Saturday, June 5, 2010

What Biology did not teach me about Human Sexual Make up.

I am sure I am not the first person writing on the curriculum of Biology in secondary schools, but since I have a personal experience growing up in Africa, there are certain things that Biology has taught me that are not true, and many things biology has failed to teach me.

As I grow older, I discover many things in life that I never learnt in class, and those things I was taught, that either never existed, or existed but was taught wrongly. This distorted information helped in shaping my ideology as a young man, and formed many erroneous view I had, it became the standard for my believe and relationship with people and things around me. So to finally discover that almost all the things I spent 6 years of my life learning was either false, or half true and that I have to start unlearning them, was a big task for me.

I am very sure many of you can see yourself in this picture, and have to go back to the classroom of life and social interaction to unlearn many things and start learning many things, most often than not, it is always after making a big mistake or taken a big wrong step.

For instance, on the issue of human sexuality, I was taught in my youth that the world is made of "Man" and "Woman", and that man and woman will meet and have sex and have babies, and that anyone who does not conform to the ideal of man and woman is biological deformed and needs help, and that includes people that self identifies as either Gay, Lesbian, Transgender or Inter-sex.

Another is the issue of "Hermaphrodite" in contrast to "Inter-sex". As a teenager growing up, I was taught that people with both sexes are biologically deformed, needs help and most times they do not live long into old age. Also biology taught me that it is a serious medical condition that needs instant intervention. Biology taught me that the make up of the body of a girl is different from that of a boy, and that is it not possible for a boy to have biological make up of a girl, and for this reason the whole concept of "Trangenderism" is an ideology that violates the order of nature and so should not be encourage.

But as I grow older and discover things for myself, I realise that most of this things is either false or half true, and that this has formed the basis for hatred, violence and discriminations, and not necessarily religion, as many has suggested (mind you I am one of the most antagonist of religious institutions)

On of the issue of Trans, I was fortunate enough to attend the first International congress on Gender Identity and Human rights in Barcelona in June 2010. In as much as it sounded that I was invading other people's safe space, I was exposed to a world I have never been before. I saw things and heard things I would never have seen or heard in my life.

Prior to my trip to Barcelona, I have many friends who are Trans and in the private of my room, I have asked myself questions about Trans people and the desire behind transiting, but I have never been bold enough to call on my friends to explain certain things to me. Not because I do not want to ask, but I was wondering, how can a man want to turn to a woman, why will someone want to go through such pain to do that, or why would a woman wants to transit.

As a gay man, I have enough troubles being gay, black and African, and these further complicate the views I have about Trans people. But being in the audience in Barcelona, listening to Trans people talking, and sharing their journey through life, I felt ashamed of my ignorance, this ignorance was not based on my inability to learn, but on what I was taught in Biology class.

I heard about Hormones, pathology, electric shock, correctional counselling. I heard the story of survival, sex works and the pain of living in a body that is not yours, looking at gentiles that do not represent you, and the burden of having to live your life in falsehood. I started to question biology teachings of man and woman, and specific human make up based on gender at birth, and the actual gender of the person.

There is also the issue gender binary of man and woman, and the exclusion of people who do not self identifies as one, either a man or a woman. There is also the discrimination on the basis that you have to be either LGB, or Straight, and then even within the LGB, the issues affect the T and I are left for the dogs.

I also had the opportunity to attend the session on Inter-sex, where for the first time in my life, I came face to face with people who are inter-sex and listened to their horrible childhood experience. I heard about the killing of inter-sex people in Africa, and the discrimination they faced in the LGB movement, I listen to advocates sharing their journey through life and the pains of denial of full sexual empowerment based on fear and hatred.

The painful thing is, it has taken me 35 years to understand the diversity in Human sexual make up, and finally when I learnt about it, it was a shock that will have to stay with me for a long time. If only when I was young and innocent, Biology has taught me all this, and not only me, but many other young people like me, maybe then, there wont be so much hatred in the world, religion will not have the power to manipulate us, and maybe, just maybe, many people that have committed suicides and gone into drug use as a reprival would have had a different life now.

Maybe there wont have been that debate for a "Gender Neutral Toilet", maybe everyone that wants to transit can do so with enough empowerment, maybe Inter-sex people can have the power to decide what is best for them.

Maybe, just Maybe.............

Today, I challenge the Human Sexual make up as proposed by Biology, I expand my knowledge of Human and Humanity and though I have to break my bank to be able to be in Barcelona, it was a trip worth taking.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

HIV prevention and the Immigrant African MSM in London

As the political climate in the UK hots up, there are many expectations from many people and the three political parties are trying their best to make as many promised as possible, from Conservatives "giving power to the people", to Labour promise of "better future for all" and the Liberal Democrats saying "Better and Fairer Tax for all"

One thing that is of big concern to me is the issue of politicians commitment to "Sexual Health", and when I talk about sexual health, as a concerned sexual health advocate, I am talking about promise from politician on investment in Research and investing in treatment option. More money into prevention work for high risk groups, and the decriminalization of HIV transmission.

In the 80’s HIV was more of a winning gimmick for politicians. They made promises to tackle the epidemic, but 25 years on, with increasing number of people getting infected every minute, that issue is no more a political priority. As even more importantly is the issue of Immigrants and HIV transmission in Europe and mostly in the UK.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to kick start a project funded by the Newham PCT. The concept behind which was to provide prevention services for African MSM living in London, so that there can be an uptake of HIV testing and thereby reduce late diagnosis.

In 3 years, the project saw a huge interest in testing, and more men have been placed on treatment, they have been trained to be community champions, and this has seen more of this men coming to term with their sexuality.

But just when the excitement was high, and we are seeing an improvement in the sexual health of Immigrant African MSM, the funder are not sure this is a viable project, they are faced with the need to cut back on public funding and to prioritize spending within the Health system, and the first victim will be those projects that are not considered as point scoring.

With a service user base of over 50, this project, being the only in the whole of UK, providing such service for Immigrant African MSM will come an end, and the men will have to look elsewhere for their sexual health needs, and the funny thing is this might take another five years before another primary care trust sees the reason to fund such a project.

So, in 2010, HIV treatment, research, and prevention investment is not a political point scoring, but it gulps more money than even the banks.

So as I pack my bags and leave a dream behind, I think of many African MSM that will be arriving the UK with dire need for sexual health, one that is design to understand the dynamics of their identity and social constructs.

Just really wish someone can see beyond their nose.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Search for a leading Black LGBT role Model

At the last NUS LGBT conference, the Black LGBT students caucus had a training session where they were asked to name celebrity role models from the Black LGBT community. We spent 30 minutes thinking and we could hardly come up with a name.

The problem was not lack of Black LGBT celebrity or role models, it is just that we could not relate with them, at least after 30 minutes, many of us remember Steven K Amos, but again you asked yourself what really has he done for the Black LGBT community apart from coming out, and then we also remember John Ameachi.

I was worried why we found it pretty difficult in the UK to find a Black LGBT role model, but then I got the answer when I went to America in December with my partner. I was in New York for some days, and there I heard about a strong organizing of Black LGBT people, they have great representation and the community is very strong. The same can be said of Chicago where I had a wonderful reception and met influential Black gay men and we talked about their struggles and how it is very easy for them to organize.

I was worried about the lack of same thing here. But one thing the Americans have going for them was the Black liberation movement of the 60's, a battle that created a great sense of consciousness in the people and has taught them that if you do not represent yourself, no one will do it for you, something the Black community in the UK does not have.

The fight in the UK is more of Black community fighting against each other rather than fighting for each other. I have only lived in London for 3 years, but I can still recollect attending many Black gay men's meeting most of which are dead by now, due to bickering, hatred and quest for leadership. The community is in disarry and the so called leaders are busy individualizing the struggle for personal gains.

The fight against stigma and discrimination within the Black community in UK is one that can not be won unless there are strong Black LGBT movement and people out there. The demand for a significant figure in the Black community is one that is urgently needed.

I am not looking for a role model like Sir Elton John or Sir Ian Mcknelle, but I am looking forward to a more proactive Black LGBT community that has a leader, one that is built on the struggle for freedom within and without. One that will start an anti discriminatory campaign within the Black communities and in our schools. One that is strong enough to push for Black LGBT agenda in all fields.

As I await this day, I call on the ones that I know to please take the chance, take the risk and lead your people to the promise land. No one will do it for us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Africa LGBT event at the BFI..... my take

When i was invited by the organizers of this year's London Lesbian and Gay film festival to be on the panel at the African LGBTI film screening, I was really excited. Not because he gives me another opportunity to open up my mouth wide again and start yarning something, or that I happened to be among the few that get driven to the venue while I have a VIP attention and then watch the film for free while someone else pays close to £10 to see same film.

But because it presents a chance to discuss the plight of the LGBTI movement in Africa, over 40 years after the Liberation of same group in Europe and America. Knowing that I will be speaking on the panel, I promised myself, never to demonized Africa and her people, I belong to the group of advocates (as I hate to use the word "activist" for myself), that believe if there are information, there will be a change in attitude from Africans towards LGBTI people. How these information is created and passed on to the people at the grassroots is another thing I will talk about some other day.

The entrants for Africa this year were from South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria. The South African film shows the new issues tearing the soul of that nation apart; corrective rape of Lesbians. I heard of these 4 years ago when a friend of a friend was raped and killed. The believe is that if you rape a Lesbian, she will turn heterosexual. It reached its peak last year when a top female footballer in South africa was raped and killed. These has also been identified as a means of transmitting HIV to the Lesbian community in south Africa. The pain and the agony of being raped and rejected by family just because you are Lesbian is so traumatic that the scare will live with you for the rest of your life.

While I was still dealing with the pains and trauma of "Mosa" , the next film from Uganda was another affirmation of what I know. As someone who has been buying my family love for over 6 years now, I know what it is like to be a rejected gay man. I remember always telling my friends back home in Nigeria that the only way they can be loved and respected is when they have money to give. it sounds bizarre, but that is the truth. Though I have never met Victor face to face, I have the honour of being painted by Gabrielle, who did an artistic activist work around Transgender issues in Africa, and Victor was one of the people she painted. She told me of the courageous world of Victor. I have also longed for an opportunity to meet him and tell him how much I adored him.

Watching the "Kuchus" (the local name for Gay people in ugandan) of Uganda, brought back memories. Memories of growing in Nigeria, trying so hard to effect change, trying to work for the community i am passionate about. The tears we shed for lost battles and won battles. The pain of having nothing to eat, of joblessness because we are gay and open. The frustrations from the press and the local people, the rejections from families and friends. To me the "Kuchus" film reminds me of myself, but also brought a feeling of guilt.

I sat in the audience in London watching the courageous determination of LGBTI people in Africa, people that could have used the abuse they face to run away but they decided to stay. Not that i consider myself a coward, but sometimes, I asked myself, would staying back at home change something by now? But again, I know that my coming to Europe has not been in vain, and it has not been for self glorification and for a life of luxury.

While the "Kuchus" got the audience griming, the next film to following left them asking very probing questions. The entry from Nigeria was "House of Rainbow". A film that rather talked about the life experience of a British gay pastor who tried to set up a "gay church" in Nigeria. the film explored the challenges he faced in his attempt and what led to him "fleeing" the country. While Mosa and Kuchus looked at the struggles of African LGBTI in Africa, the HOR film was more about the struggles of the pastor.

It was quite interesting to follow for me as I was part of the formation of this church right from the beginning, and knowing very well that there was an agenda. A gay church in Nigeria is not bad, but as at the time it started, was it right? Considering the rising in hate crime towards LGBTI people in Nigeria? I will say no. History has shown that using religion as a basis for LGBTI right all over the world is a failed battle.

But was it liberation this pastor was bringing to Nigeria? from my perspective, the answer will be NO. The whole idea was more like setting a stage for the eventual life of luxury being enjoyed by the founder today.

The whole essence of this write up is not to attack the person of the pastor, but to uncover, the second wave of exploitation that is taking place in Africa at the moment. The exploitation of the vulnerable LGBTI community in Africa, a situation where, they are becoming meal ticket and flight tickets to the advantaged few who sees the situation to self glorified themselves.

So when next you watch "House of Rainbow" ask the pastor very important questions like: who are those boys? What happened to them? did they give permission for the film? did they even know a film is being made or have they been told it will be showing at the LLGFF? will they ever have a share from the money made? What happened to them after the church was disbanded? was the Reverend really a Nigerian? Did he grew up in Nigeria?

Maybe then you will get a better and clearer picture of things. Mind you I am not saying he should not be involved in the struggle, all I am saying is, it should be for the people and not for self glorification.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Semiotics of AVATAR.

Finally last night I saw the most expensive movie in history; AVATAR. there have been lot said about the film, the money involved, how much it has made from the box office and how James Cameron did not win the oscar for best director.

But the most interesting thing for me was the semiotics of the film, the signs and the signifiers, and how this could be related to Cameron not wining the oscar. Mind you, this is not the first time he had made a huge film that has been a flop at the oscars.

At least I can remember the TITANIC, one big movie I love so much. The film brought that us Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio, and make Celine Dion "my heart will go on" a hit in 1997.

So when he came back with AVATAR, i was more interested in his semiotics rather than the glamour and the scandals the film has attracted. It was really interesting that not in one newspaper has the signs and the signifiers of the film being discussed. This could be a deliberate attempt by the west to ignore what Cameron has to say, and in saying that he angers the "god" of hollywood and miss out in the oscar.

Now to the signs. To anyone watching the film, you are presented with "human" and the "blue people" or better "the blue monkey". While the human are trying to penetrate the life and daily activities of the blue monkeys. The blue monkeys on the other hand were protecting and preserving what they have. They had connection with their surrounding, they relate with nature, communicate with it and practice "juju" or what you will you call "voodoo".

The human (western white) were keen on destroying the heritage of the blue people, and they will do anything to achieve their aim, including behaving like them to get their trust and then destroy them.

If you are still thinking what is going on in my head, I will quickly relate this to my visit to the British museum on Saturday with my partner, my friend from New York and my two papas. We had gone to see the exhibition on "The Kingdom of ife" The exhibition has on display the great art work from IFE from Western Nigeria. These were art works taken away from the country during the colonial era.

I told my partner who is a British white man, that most of those works were actually stolen during colonization, they were forcibly removed by the colonial master that has come with the disguise of missionary. They had taken away the culture, the spirit and the soul of that community. They have put on display what the people of IFE used in community with their gods, and to add insult to the injury, are charging people to come see it.

So to go back to AVATAR, Cameron, explore the era of colonization, imperialism and oppression carried out by the so called "developed" world, or as my very good friend Peter Tatchell will say "first world". They invaded the land of the blue people, destroy their natural habitant and kill their people, and uproot their existence. Cameron also expose the wickedness of the west in the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other part of the world.

It explores the abuse of human rights and killing of babies, women and young people as we can see in Iraqi and Afghanistan, and the abuse of the Palestine by Israel backed by America and Britain.

So when it was time for awards, Cameron was seen at the BAFTA awards as a betrayal not fit for recognition, and in America he was considered as a not so good a director.

Though the "Blue people" were able to overcome the invasion of the "white people", many continent and countries were not so lucky in the past. Among them, my blessed Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.

So when next you watch AVATAR, look beyond the film and see the message James Cameron is trying to tell.