Nigerian Underground Podcast Host OKTimileyin Won’t Let Queer Stories Go Untold

By Cande Duran

Queer representation in media is a step in the direction of liberation for
‌Nigerian ‌underground podcast host OKTimileyin.

OKTimileyin, or “Timi,” is the host of QueerCity Podcast, Nigeria’s first weekly LGBT lifestyle podcast, which educates and tells the stories of Nigeria’s underground queer and non-conformist community. Expanding on their featured role in HBO documentary The Legend of the Underground, Timi spoke about the film, the intention behind his podcast, the history of androgyny in Nigerian culture, and what they see for the future of the underground community.

HBO: What was your reaction after you watched the film?

Timi: During production I never knew who was in the movie. I just knew of myself and the people recorded in my studio. Then when I saw the movie I started seeing every other person from my community, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, OK, go on and represent, then!” This is a beautiful story, it goes well into putting us in a space where the world can now see us and hear our story. And maybe we’ll get enough help to progress the work that we do so that Nigeria will decriminalize queerness and then, you know, everybody will be free to be humans.

HBO: Tell me more about the QueerCity Podcast. How did it begin?

Timi: QueerCity began after a night at a queer space. I met with lots of people, and I noticed that lots of people in my own community were uninformed about themselves. I knew at that point that what I am passionate about, the liberation of queer people, would never come until we ourselves are equipped to fight for ourselves. And I felt, OK, what’s the best way I can do this? Where can I bring up this education?

Then I remembered that the only reason we lack this education is because while we were growing up, there was never any media to represent us. I never grew up seeing anything like myself, so there was no way I could have educated myself about myself. Or there was no way my parents could have educated themselves about myself or I could have even been educated by anything around me. There was no information.

HBO: You talk in the film about androgyny being very African, how Nigeria used to be much more androgynous, and you talk about the dancer Area Scatter. What are other examples from the past of prominent androgynous gender expression in Nigerian culture?

Timi: A thousand and one, and thousand and one, and thousand and one. One thing I tell people is before colonization of Nigeria as a nation, we existed as tribes and kingdoms. And in every tribe and every kingdom in Nigeria, there is a dedicated word that describes non-binary people, that describes queerness. Long before colonization. Now this is to tell you that our ancestors had always recognized that there are queer bodies amidst us.

In the community I have an older queer “historian” who really is like my mentor. She would say that every one of the Nigerian, of the Yoruba orishas (deities), is androgynous. In my own language, there is no “he” or “she” pronoun. Only the “they” pronoun exists. Even in Igbo only the “they” pronoun exists, and in most Nigerian languages. In the Hausa [culture], long before colonization, there were some people called “yan daudu.” What “yan daudu” means are the effeminate men. There were communities of people who would come together, they were effeminate in the outside culture. They left them alone, they allowed them to exist, because they saw them as a piece or part of our community.

HBO: How has Nigeria and the underground community there changed since the filming of the documentary?

Timi: Thanks to the advent of more smart phones in Nigeria, the advent of new digital spaces, — Tik Tok, Instagram space, Twitter space — all of these things coming up are giving us places to lend our own voice. These spaces allow us to come and talk as a community. So between then and now, there’s been a little shift in paradigm.

In 2018: Our anthem in the community everywhere is visibility, we need more visibility, we need more visibility. 2021: Now we're asking ourselves, “Now we have visibility, how best do we take our plea forward? How best do we use the resources we now have to push forward our movement?”

HBO: With all these digital resources now, do you feel like the underground community has become less underground?

Timi: No. The only thing is we have more people that are from homes that have sent them to the street. If you go outside in Nigeria as an effeminate man, you might not get back home. So it doesn’t mean like anything has changed.The Nigerian queer community still lives in huge fear. But then the thing is we might, we might, we might experience societal acceptance earlier than legal acceptance. I think we would have more societal acceptance before the decriminalization of queerness.

HBO: Is decriminalization on the table at all for the Nigerian government?

Timi: Nope. Capital N-O, no. Is further criminalization probably on the table? Yes. The Gambia actually took their queerness criminalization law from Nigeria, word-for-word exactly. Nigeria has one of the biggest, if not the biggest church. There are five churches on every Nigerian street, on average. Nigeria is literally a big giant when it comes to morality in Africa. That’s why I say that Nigerian government will probably add more criminalization.

HBO: What do you hope people takeaway after watching the film?

Timi: The only thing I will say, and I will keep saying to everybody, one thing I want you to takeaway is the Nigerian queer community needs your support. The world needs to start talking about things, because if you don’t it’s not going to change.

Discover resources and more about The Legend of the Underground here.

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