Bisi Alimi, Nigeria’s foremost LGBTQ activist has explained in a recent interview why he doesn’t identify as a feminist.
The gay rights activist who fights homophobia, racism, and sexism in Africa and beyond, had an interview with Leah Fessler for Quartz At Work.
In the interview, Alimi explains why he doesn’t think men should identify as feminists, how a stranger in an airport taught him self-advocacy, and why dressing up as a woman is one of the best ways to learn to be a man.
Bisi, who underwent gar exorcism at the age of 17 in Lagos said coming out as gay was terrifying.
It was terrifying. I thought it was going to put an end to my career.
But I was saving myself. At 17, I attempted suicide and I had severe mental health issues. So I thought, either I come out and I kill myself, or I don’t come out and I kill myself. It wasn’t a hero thing, or a courage thing, to me. And I’m not being humble. I wasn’t doing it to be courageous. I just wanted to save myself.
“Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?” Alimi was asked.
The issue of gender inequality has also been part of my advocacy.
I guess it is because as a man who is black and gay, I know what it means to be shortchanged, though this experience of mine is in no way equitable to the aggressive suppression of women.
At least I can never deny the privilege I have as a man, though I ended up losing that for being black and gay. So this experience has always shaped my understanding of gender inequality.
What I know is that the Me Too movement helped to gather momentum for the issue. It drew the attention of many men who are either ignorant to the issue or knew about it and have excused it. It also helps one to see how endemic the situation is and really gave a lot of us the opportunity to stop being passive allies, to actually stand up and speak with the understanding that we are just a backup as men in this battle and we can only support and not take over the battle.
When asked if he identifies as a feminist, he said:
No, I am not a feminist, I am a fem-ally.
I don’t think men should be feminists and I have written about this. I find it a micro-aggression for men to call themselves feminist. I mean, we represent everything that led to the feminist movement in the first place and I don’t see the reason why we want to still occupy that space.
From my experience, feminist men are mostly patronizing and trying to shape the agenda of women. They are the kind of men who want to be part of the women’s movement by telling women how to say things so [men] don’t get offended. It is like white people joining black movements and wanting black people to be sensitive to their feelings. I mean, the reason black people are organizing in the first place is because of you.
I strongly believe in being a responsible ally to women’s struggles, and as far as I am concerned, I don’t think there is a better way to be a feminist. I am a man, I have no idea how a woman defines her feminism and I think it will be completely disrespectful and patronizing for me to have an opinion when I’m not asked. The other thing is, a lot of men are feminists because of their sister, their mother, their best friend who is a girl, their daughter, their wife, and I kind of wonder, “What if you are a guy with brothers and from a male, same-sex family with no woman in the picture? Will your view about gender inequality still be the same?
On what he does on a daily basis to advance gender equality, Bisi said:
I had a personal experience once, as a public speaker: I was invited to an event in America where I was expected to pay for my own trip to attend this event and speak. I did not ask them to invite me in the first place. So when I told them I don’t have money, they agreed to pay for my flight and hotel and I was specifically told to make sure I book in economy class.
At the airport on the day of the trip, I made acquaintances with a white guy because he was reading a book I just finished reading. We both knew we were going to New York City but we had no idea we were going to same event, which we discovered when we shared a car to the hotel.
During the course of our conversation, he told me he had flown business and he is being paid. He asked how much I was being paid and why he didn’t see me in business; I told him I flew economy and I am not being paid. I told him my experience with the organizer.He took it upon himself to stand up for me when it mattered and I was finally paid. This had a strong impact on my life and activism, I learned to use my platform and privilege to challenge attacks on others. So a few years back, I refused to speak on an all-male panel. And I don’t stop there—I have a database of women I recommend to event organizers when they tell me they can’t find women.
I strongly believe that my platform is not just to promote myself, but also to make everyone invisible visible. In this age where we think the experience of women is not valid, and even worse that of black or trans women, it therefore becomes the responsibility of those of us with opportunity to create opportunity for others.
Alimi was asked: “What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?”
The 43-year-old replied:
Being gay. I think this was the biggest anxiety I had as a child and this played out in how I learned to express myself.
I was so scared that I would be less of a man, and I remember while I was young and boys calling me their wives.
I feel so sad because I had this idea of the second-class nature of women and I never wanted to be like that.
I saw how my uncles were treating their wives and the idea of being a girl was just upsetting, and being told that because I act like a girl I would be a wife was just so annoying.
I remember trying so very hard to be a man, though I have no idea what that means. But I tried. And every time some says I am like a girl, I feel really upset and I cry. Growing up, it was very much about, would I be the right man? Would I have a deep voice? How is the best way to walk like a man? It was like a disease eating me up inside and was driving me to the edge.I think aside from struggling with my religion and sexuality, the other thing that makes me who I am today is that I went through exorcism when I was 17, because I just wanted to be a real man.
Bisi Alimi’s full interview has been published on Quartz At Work. His opinion shared on the site has been praised by social media users.