Read, Debate: Engage.

The gender queer Nigerians entering hetero marriages

June 27, 2024
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#Nigeria, #LGBTQ+ rights, #trans rights, #Africa
by:Rabi Madaki
The women they marry are often aware of their partner's lifestyle and choose to proceed with the marriage regardless.

Editor’s note: This story was published in collaboration with Minority Africa as part of the Dual Life Project, which showcases how LGBTQIA persons in Africa are often compelled by society to lead dual lives.

After years of living openly as a woman, 32-year-old Adamu now faces a pivotal crossroads as he prepares to marry a woman.

"I believe it is the right thing to do as a man," Adamu said, commenting on his forthcoming wedding.

Adamu began presenting as a woman during his teenage years. His early life as a crossdresser took place in Ture, his grandmother’s village in Nigeria's Kano State, where his family moved after his father's death.

Like many communal households, Adamu's grandmother's home was crowded with relatives, mostly women with children who lacked support from their husbands and fathers. Adamu believes this played a significant role in shaping his identity.

Adamu's first interaction with femininity, he shared, was through quietly observing the women in his family as they engaged in activities that are traditionally associated with women in the area. As he matured, his fascination deepened, evolving from mere observation to genuine enjoyment in pursuits like hairstyling and cooking, often joining his aunts in these activities.

Over time, he learned these skills and began to adopt his aunts' mannerisms. In social circles, Adamu naturally gravitated towards women. Most of his friends were female, and through their companionship and support, he felt comfortable enough to express himself openly for the first time.

"When my friends were invited to weddings, I’d follow them and make-up with them as a woman,"  he said.

These early experiences led him to his first career as a makeup artist for brides, assisting with their aesthetic preparations for the ceremony. 

Working at weddings, Adamu said, allowed him the freedom to express his femininity. Often, after completing his duties as a makeup artist, he would adorn himself with jewelry, apply makeup and enthusiastically join the festivities. Each event he worked at solidified his identity as a 'Yan Daudu' in the eyes of society.

"Yan Daudu," translating to "Sons of Daudu" in English, refers to feminine men within Hausa society, an ethnic group in northern Nigeria. Originating from a historical queer community that predates Islamic influence in Northern Nigeria, these men dressed and behaved in ways traditionally associated with women.

Some interpretations of Yan Daudu portray them as transgender without formal sex changes. While this theory is not universally accepted, their feminine mannerisms and keen sense of women's style appear to be consistent. According to Adamu, in Northern Nigeria, it is widely believed that their sense of style surpasses even that of women.

"When women in the North are getting married, they like to invite or hire Yan Daudu to help out with the outfits and make-up," Adamu says. "They feel the men do a better job than women, so we get paid well for jobs like that."

He added, "I was never given the title of Yan Daudu; I gave it to myself, because I had realised that that was what I wanted in my life."

Family support 

Athough Adamu knew he was a Yan Daudu, he didn't realiae he was gay until after his university years, long after he first openly presented as a woman.

Upon discovering his identity, Adamu gained support and acceptance from his family, thanks in part to his upbringing in a household with women who understood his interests. Another factor that explains his family's acceptance of his sexuality, he pointed out, is his financial security.

"My family does not have a problem with my identity because I make money and support them. None of them calls me names, insults me or calls me 'Yan Daudu.' " (While historically the term was not considered a to be a slur, in some modern contexts, 'Yan Daudu' can be interpreted as an insult). 

First encounter with queerphobia 

Adamu's journey as a Yan Daudu truly blossomed after he left Kano State. Following his graduation, he felt that Kano lacked opportunities, which prompted him to seek greener pastures. He then had brief stays in Kaduna, Maiduguri and Abuja before he eventually settling in Lagos after a chance encounter with a woman.

"She wasn’t related to me, but we were living together in Abuja before she decided to come to Lagos. She brought me along with her," he said.

"She was a local musician, and that's how we met and started living together. When we moved to Lagos, we were doing music together until she had to travel. I decided to stay back to look for another business to do. People I knew here then introduced me to the food-selling business."

In Lagos, Adamu encountered problems related to his identity for the first time.

"When I came to Lagos, I started having enemies," he said. "In Kano, Abuja, Kaduna and Maiduguri, I never had any problems. Here in Lagos, people like looking down on me because of the kind of things I do [presenting as a woman]."

Adamu explained that despite Shaira Law being practiced where he grew up in Northern Nigeria, which reflects broader hostility towards queer individuals in the country, the close personal relationships he maintained with people during his upbringing enabled him to be well-accepted socially. 

"It's only in Lagos that I keep my way of life a secret from others. People in the North treat me differently because I grew up with them, and I've known them all my life," he said. "I just came to Lagos, and people here don't know me that well."

For this reason, Adamu added, he feels more comfortable and safe maintaining intimate relationships with lovers up North. 

"Being gay is not frowned upon in Kano; everyone knows or will eventually know about it, and it's not a problem."

This acceptance extends not only to his immediate community, he said, but also to northerners he encountered in religious settings.

"Where I pray, people don't have an issue with me because they know although I'm gay, I am still very religious."

"I am not being forced to marry"

While the general treatment of Yan Daudu in the north may outwardly appear receptive, a closer look reveals nuances in their societal attitudes towards them. In Hausa society, Yan Daudu are treated in a way that separates sexuality from gender, with sexuality seen more as more of an 'act' than a defining characteristic of an individual's identity. This perspective influences how relationships between Yan Daudus and men are regarded.

When Adamu discussed his partners, his tone betrayed a noticeable distance. He refrained from openly expressing love or discussing whether he misses his partners, which hints at a complex tension between societal expectations, personal identity and relationships within the Hausa community.

After a decade in Lagos, Adamu’s journey took another pivotal turn when his mother brought unexpected news.

"[She] said I should get married to a woman," he said. "I am not being forced to marry, and neither am I doing it because of my mother. I believe it is the right thing to do as a man, and [according to Islam], a man is supposed to get married. My parents are not forcing me; I want to do it to act as a normal man."

Adamu's experience is not isolated but rather emblematic of a common trend among Yan Daudu who marry women to fulfill societal expectations of masculinity.

For some Yan Daudu, marriage does not alter their identity. They continue living their lives as they did before, and their marriage doesn't change this aspect. The women they marry are often aware of their partner's lifestyle and choose to proceed with the marriage regardless.

"The lady I'm going to get married to already knows about my way of life," he said. "So it's not a secret."

Edited and reviewed by Samuel Banjoko, Yair Oded, Uzoma Ihejirika, Caleb Okereke and PK Cross.

Image by Ano Tome.

Article written by:
Rabi Madaki
Embed from Getty Images
Working at weddings allowed Adamu the freedom to express his femininity.