REVIEW OF: Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Nigerians, edited by Unoma Azuah.
Blessed Body is a unique collection of 38 personal narratives by 36 LGBT Nigerians who describe their struggles to discover and live their identities as sexual beings in their families, in their villages and towns, in their cities and country, in their religions and cultures.
The narratives present the testimonials of 19 gay men, 12 lesbians, four transgender persons, and two bisexuals, who are either living in Nigeria or are now in the Nigerian Diaspora caused by the harsh anti-LGBT laws implemented by local and federal Nigerian authorities.
In her introduction, Zethu Matebeni of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, applauds Unoma Azuah for focusing the narratives on the 'materiality' of the body as the place of power and struggle for the discovery of the meaning of one's sexuality as a human person and as an African. Matebeni describes the anthology as "a slap-in-the-face practice to a common version of Africanness that denies different forms of sexualities."
In the preface, Eric Sias of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley highlights the importance of religion to all of the Nigerian testimonials. It is a remarkable fact that religion plays such an important role in Nigerian society and cultures. It is also troubling that the various forms of the Christian religion and of Islam practiced in Nigeria are so hostile to LGBT peoples. Most of the people represented in this anthology come from Christian backgrounds which Mr. Sias addresses in detail to dispel misconceptions about several passages in the Christian Scriptures on 'homosexuality.'
The heart of Unoma Azuah's collection of stories, however, lies in the passions and flesh of her narrators who give expression to the pain and joys, the sufferings and triumphs, of finding out who you are and of exploring the meaning of that identity in the real world of conflicts and friendships, jobs and family, love and hate.
Azuah presents the narratives under eight rubrics: Discovery: Coming of Age; Blurring Lines; Facebook Fantasies; Homo-sexing; Unwanted Marriage; Secret Lives; The Church; Unapologetic.
In many ways, Blessed Body is a coming-out anthology like those Jonathan Ned Katz chronicles for us in the U.S. in his famous OutHistory writings and research. Likewise, Unoma Azuah, in collaboration with Queer Alliance Nigeria, has begun the great adventure of chronicling the out-history of Nigerian LGBT personsa valuable service for the liberation of Nigerian cultures and society as well as for all of us who seek to discover, understand, and live out the best meanings of our physical, bodily, sexual presence in the world.
Blessed Body ( 267 pp ), published by Cooking Pot Books ( ISBN-978-0-9965460-7-2 ), is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats and on Barnes and Noble in eBook Nook format.
Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, president of Chicago Network and playwright emeritus at Victory Gardens Theater.