Nigerian activist: Being gay is beyond sex

Olumide Makanjuola (Photo courtesy of GLAAD)

Olumide Makanjuola, executive director of TIERs (Photo courtesy of GLAAD)

People should stop thinking of gays and lesbians only in terms of sex, Nigerian human rights activist Olumide Makanjuola says. Whatever their sexual orientation, they are complete human beings whose lives do not all revolve entirely around sex, Makanjuola said in a statement published in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper and its website.

Makanjuola is executive director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs), based in Lagos, Nigeria.

A modestly edited version of his statement is reprinted here:

Every human should have sexual freedom

By Olumide Makanjuola

I have been thinking about the ideology of people and how they think about other human beings, especially those they consider to be different from what they already know.

The fact that many people can hardly see the human side of people they perceive to be different is disturbing. We all should be worried.

So, let’s look at lesbian, gay and bisexual persons in a Nigerian context. (I intentionally left out transgender persons, because the discussion around gender identity is completely different from that about sexual orientation.)

TIERS logo

TIERS logo

I often hear people ask questions on how anyone becomes LGB or how they even have sex, or make babies, as if human life and existence is about sex and babies. I have seen questions like “Who is the woman or man?” “How do they enjoy sex?” and many others. I understand that this comes from a place of complete lack of knowledge and therefore people need to learn and unlearn what they already know.

This is how society progresses and ensures a safe space for all humans. No society can progress through a narrowed view of one man or many of them. She does through the ability to understand differences and the willingness to learn the struggle of those considered different from the majority.

We always find it difficult to think beyond sex when we think about LGB persons.

The fact that we have sexualised a full-grown human being is disturbing as this limits our view on the struggles and realities experienced by LGB persons in a heteronormative society like Nigeria. However, since Nigerian society has decided to always look at LGB persons from a place of sex and not as a complete human being with emotions that are connected to families, friends, co-workers, and communities which are beyond sex, we might as well talk about sex here, since this seems to be a concern for many people.

I realise that many have limited their understanding of “sexual orientation” to just sex and, for this reason, many are unable to think beyond sex or understand that before and beyond sex, there is emotion. More importantly, that this emotion connects deeply to human feeling and is not determined by the type of sex a person is having or going to have.

The way men or women are emotionally attracted to women or men is equal. When men and women find other men and women attractive, they emotionally process their thoughts; it’s beyond sex.

I have heard people say, “I don’t have problems with LGB persons as long as they don’t make any sexual or emotional advance at me.” My problem with this line of thought is my question of how a heterosexual person can be sure that the person they are trying to make a sexual or emotional advance at is heterosexual? The reality remains that LGB persons will have as much sex as they want, and this will not change or disturb the amount of sex heterosexual people will have.

Sex should not define any person or group of persons so long as the sex that happens is between two adults with mutual consent. No one really needs to know who lies on top, below or beside.

I have always believed we need to free ourselves for discussions about sex. The idea that once you talk about sex you are “loose or unholy” is wrong. It’s not based on reality.

Heterosexual people need to liberate themselves from this thought, as it will help them to free LGB persons and start seeing them as full human beings who are not only about sex but will equally have sex as much as any human being.

Olumide Makanjuola is a sexual health and rights advocate with over a decade of experience in LGBT rights programming in Nigeria and experience in capacity development for LGBT activists and organizations in Anglophone West African countries. In addition to his work as executive director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs), he has served as an independent expert to the European Asylum Support Office and has been invited to speak at several human rights platforms highlighting the role of the international community on LGBT rights advocacy.

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