Racialized (Homo)sexualities in Nigeria

In his 2001 article on racialized sexuality, anthropologist Rudold P. Guadio writes about spending 16 months in Nigeria where he studied language use in relation to homosexuality.  A self-identified “Euro-American gay male anthropologist,” Guadio interacted mostly with ‘yan daudu, men in northern Nigeria “who are said to talk and act like women.” They are known as “feminine” because they cook, sell food, and use what is called “women’s talk.”  While some Hausa men used the English term “homo” to describe their sexuality, the more common phrase was mai harka, which is translated to “one who does the deed.” Calling it “the deed” implies that it is an unmentionable act, yet it unifies the men in Guadio’s story.

Another word that the men often use within their group is “merchandise” to refer to the lower-status partner in a gay relationship. One man approaches another in a bar and asks, “How are the merchandises,” which is a sly way of inquiring about the other men in the establishment.  During this interaction, the ethnographer’s presence is greatly felt, as the recipient of the question fears being outed in front of a stranger.  When Guadio acknowledges that “he does it too,” the other man is amazed and exclaims, “White men do it too?” The anthropologist says that the man sees Guadio as representing all white men, which is often how ethnographers look at specific groups of people: one or a few represent the whole.  Guadio writes that this “reverses the direction of the ethnographic gaze.”

A very open and honest ethnographer, Guadio discusses his own experiences with his subjects as a way to get them to open up.  When a man called Alhaji Zinari mentions oral sex and says that he does not engage in this sexual act, Guadio says “Me, I do that.”  This allows him to see Alhaji Zinari’s reaction, which is to simplify Guadio’s admission as being representative of all whites saying, “It’s your thing!” Alhaji Zinari made a generalization about all whites by using the second-person plural to address Guadio in this instance.

The ethnographer does the same sort of generalizing when he responds to the offer of being loaned another man’s boyfriend. Guadio says, “I’m not used to this. We don’t do it.”  By switching to the first-person plural, Guadio is speaking on behalf of a group, which can be as broad or narrow a group as the listener assumes.  In this case, it is probably white men, or white gay men.

An understanding of the self can be seen when Guadio teaches some of his friends American gay slang.  One such term is “chocolate queen,” which he says refers to a gay man who is attracted to black men.  Guadio assumes his listener, a man named Aliyu, understands that only white men can be chocolate queens.  But Aliyu identifies as a chocolate queen because he also “does the deed” with “blacks”—except he means “dark-skinned men.”  Guadio attributes this to a “person’s own racial subjectivity,” and the fact that in Nigeria, races are constructed differently than in the United States.

Like most other anthropological studies find, our own experiences color the way we see the world and the language we use to describe it.

— Toni Cruthirds

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One response to “Racialized (Homo)sexualities in Nigeria

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