“Passing,” Lit, and Queer Community
In the final moments of “Walking with shadows,” Adrian contemplates an interaction he has with a woman in the airport lounge who (mis-)recognizes him as a straight man. The moment comments on what it means to pass (to act and present as “straight”), as opposed to being visibly or readably queer (to speak, dress, enact a “queer” identity). I am uncomfortable with the binary implicit in the distinction, and present throughout the novel, which would have us believe all feminine (or else, flamboyant/glamourous/etc) male people are gay, and that those traits are essentially indicative of such; still, I am willing to bracket that discussion, given the experience at hand. I can recognize that such generalizations, though problematic, do indeed apply to many queer lives, and that an attempt to address that issue, given the current Nigerian socio-political atmosphere, would redirect attention away from a more pragmatic and urgent discussion of basic rights. Adrian’s ability to pass – which relies on those terms which would have us subscribe to the notion that feminine/flamboyant/”glamorous” = gay – allows him to travel safely and enabled his life with Ada and Ego up to his outing; yet, the lounge woman’s (mis-)recognition of his orientation, after his outing and eventual self-acceptance, opens the space to ponder “how she would react if he told her” (219), simultaneously suggesting the potential number of those “many other masculine looking and acting” gay men.
In his talk this evening, Dibia read a piece about a gay character named Sasha (from an abandoned novel, if I remember correctly), who “found it necessary to tone down how he presented himself,” though he loved to wear make-up, jewelry, etc. Of his own experience, Dibia said that the separation of his two careers (literary and – I think? – managerial, at the time) allowed him to “exist as 2 different characters”. Given the intense performativity of this particular kind of passing (in terms of sexuality or even politics), and the way the ability to pass both protects and insulates an individual, paired with the outlawing of queer gatherings and organizations, I wonder how queer communities are formed. Dibia spoke of the internet as a site for connection with other individuals – whether through e-mails in response to his book, through online publishing, or even online dating. But the Sasha piece, the death threats Dibia received (though he emphasized the fact that such reactions were the minority) and a harrowing news story of a boy killed after meeting someone from online related at his talk all seem to say that even the internet is not safe. Can literature, in a shift away from the harmful narratives like the Nollywood paradigms discussed in class, become the site for such connection? Moving forward, what can literature do so that queer individuals don’t feel the need to “pass,” both in written or filmed narratives and in lived experience? – can, if they so want, present as readably queer?