as I liked, not bothered about what people felt or said. I didn’t have a eureka moment. I’m sure I mentioned it to a few friends over the years that I wish I was born a boy – which I was, just that I was born in the wrong body. But it wasn’t something I always told people even though I thought about it a lot! If not every day. Eventually, with religion and societal expectations becoming more and more real, I resigned to a fate where I told myself that “I am who I am, and nothing can change the way I behave, but God let me be born female for a reason. Because God is an intentional God, and everything happens for a reason”. But with the way I always debated that resignation within myself (and the way I said it to the one person I ever told), it was obvious I wasn’t sure about it. Anyway, I wasn’t totally wrong though. I’ve learned the reason, and I’m still learning it, loving, and accepting it.
My life isn’t hard simply because I don’t see it that way. I don’t think about it that way. From battling with myself and the teachings of the religion I subscribe to, to thinking about whether or not I’d ever get to live my life as my authentic self, to thinking about how much easier and beautiful my life would’ve been if I was ‘born right’, or if I could become myself without having to lose things and people I care about, I guess my life has been pretty different from what I imagine to be the norm. But again, I don’t know how much different this makes me, because I’m sure that there are other people my age out there going through things that cause them to think like I do, just that the name of the source of their worry is different from mine.
Tom on living his difference
It’s been a range of things; I’ve been confused by it, I’ve ignored it, I’ve tried exploring it, I’ve run away from it, I’ve talked about it, read about it, learned about it, and I just recently decided to accept, and try to live it. Even though I’ve only been courageous enough to make little changes, it’s been such a beautiful, freeing experience already. But that only scares me more and makes me think and worry more about the sacrifices that would be required to ‘do this right’.
My difference has always revealed itself. But no, I don’t talk about it with the people in my life. I, myself, just recently re-accepted it and started talking to myself about it, so I still feel unsafe and insecure to be telling everyone about it. It helps that I have an online community of people that know, love, and accept who I am. Shout-out to my ‘haven’. They are family, because that space is so important to me, as it is the only place where I am always 100% me. The only place for now, hopefully.
Tom on how people react to his difference
The people I have told so far were very accepting and supportive. They use the right name, pronouns, and such. It was not a big deal to them and they were glad that I was willing to open up to them about it, so it’s just amazing. I doubt that it will be that way all the time with different people, but I’m willing to find out.
The first person I spoke to, who opened up about being trans, had a reaction that really moved me. And this happened just last year. She called me, I think it was just a random phone call, our first phone conversation in fact, as we’d only been WhatsApp friends prior. She asked me a question that I can’t remember right now, but it led me to open up to her about how I felt and how I’d accepted my situation as my fate. I told her about that resignation to fate I had given myself. Her response to what I said floored me. I was just so surprised that someone understood all that I was feeling and could articulate it so well. I asked: “Wait. Who are you? And how do you understand me so well?” The understanding and encouragement somehow gave me the courage to want to be myself as openly and truly as I could manage. It inspired me to come out for the first time in my life to a group of people I’d barely known for months and to take the first steps towards living my difference out loud.
The funniest reaction was from this person who said that until I undergo the surgical changes, bottom surgery to be precise, she wasn’t gonna accept it/agree. She used different words, of course, but let’s manage the version I’m giving you. I don’t think this is funny out of context, but I know her and the way she said it hurt me but made me laugh. So, funny. Basically, people that react with any sort of denial make me laugh. From acting as if you don’t know the right way to address me, to telling me you understand, but you think it’d be better if I learned to love the body God gave me. Funny.
Tom on educating Nigerians on his difference
I do it All. The. Damn. Time. I’m just wary about how far I take it so I don’t unintentionally out myself.
I think my difference is a difficult hand to be dealt with in this life we’re living in. A very difficult hand. But that feeling of freedom and complete comfort in yourself when you finally realize, understand, and accept that it is who you are and it is how to live your best life is amazing to me. The way I feel, the way I’ve always felt whenever I’m addressed properly, with the right pronouns, titles, is something that I don’t think I can explain, but it always felt so right. When someone would mistake me for a boy, or say you look very manly today, or something as simple as being called “bros” or “oga” would give me so much joy and pride from deep within that I can’t explain. I’d just feel so in touch with myself, so authentic, aligned, accurate, and it’s the best thing. Something I wanna point out is, someone might read this and think, “oh, this person just wants to be/become a man.” That’s wrong. I don’t want to ‘become’ a man. I am a man, I was born a man, just in the wrong body, unfortunately.