“You do it for yourself. You don’t expect to change the world. You don’t even expect to influence your family or your friends. You do it because you can not not do it and be who you are. Or who you’re meant to be.” ―Martin Sheen
On 3rdof September 2018 I posted a video on Facebook which eventually went viral; it was an interview my husband and I granted to a private television channel in Nigeria. Immediately after the post, I got a message from someone who wanted to express two things;
One, she was curious why I granted that interview to Linda Ikeji television, her argument being that the media platform I granted that interview to has been attacking the LGBT community in Nigeria and hence I shouldn’t have granted them that interview.
Two, she felt my action of going on television to talk about our relationship will create an illusion that Nigeria is a safe place for LGBT people an this will have uninteded consequence of putting at risk the chances of people who wanted to claim asylum abroad.
I actually shut this person up, however you would be right to ask what is harmful about those questions but let me give some context. Few months earlier, I had done a photoshoot for a magazine and it was a part naked shoot. I had posted one picture online with no underwear, but it was my back and this same person had come to my inbox to express the view that my picture will send a negative impression of the LGBT community out to the public.
There was another time, I wrote on Facebook that constitutionally, it is not illegal to be gay in Nigeria and that Nigerians need to know this if we are to challenge the narrative the public hold about our existence within the social space that we have. Again this same person came to inbox to express disgust at my post.
At this point let me make it clear that this post is not about this person, this post is about censorship, strangulation of opinion and left toxic politics of puritanism. It is also about the burden of being a celebrity or an activist and how people have an expectation of whom, what and how you should be and this expectation while sometime can be genuine, denies one the authentic voice that one has. It can turn you into a fair-weather advocate on important issues.
This burden also fails to understand that the person at the point of this discourse is human with feelings and free will.
Few days after the post, a conversation started on Nigeria LGBT Facebook space, and it was more about what and who is Bisi Alimi and what does he stand for and does he cause more harm than good for the LGBT community? I was not privy to all of the conversation, but people shared some of the conversation with me and after much debate within myself, I wrote a follow up Facebook post where I expressed my view about activism. This has also gone viral and attracted the mainstream media.
As an activist, I have always made it very clear that my politics is personal; two years ago I had a tattoo on my hand about “Black Lives Matter” and I had said at the time that as a black man living in a predominantly racist country with police brutality, I am one bullet away from being a hashtag. So if I must fall, I will go down with my own hashtag. Now I granted Linda Ikeji media the interview not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the thing to do. If I am to make change happen in Nigeria, I then have to speak to Nigerians where they gather and that will be on Linda Ikeji’s platform. The debate on this is not something I am keen on engaging; I recognise that others will have a different opinion to this and I respect that.
When a picture of my husband and I got on instablog9ja, I realised there was little I can do to control what being Bisi Alimi is. I know the pain of walking down the street and being cautious of every camera phone pointed in my face and people wanting to take pictures. I know how hard it has been for my family seeing me in the news all the time and struggling with the reality of having a gay son in a very homophobic country and how they are constantly struggling between accepting me and distancing themselves from me.
I know what it is like for my husband trying every day to deal with the attacks on me and how it impacts and affects our home. I also know what it is like to be in control of my own story, my narrative and that for me is very important.
In 2014, when the Nigerian government signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, I was on Christine Amanpour and I remembered she asked me why I am doing what I am doing, and I told her; I am doing it for me.
My activism is personal.
I know this statement can sound arrogant and selfish, and I do know it will upset a lot of people, but it takes emotional intelligence to understand the concept of politics being personal. In 2004 I came out on national television and many times in interviews after that, I have been told how brave I am but I have always corrected interviewers and tell them that it was not about courage for me, it was personal; I came out for me because I was trying to save me.
I didn’t come out for an LGBT community, I came out for me.
I know what it feels like to be burnt out. I know what it feels like to be attack by homophobes in Nigeria and then called out and attacked by the LGBT community in Nigeria. I know what it feels like to go to bed with empty stomach in the name of activism, I know how it feels to be left in the dark because of activism, but I also know what it means to fight, I know what it means to try again after every fall. I know this because my activism is personal.
I am not a spokesperson for LGBT community in Nigeria, I speak for my issue as a gay man, no one appointed or elected me to be their spokesperson.
I am Bisi Alimi, I am an angelic troublemaker and unapologetically so. It is not easy being me; it takes guts, passion, sacrifice and self-awareness for me to be me. I have to have a good reason to wake up every day from my bed and face the day and that reason is knowing that I can at least make Nigeria better than I met it.
The source of courage for Bisi Alimi has always been Bisi Alimi. The reason why Bisi Alimi fights has always been Bisi Alimi.
I once said in an interview that “my activism is personal, I am a selfish person, I am fighting so that I can make home a place where I can take my husband and my children and if in the process of this, the LGBT community in Nigeria benefits from it, then it is an added advantage”
In 2016, just after my wedding, I granted an interview to a gay website in Nigeria. I was asked if I see my getting marriage as ground-breaking for LGBT community in Nigeria, my simple answer was “ we got married for us”.
I am not oblivious to how this statement will make people feel; people that have put you on a platform, people that worshiped the image you have become, people that have come to look up to you. To them this statement may come across as arrogant, dismissive and pretentious. Many will also argue that on one hand I get to enjoy the perks of being a spokesperson for the community and on the other hand say that I do not speak for the community. This confusion can lead to people to actually question my intentions and my dedication to the issues and thereby question my integrity. To be fair to these people, they do have the right to think the way they do.
However, that won’t change the fundamentals of why I fight; I fight for me. I am the reason I fight. My politics is very personal, because that is the only way I can stand and speak on issues and not expect a thank you from people. I am also fully aware that I can never speak for everyone; the world is a big place with people of divergent views therefore to think of myself as the messiah of the LGBT community in Nigeria will be arrogant and irresponsible. If you think I am your role model or your spokesperson, then you have to take responsibility for what you think about my actions because I have never presented myself as such.
As stated earlier, I have always spoken for Bisi Alimi because he is the only one I know, and I can freely speak for. If then in the process of speaking for Bisi Alimi, someone else feels connected to and with my message, great.
I owe no one my activism, I owe no one an apology.
I wish the people who felt compelled to dissect my post, my videos and all my actions can take a moment to ask themselves, “why do I do what I do?”, if the answer fails to come from a personal place, then they need to re-evaluate.
In this world of activism that is driven by passion and issue, it is so easy to forget why we fight. #MeToo started from personal that became political. When Bayard Rustin asked for “angelic troublemakers”, it was a call to personal that have to political. You have to have a personal understanding to answer Magret Mead call to politically change the world.
If you are not the reason you want to make the world a better place, then it is time to rethink. If you feel you do what you do because you are expecting some accolades, then fair enough, but remember, you can only give what you have, or you will be found out to be fake.
I can only give Bisi Alimi and to be able to give Bisi Alimi, I have to make sure, Bisi Alimi understands that to be an effective advocate, his politics has to be personal. A damaged Bisi Alimi is not useful to anyone.