How Fashion Shows Helped Me Find Myself and Build a Community
In Nigeria, where effeminate men are profiled by police, fashion has been my refuge.
I come from a polygamous home. I have two older, beautiful sisters and a really tall, masculine, younger brother. This means that I have three maternal siblings. As is the case with most people, it was assumed that my effeminacy was due to the femininity of my elder sisters rubbing off on me, considering I was born immediately after them. Naturally, I spent the most amount of time with them, and I remember constantly wearing my mom’s laces and scarves when I was way younger. I was a pretty young boy, just over 7 years old, doing things I loved, without caring about the circumvented effects of what I did or the interrogations I would receive from others. I just wanted to be happy—and I was.
After wearing my mom’s clothes, I moved on to my elder sister’s wardrobe— I still wear her clothes, by the way. I like to tell people that I was pretty blessed to come from a family of amazing people who never questioned my effeminacy or how and where I found happiness. All they cared about was that I kept my very chirpy demeanor without hurting anyone in the process.
I then transitioned into wearing a pair of jeans because, after 24 years of my existence, I realized that the average Nigerian has to follow stereotypical social conditioning and that impacts our modes of dressing. Anything other than conformity is seen as immodest, and those who perpetrate such are regarded as outcasts.
The Fashion Industry Has Allowed Me to Grow My Self-Love
As I grew older, I began to find myself loving the ideas of fashion. The creation process, the inception of ideas, the sourcing of fabrics, the illustrations, the symposiums and seminars and even the fashion programs and shows. When I wasn’t on the streets getting inspired, I was either looking at the clothes of street dwellers or dissecting them in my head, thinking up ways that the designs could have been different. Half of my time was spent watching iconic designers make show-stopping, artsy clothes. One time, I sat in awe for hours watching Valentino’s AW18-19. I am still shocked at the amount of work that collection consumed.
Watching men in these shows made me understand that I wasn’t alone and that my effeminacy was something to be embraced rather than discarded. It helped me see the need for self-expression. So, I made a conscious decision to attend fashion shows here in Nigeria. I look at myself these days, and I thank the fashion industry for the growth and self-love it has allowed me to harness for myself. For a lot of us, these shows are a time when we can fully express ourselves without worrying about social conditioning. They’re truly a time to live freely and aloud, making all forms of elaborate and exaggerated poses in front of the camera. Although this can be done outside the shores of shows and exhibitions, they’re undeniably one of the platforms that spearheaded living truly and authentically.
For a visibly effeminate Nigerian man like me, with loads of criminalizing laws hovering over my very existence, one has to be careful when expressing themself, even with fashion. The country’s Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act is a draconian law set by the Nigerian government to police queer people in the country. Showing any form of relationship with the same sex or showing any stereotypical ideas of queerness in the way you dress could mean looking at a 14-year imprisonment term. You could get profiled by Nigerian police for painting your nails or changing your hair color as a man. You could also get profiled for putting on anything that doesn’t show conformity—skirts, earrings, platform shoes, anything. Worse still, you could get beat up if anything matches a display of effeminacy or "womanish behavior."
Fashion Shows Make Me Feel Like I Belong
I know of the blatant stereotype that there are loads of effeminate queer men in the industry. Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t. However, one thing that is certain is that queerness and effeminacy have found comfort and space in fashion. For a long time, I’d struggled with acceptance, thanks to the rigid standards that men have been forced to live within. Fashion shows helped me see and meet others like me—young, wild, free, nonconforming, fashionable people.
I now look forward to attending these events because they have allowed me to see that I’m not alone—I can surround myself with people who share the same story as me. I have managed to build a community of really talented, fashionable young men who made me appreciate myself more, and I hope that others do too.