Nigeria’s ballroom culture is rekindled by young gay men

For Sulieman *, a 21-year-old non-binary person living in Kaduna, Nigeria, Pose was the best thing they had ever seen on television. “The plot was sad, but in the midst of all their struggles and sorrows, you could see that they were part of a larger community. And in their darkest moments, they looked to each other for support, ”they said. “You could see how free and alive they were at balls. I also wanted to feel that freedom, to feel like I was part of something bigger than me.”

For gays around the world, see LGBTQ people celebrating onscreen in Pose was revolutionary. The show depicts a fictional version of the queer New York City culture of the BIPOC-run ballroom that flourished in the 1980s. Drag balls have been around in America since the 1800s, but became more popular in the 1980s. and 90. At balls, individuals or “houses” compete in different categories, dressing in drag and vogueing. Sulieman longs for a similar scene in Nigeria, where being gay is illegal. It turns out that this scene does exist.

Nigeria is one of many African countries that operate around legal traditions and Christian doctrines imported and applied by British colonial administrators. In Nigeria, the “public spectacle of [a] same-sex romantic relationship ”is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 14 years. It is also a crime to dress in clothing that is generally not associated with one’s supposed gender. Due to Nigeria’s complicated relationship with colonial laws, homophobia and transphobia often go unchallenged, leaving the misconception that homosexuality is against our culture. This continued oppression required a world where members of the queer community could be together, make sense of their identities, and experience the freedom and nonconformity that came with it – this is where the secretive ballroom culture. of Nigeria, an underworld where queer people can freely be themselves as in Pose, Between.

Nigerian ballroom culture has been around for years, but more recently it has gone more underground thanks to stricter anti-gay laws. For Nigerians, the ballroom culture challenges social structures and demonstrates the queer utopia they hope will one day come to light.

Nigerian gays remember the country’s ballroom scene in the early 2000s as an easy way for gays to connect with each other. In these spaces, queer people were free to express themselves through dance and fashion. The men wore dresses, thick makeup, wigs and accessories that accentuated their femininity. It was the best way to challenge the strict gender roles imposed by Nigerian society. Dennis Macaulay, a gay man in his mid-thirties who was active in the ballroom scene as a college student in Portharcourt, Nigeria, recounts attending these underground parties and balls, which he described as glamorous.

“When I first realized my identity as a gay man, I started making other gay friends who then introduced me to the culture of the ballroom. The first time they told me about a gay party, I was really terrified, ”he says. “I thought about what would happen if the police raided the site, but I went anyway. I went to prom at least three or four times a month. Sometimes my friends and I would go to a ball on Friday night, another on Saturday night, and another on Sunday night. Eventually I started to MC some of the balls.

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