Tom Kola was five years old when he realised he was a boy. But it took more than two decades and a move halfway across the world before he would have an official document to prove it.

Growing up in Nigeria, Tom did not have the language to articulate his trans identity. But he understood that being raised as a girl did not feel natural. Still, relatives would tell him he was one and needed to act like it – including in the clothes he wore and the chores he did.

“My parents wanted me to be calmer, docile, less active and less confrontational because this was how they thought girls should behave,” says Tom over video call from the United States, where he relocated in 2019 in the hope of finding a more accepting society. Now aged 25, he is an MSc student and living as a trans man.

“I carried this turmoil within me all alone for years, constantly going back and forth between accepting what was seen as ordained and the realisation and actualisation of self. I buried it for a few years but the turmoil, wonder and feelings always came back.”

Around the world, transgender people suffer harassment, discrimination and physical violence as a result of their gender identity and Nigeria is no different. But compounding the social stigma are the formal and officially sanctioned laws that govern gender identity in the country.

In Nigeria – where homosexuality is criminalised and same-sex attraction is widely considered morally unacceptable – little is said about trans identities mostly because there is a misconception that these identities are non-existent. As a result, trans people are often erroneously considered gay; many are exposed to homophobia as a result.

In addition to the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, there are other laws that could affect trans people. Section 405 of the Penal Code, which applies in northern Nigeria, provides that a male who dresses like a woman in a public place is a vagabond and section 407 prescribes that the punishment for being a vagabond is one-year imprisonment and/or a fine. There is a heavier punishment of two years imprisonment and/or a fine for repeat offenders under section 408 of the code. The Sharia Penal Code, which has been adopted by 12 northern states, also prescribes prison terms or fines for vagabonds – men who dress in women’s clothes or women who dress in men’s clothes.

Read the full article about global transphobia by Timinepre Cole at AlJareeza.