by Fọpẹ́ Òjó

LS introduces the discussion and talks about how she believes that Nigerians jet themselves by totally shutting themselves off from necessary conversation and dialogue that help us learn about the struggles of other people, the type of conversations that show what these people are going through and help us understand them and develop empathy for them.

Oláòkun Sóyínká is the moderator of this session with Ima Da Silva, an Angolan transgender woman.

“I’m really happy that we have our own Caitlyn Jenner.” Dr. Sóyínká says.

“Who is Imani Da Silva?” he asks.

“I am first a human being and yes, I am a transgender. And I’ve always felt like I was a girl since forever since I was five. When I was five I had my first crush.”

Imani Da Silva is a pretty woman. Her face is oblong and she is light-skinned. She ties an ankara scarf on her head and it suits her. She has lovely glowing skin. And slender legs and is dressed in an ankara skirt and a blouse. She wears light makeup and light red lipstick.

When she talks about happiness she says “We often forget that life is not a rehearsal, it’s today. I decided to be the change that I wanted to see.”

About the people who have influenced her and helped her through her journey, she says “I was always lucky to meet people who saw me for who I am personally and professionally. It’s so unfair to say that I got to where I am on my own.”

She talks about her mother. How her mother was a strong woman who never judged her or her brother or her sister. She later says that the kind of woman that she is has been majorly influenced by the kind of women that she grew up with.

Dr. Sóyínká asks her about the surgeries.

“This wasn’t a choice. You knew you were gay.” Dr. Sóyínká says.

“I had the sex reassignment surgery four years ago and it was the best decision I ever made.” She answers.

She also talks about growing up and religion.

“When I was a teenager I was so religious. So I had this fight inside me about what was right what was wrong what I had been told and what I felt.”

There are many questions from the crowd. This Aké audience is a particularly quiet one. It is as though a very fragile bubble is being passed around from person to person and the audience is being careful so that it does not burst.

About religion, Imani says  “I realise that I don’t need a religion to identify myself as a person. What matters is how you treat the people around you for me the biggest sin is to hurt another human being.”

Another person asks about how female people expect her to be for being transgender and how she deals with the pressure.

She answers and explains that some transgender people have pressure to be as female as they can so that they can convince other people that they’re really women. They end up doing too much makeup and trying to live up to the standards of what society defines a woman as for acceptance.

She says that she doesn’t need to have wide hips or a huge backside to be woman.

About privileges on being born male and lightskin she says “I really believe that it is such a big privilege to be woman in Angola because women are so empowered. Women are strong and are made to believe that they can do anything. Girls are told to study their books.”

She is asked why she had to go as far as the transition, why she didn’t just remain a gay man instead of going through the whole process of changing.

She says that what we first have to do is check the many effeminate men and ask them if they are happy with being effeminate. Or if they want to change to women. She talks about some of her gay friends who are happy with being gay men. She says they’re gay and happy to remain men.

On how she relates with the trans community, Imani says she is the spokesperson of a community that works with such rights. She was approached by such community to be their spokesperson and she took it up.

“When there’s phobia. It’s because people are scared of what they don’t know.”

She goes further to say that respect is the most important thing. Teach gays and transgenders to love and respect themselves, to love and respect others. Then they will get the love and respect because in life, you give what you get.

She also speaks about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Gender identity is one thing. Sexual orientation is one thing. How I feel about my gender is different from who I have feelings for.”

She explains that you can be a transgender man or woman and still be attracted women or men.

“I didn’t wake up one day and say I want to be barbie. Nobody told me to wear lipstick. And nobody told me to wear a dress. This is how I felt.”

On the surgical process of changing genders. She talks about how impatient transgenders can get with the process.

“You have to be patient through the process of changing. You have to be patient and know that you will get there.”

Someone asks her about her sexual relation with men, if her transition is complete yet and if she has wild orgasms with the men that she gets sexual with.

“I feel like I was born this way. And I thank my doctors everyday ” she answers simply. And the crowd laughs.

When she talks about motherhood, she says “I believe in marriage. It was never part of my dreams to have a child. I don’t feel like I need a child to be complete. Some people tell me that would change when I meet the right person. But I just don’t feel like I need children to complete.”

A man asks about how long it takes for her to tell the men that she goes on dates with about her history.

She says that it depends on how serious things have gotten. But that respect is always the most important thing in her dealings.

It is a very enlightening session and Dr. Sóyínká and LS thank her for her time and LS jokes about how this Aké audience is probably the most quiet and gentle one that she has ever witnessed.

Imani Da Silva is courteous and lovely as she exits the stage.

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