Today I found out that the main cable provider in Africa won’t be broadcasting I Am Cait anymore, because the Nigerian Broadcast Commission has a problem with transgender representation. The same thing happened with I Am Jazz last year. This is upsetting, because Africa desperately needs to be exposed to more LGBT representation, but also because a South African company’s programming is effectively being censored across the whole continent because of ‘morality’ concerns in a single country.
Broadcasting I Am Cait apparently goes against the clause of Nigeria’s broadcast code that states that broadcasters “shall not transmit any material that is morally or socially unacceptable for public consumption”. Shows about trans people aren’t the only forms of media deemed unacceptable though. Songs like Anaconda and Drunk in Love have also been flagged as media that is not to be broadcast. Programs about sex education can be flagged as inappropriate if they contain information about sex toys or even condoms.
So clearly there are multiple issues with the way the Nigerian broadcast code flags media as obscene, but the issue of shows like I am Cait and I Am Jazz being pulled from the air needs special attention. By forcing television providers to stop broadcasting the show, the government is telling people that being trans is inherently morally reprehensible, and that there can’t be value in sharing the stories of trans people. Trans people in Africa lose what little representation they had, representation that in all likelihood would have changed negative attitudes towards trans people, an especially marginalised group across Africa.
Most African countries continue to criminalise being gay, or gender non-conforming, and Nigeria even bans activism and allyship. How will attitudes or laws ever change if we can’t even see the most basic representation in the media? The people involved in the decision making process leading to the shows being banned here act as if the shows are some kind of propaganda, designed to make us all want to move away from the gender we were assigned at birth. As if the concept of being gender non-conforming couldn’t occur to Africans without input from the West, and once they give us the idea we’ll all be bound to declare ourselves trans.
But that’s simply not how it works. Anyone who feels uncomfortable about the gender society has assigned them based on their biological sex is going to feel that way whether or not they can watch Caitlyn Jenner go about her life. What we can actually change is the transphobia that is so rampant in Africa, by showing people that trans people are just people. Not evil, or predatory, just people who want to go about their daily lives with the same amount of basic respect afforded to cisgender people.
Not to mention, the whole idea that Africans are super heterosexual and always cisgender is an ugly vestige of colonialism. White people needed to justify lynching black men, so they accused them of raping white women and constructed this idea of the hypersexual black man. This also allowed for the convenient sexualisation of black women, which was used to justify white men’s rape of black women. The fact that African leaders are now perpetuating this idea is unsettling to say the least.
Most upsetting to me is the fact that the cable provider bowed to Nigeria’s wishes so easily, and changed programming across the continent as a result. Even if they had to pull the shows in Nigeria, I wish they would have continued to show them in other countries. The LGBT community gets so little positive representation in Africa, whereas I’ve seen multiple movies on TV about the ‘evils’ of lesbian women. An even stronger position would have been to refuse to pull the shows in Nigeria, unless they pulled the channels the shows are broadcast on, or stopped broadcasting to Nigeria altogether, but I understand why they might not have wanted to take that stance. I can only hope that slowly, we can develop ways to increase trans and general LGBT visibility in Africa until we’re all seen as equals.