Digital Borders, Diasporic Flows and the Nigerian Transgender Beauty Queen Who Would Not Be Denied
Keywords:transgender refugee; diaspora; LGBT Africa; gender identity; queer migration
In 2011, Miss Sahhara, a transgender woman from Nigeria with UK refugee status, was crowned First Princess at the world’s largest and most prestigious beauty pageant for transgender women—Miss International Queen. The then Cultural Minister of Nigeria when contacted for comment responded that if she was transgender, she could not be Nigerian, and if she was Nigerian, she could not be transgender—a tacit denial of her very existence. In recent years, LGBT people “fleeing Africa” to the “Global North” has become a common media trope. Responses to this, emanating from a variety of African voices, have provided a more nuanced reading of sexuality. What has been absent from these readings has been the role of gender expression, particularly a consideration of transgender experiences. I understand transgender refugees to have taken up “lines of flight” such that, in a Deleuzian sense, they do not only flee persecution in countries of origin but also recreate or speak back to systems of control and oppressive social conditions. Some transgender people who have left, like Miss Sahhara, have not gone silently, using digital means to project a new political visibility of individuals, those who are both transgender and African, back at the African continent. In Miss Sahhara’s case, this political visibility has not gone unnoticed in the Nigerian tabloid press. Drawing on the story of Miss Sahhara, this paper maps these flows and contraflows, asking what they might reveal about configurations of nationhood, gender and sexuality as they are formed at both the digital and physical interstices between Africa and the Global North.