The joy & danger of living his truth – Nigerian transgender man

January 31, 2015 12:40 am

He used to be a woman. Born in Lagos . Now living in the US as Rizi Xavier Timane, a man. In an interview with Ebony, he reflects on his journey to
living his truth, and the burden that comes with doing it in a country (US)
that doesn’t value ‘Black men’.

I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and I was assigned the female gender at birth.
Both of these facts amounted to one thing: I had no power, no respect,
and no privilege, nor would I have much of any of these throughout my
life. Add in that I came from a less than wealthy family and was, for
all intents and purposes, a lesbian, and I became a truly invisible
human being; when I wasn’t being ridiculed or abused, I basically did
not exist.

I say “for all intents and purposes” because for as long as I can
remember, I never thought of myself as a girl. Though I didn’t know what
to call it as a young child—I had no idea there even was a name for
what I felt until I was eight years old, when two friends saw a
transgender person on an American talk show and told me about it—I knew I
was different. I felt how the boys I knew looked: masculine and tough,
not feminine and delicate like my girl friends. I preferred pants to
dresses, speaking my mind over being quiet and demure, and roughhousing
in the dirt was infinitely more compelling playing dress-up with my
mother’s clothes.

Still, this gave me no status in the male-driven, patriarchal Nigerian society. And
I grew up thinking this was my station in life: to be misunderstood and
miserable, trapped in a body I did not feel was my own and stuck in a
country that was homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and hyper-religious.
When I told my family about how I felt, they told me to keep quiet. My
mother and her church friends repeatedly performed exorcisms on me,
trying to rid me of the demons that had made me what I was.

Every day between the ages of eight and twelve, I got down on my knees
and prayed that God would change me into the boy I knew I was inside.
When that didn’t work, I tried running away from how I felt, turning
later in life to drugs and alcohol and battling severe depression along
with my gender dysphoria. I resigned myself to identifying as a Black
lesbian for the rest of my life and to all the cultural bias and
discrimination that comes with it, particularly in my country of origin,
where being gay or lesbian can lead to imprisonment.

Eventually, through a long and difficult process of self-realization, I
came to see that I did have some choice in the matter of how I
presented my gender identity to the world. That I wasn’t tied to that
female body and its attendant dearth of cultural value. Today, after
twenty surgical procedures plus ongoing hormonal treatments, I can
proudly say that I am completely male inside and out. No longer am I the
scared child living in an oppressive nation or the adult going through
the motions in a life that was not my own. I am now a heterosexual man
living in the United States and enjoying all the societal respect and
privilege I’d missed out on for so long, when I was not able to express
my authentic self.

As a man, I enjoy a higher status than I did when I lived as a woman—people

listen to me when I speak and automatically value my opinions; I no
longer feel meek and subservient, as I believed I was supposed to be. Of
course, there are other challenges now that I am living in my truth. As
a Black man, however, I constantly feel like I have a target on my
back–like I am the focal point of America’s most vehement hatred right
now. I know that I could lose this life I’ve worked so hard to build in
an instant—another Michael Brown, another John Crawford, another Eric
Garner. Black teen boys are twenty-one times more likely than their
White peers to be killed by police and the stats aren’t much better when
you turn 21. One in three of us can expect to go to prison in our
lifetime.
Whenever I leave my house now, my wife reminds me to keep both hands on
the steering wheel if a cop pulls me over, so he doesn’t think I’m
reaching for a gun. While I don’t dismiss the tragic cases of police
violence against Black women, it’s not lost on me that she didn’t say
this when I presented as a woman.

Overall I feel that much of my struggle as a transgender individual is
behind me. But as a Black man, my journey has just begun. This is not
exactly the life I signed up for. Not that I thought living as a man
would be one nonstop party, but I guess we don’t realize how serious a
situation can be until we live through it. Still, I’m grateful; despite
the trials of being a Black male in America, I am finally comfortable
in my skin, and that alone brings me a sense of personal power.

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