In Nigeria, presently, only two genders are recognized- male and female. Many are hell-bent on not recognising any other gender, even though aspects of our past speaks otherwise. This adamant stand is not unconnected to the Abrahamic religions, which are the most practised in Nigeria.
A look into African history and culture would actually show that some of our ancestors believed in other genders or have encountered groups of people or individuals who have defied the logic of just having two genders. In the northern part of Nigeria, for example, the Yan Daudu is traditionally considered an ambiguous gender because they offer a challenge to the simple male-female dichotomy. They are categorized as neither male nor female and are therefore seen as some 3rd gender, despite their history with the northern part of Nigeria. The nation at large has refused to accept any ideology that pushes the existence of other genders other than male or female.
Many other examples of ambiguous sexes abound in our culture and myths, but we comfortably choose to ignore them like ostriches burying their heads in the sand; oblivious to what’s right in front of them. In the South-Western part of Nigeria, one of the most revered ancient deity Sango and his followers often exhibited traits associated with crossdressing. However, this is considered mystical rather than the Sango exhibiting some personality trait.
Lorand Matory delves deep into this issue in his book ‘Sex and the empire that is no more.’ Lorand explained that the worship of Sango had the theme of a husband and wife relationship, and this was exhibited in the cross-dressing of the Sango Priests.
Oyo is also known to have had a female Alaafin named Orompoto, who had to show the Oyo Mesi that she had the likeness of a male genital after she was challenged for taking up the throne as a woman. This probably was a case of a hermaphrodite who had developed a larger male appendage as she grew older.
With all these examples and obvious cultural proof, it is clear that many people are incapable of accepting other genders because it does not sit well mostly with modern religious tenets- the Abrahamic religions, in particular.
The modern, young Nigerian who identifies with another gender apart from the male/female identity, may experience feelings of loss, displacement and may be disillusioned about who and what they are.
However, a few online platforms and advocacy groups in the country are beginning to play their part in helping people who might be trying to navigate the world of gender and sexual identity.
With all of the cultural and historical references present, the Nigerian law still does not recognize any other gender beyond the male-female spectrum and the journey towards legalizing the existence of other gender is a long road away.
However, one wonders if this ‘un-looking’ is as a result of culture or religion? That question might seem complex to break down, but one thing that should be noted in all this is that culture is not static, and people can consciously learn about things they do not understand. So if Nigerians were open to learning about other phenomena outside religious teachings, then we might see a shift in attitude towards the recognition of other genders.
Toluwanimi Onakoya is a spirited writer, creative and videographer. Her biggest drive is to connect with people and depict tales using various forms of media.
Toluwanimi is available on Instagram and Twitter @nimi_onaks