Culturally, gender roles are clearly and distinctly defined. This is so, regardless of misgivings about them, and their application in the modern world. These roles extend to manner of dressing, mannerism, and character that should be associated with the male and female gender, so much that it is considered a taboo to breach that established line of ascribed roles in society. This applies strongly to Nigerian cultures, save for cases of effeminate men in the North who have been recorded to have dressed as females, and acted as such. Still, it is no sign of acceptance of the things they espoused.
Cross-dressing is simply wearing the clothing associated with the opposite sex. Historically, it has been employed for uses such as disguise, comfort, comedy, and self-expression. In modern times, and in Nigeria’s context, its usage has been applicable to scenarios where a man is wearing a female dress, or acting as one. Cross-dressing has become widespread in Nigeria, and it will surprise no one to see a man wear a female dress, walk like one, and even speak like one. These continued spread births a lot of questions, mostly on how it started, and how there is a rising form of support for it in a conservative country like Nigeria.
One of the earliest cross-dressers in Nigeria is Denrele Edun, a television host, and media personality. Although there are others before him, Denrele was more open, and buoyant in his approach. At first, he was met with scourge, and contempt, with many displeasures expressed at the consequences that could ensue from his cross-dressing. Some years after, Idris Okuneye, popularly known as ‘Bobrisky’ entertained in the limelight too, and since then, cross-dressers have gone beyond count.
It is a surprise that in a very conservative country like Nigeria with strong religious ties, and anti-gay laws, cross-dressers have thrived, and are on the increase. First, the anti-gay laws criminalize homosexual relationships, and not cross-dressing which is merely donning clothing typical of another sex. Further, gender lines globally are blurred, such that it is difficult to set definitive rules that should apply to both sexes. Popular figures like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Young Thug have been seen putting on women’s dresses, with Kid Cudi performing in a crop top. Yet, all these men are heterosexual and haven’t been rumored to be homosexuals in any bit.
The reality is that in Nigeria Cross-dressers are gradually but colourfully leaving their dark alcoves, and challenging societal norms, and perceptions. Not only have they gained acceptance, the acceptance has come with pecuniary benefits too. Bobrisky has never shied away from showing his followers on social media how much he has. And same applies to a lot of cross-dressers in the country, thereby making it more desirous for people to venture to.
For those in support, the argument has been that cross-dressing is a form of expression, and nothing more. And since the right to expression is constitutionally guaranteed, then people shouldn’t be criminalizing their exercise of that right. For others, it is a move from our century-old customs, and traditions, and a reflection of modern realities. This is more so among the youthful population who all fly under the banner of full expression of the human nature, and right to freedom to act as one wills.
On the other side of the arguments, the concern has been the socio-cultural effects of the continued acceptance of cross-dressing in the country. Considered one of the import of colonization, and one that has been blindly accepted and imbibed, it is held to be a concept foreign to our cultural values, and norms. Worse, cross-dressing is now associated with scammers. It is said to be one of the methods through which fraudulent activities are carried out. To achieve this, men would disguise as women to unsuspecting customers, and clients, and use this as a way to set their evil intent in motion.
Further, there are concerns that perhaps cross-dressing is one of the way through which same-sex marriage will be slipped into the country. Afterall, if people are comfortable seeing a man, dress and act like a woman, then gradually, the notion that a man should be able to marry a man, or that a woman should be able to marry a woman, will gain more acceptance, thereby threatening our marriage system which is a fundamental part of our societal setting.
In descending into the arena, especially in delineating the sociocultural effects of cross-dressing in the society, and what it portends for the youthful constituents of the country, this writer will address it from two perspectives; legal, and cultural.
Legally, cross-dressing is not a crime, and by implication it is an act that cannot lead to prosecution. To support this, this writer will further rely on the fact that in the constitution, there is a right to freedom of expression, which is fundamental right that is enforceable in a court of law. Further, any act of discrimination which violates this freedom of expression can be remedied in a court of law by the victim of such discrimination. Thus, as far as the law is concerned, men who act and dress effeminately cannot be arrested for doing so.
Culturally, cross-dressing is a foreign concept to our cultural settings. The lines are well defined, and dressing, appearance, and character are fundamental parts of our cultural beliefs. This writer holds that as earlier expressed, cross-dressing is a foreign import, and one that has heavy roots in westernization, and the unending influence the west exerts over us. And the consequences are damning to say the least. For the most part, it blurs the gender lines. The idea of defined rules for dressing is for proper identification of the sexes, thus, when we breach this very essential rule, then we create room for chaos, and create a society that is very different from the beliefs that we uphold.
Further, cross-dressing stems from the belief that freedom shouldn’t be limited, and that an individual should be given the right to explore this freedom to the limit. However, this writer holds otherwise, because freedom unchecked leaves room for a lot of things to go wrong. Thus, freedom at all times should be checked, and there should be well defined, and delineated rules which people in every society should conform too. For now, those rules are well defined in our own setting, and thus, there should be observance to them.
Moreso, with the flashy lives that cross-dressers exhibit on the media, it could be a motivator for a lot of young persons to venture into it. Bobrisky is an example of an online personality showing how much economic gain could be accrued from being a cross-dresser. Given the economic situation of the country, and the hardship associated with getting employed and settling down for the younger populace in the country, this could propel a lot more persons to want to emulate these, and hold themselves to the public as cross-dressers.
Also, the rising cases of cross-dressing being used to perpetuate crimes could expose more people to fraudulent activities. While this might not sway the older generation, it could cause more harm for the younger generation as they are the ones more open, and accepting of it. And from the looks of it, there is no telling who carries out this form of expression with vile intent or with good intent.
In conclusion, the writer holds that while it legal to express oneself in these form, there are fundamental questions to be asked, and the challenges these poses to our socio-cultural standing in the country. As a country, our cultural norms, and values go to the root of our existence as a people, and a deviation from them, to accepting foreign concepts holds dare consequences for us as a people. This is more for the youthful constituents who are more exposed to these things. Fine, an individual should be given the right to freedom, but this freedom should be set within limit. The United States of America is a clear example of the mess unrestricted freedom could lead to. Those who also express concerns that acceptance of cross-dressing could lead to acceptance of same-sex marriages have very valid concerns. In fact, it is already happening. Thus, a rethink is necessary, and the long-term consequences these things have on our socio-cultural standing should be put into thought.
Abdulrasaq Ariwoola is currently a 400 level law student at the University of Lagos. He has interests in creative writing and has previously published one of his short stories on The Kalahari Review. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org