Now Reading
Move over, queer suffering. It’s time for queer joy.

Move over, queer suffering. It’s time for queer joy.

Nigerian anthology on queer joy wants to make you ‘Feel Good’

Cover of the book Feel Good
Cover of the book Feel Good, also known as A Feel-Good Book

COMMENTARY

By Job Tapera

Much has been said in criticism of the fetishisation of queer suffering. For a long time, queer characters in books, films, and art have been robbed by their writers of the fruits of human existence. From Ijeoma in Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees (2015) to Dumisani in Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare (2010), queer characters are often left to reconcile with endings that are, at best, bittersweet and, at worst, tragic. Tenderness, companionship, spirituality, sensualism, and joy seem devastatingly out of reach for many queer media characters.

Queer joy, as a movement, seeks to radically depart from the doom and gloom historically associated with queer media to tell stories that uplift and inspire. Proponents of the movement present queer characters falling in love, enjoying healthy familial relationships, and wholly accepting themselves and their identities.

There are trade-offs to be made here: The excessive focus on what is cloying and sentimental in queer joy-inspired works may feel almost deceptive and far removed in time and place from the realities of being queer in Africa and anywhere in the world. Equally, queer joy-inspired works tend to centre grand, epiphanic moments of self-discovery and self-acceptance, dramatic gestures of support from family and friends, and an overall view of queer that doesn’t quite hit the mark on the accuracy scale.

Opemipo Aikomo (Photo courtesy of Dribble)
Opemipo Aikomo (Photo courtesy of Dribble)

In 2023, Daniel Orubo and Opemipo ‘Ope’ Aikomo, a pair of Nigerian creatives, set out to bring together writers from across Nigeria with a deceptively simple project in mind. Writing realistic stories about queer people that, above all else, simply feel good.

“There’s so much sadness in queer media,” laments Daniel, who has worked in content creation and storytelling for the past decade. “Sad stories just hit harder, to be honest,” he chuckles.

The sentiment is not uncommon. Queer suffering is serially platformed and disproportionately critically acclaimed across a range of media forms. “But there is happiness out there, and it doesn’t have to be corny. Neither does it have to lack artistic integrity just because it focuses on joy and human happiness.”

For Ope, the project was among many projects produced by a studio he runs. The studio explores new projects that create and centre a community of practice for which there is a tangible output – a book, a film, etc. Ope calls these Feel-Good Projects, and, in his words, “the beauty of Feel-Good Projects is their infinite potential.”

The result was a refreshing re-interrogation in eight short stories of the many faces of queer joy in Nigeria. From starstruck lovers reuniting at a book festival in Lagos to a hookup that gradually turns into something more passionate and intimate, A Feel-Good Book is a breathtaking celebration of the joy all around that will leave you feeling inspired and enthralled.

Daniel Orubo (Photo courtesy of Zikoko.com)
Daniel Orubo (Photo courtesy of Zikoko.com)

The path to A Feel-Good Book was narrow and winding. The initial proposal had a long list of potential writers, representing different stylistic schools of thought but united by a desire to capture the essence of queer joy. Over time, however, reality quickly set in. “Some writers dropped out because of the expectation of joy in their submissions. They kept writing but it kept getting sad,” says Daniel. Others still were asked to submit several times after their initial submissions didn’t quite hit the mark. Daniel and Ope both display an inspiring faith in their writers, however. “I figured some of them are likely to become Booker Prize winners, so why not call them now?” Daniel, fully serious, says.

Equally, the production process had its hiccups. What was initially meant to be a physical book was quickly converted into a digital project when the cost of production and distribution became apparent. Despite this, Daniel and Ope saw a great opportunity in a digital publication. A Feel-Good Book hopes to reach 50,000 readers and is well on the way to achieving this.

Scene from the humorous short film "Hanky Panky" (Click the image to watch the film on YouTube.)
Scene from the humorous short film “Hanky Panky” (Click the image to watch the film on YouTube.)

And that’s just the beginning. In December 2023, they launched a short film, “Hanky Panky”, exploring the intersections of queerness, religion, and family. Their film was a semi-finalist at the New York Film and Animated Media Awards, a testament to the brilliance of the production and its depth of material. “Ope and I work well together,” says Daniel, “and I’m open to doing something else. I hope to see Feel Good happening yearly: I want queer stories stories to fly.”

There is no doubt, from the moment you open A Feel-Good Book, that the stories behind the eye-catching designs will fly. There are eight stories in total, each by a different writer, canonizing queer joy in a way that is accessible, relatable, and deeply human. The characters in each story love and are loved, experiencing the fullness of joy, not at the expense of sorrow, but at the expense of its romanticization. As an added treat, each story is accompanied by resplendent artwork and a profile of its writer in which the stylistic and literary choices made in the writing of each piece are explained. The message is clear: Queer joy is an ongoing conversation, and we are invited to dialogue with our writers, hearing from them about what they deem to be the appropriate representation of happy queer people.

The anthology opens with “A Bookish Affair,” a story of a reignited romance told with the poeticism of someone discovering, for the first time, what it means to love. “From the moment I saw him,” swoons the narrator, “I knew there was something different about Mazi.” We cannot help but fall in love with Mazi and the narrator. The story’s writer is Edwin Okolo, a writer and journalist who writes at the intersections of gender identity, feminism, and contemporary African culture. He describes his objective in writing the story as being to “add to the very limited canon of queer storytelling” with a “queer story that is positive, affirming, and most especially, fun.”

See Also
A Youth Day parade in 2015 in Cameroon. (Photo courtesy of achelchaikof.com)

In “The Mathematics of Hooking Up,” Olakunle Ologunro, a Master of Fine Arts candidate at Johns Hopkins University, places you, the reader, in the shoes of a young Nigerian who finds love in an unlikely place. “Everyone talks about how good the amala in Ibadan is,” the story begins, “but nobody talks about how horrible the Grindr is.” The story is chucklesome yet deeply wholesome and leaves us with important lessons about the all-consuming magic of love. As the narrator puts it, no matter how hard one may try to resist it, in “the mathematical equation of meeting people and hooking up, the body and the heart will always find the right answer.”

The theme of finding love in unexpected places is continued in “Sink or Swim.” Written as a letter to a queer man named Saint, described as “strong and handsome, resourceful, and capable of more strength than most,” the piece is a reflection on a relationship shared and a life lived. The writer of the letter introduces herself to us as a queer woman “committed to a life-long platonic relationship” with Saint. Often, when queer joy is screened, it is almost a caricature of itself, drowning in its own excessively sugary romantic affectations. Fareeda Abdulkareem, the writer of “Sink or Swim,” reminds us that true love “may sound underwhelming.” And that is okay. Our narrator’s love may be mundane, and it may be unfamiliar, and may not alternate “between dizzying joy and paralyzing sadness,” but it is real.

Sometimes, as Mariam Sule-Izuagbe points out in “Wake Me Up When Love is Enough,” queer joy can be messy. The final story in A Feel-Good Book narrates a relationship between two women that is tested in the face of devastating news. To begin with, the pairing was unique in its own right: “Ify defined it as a relationship and referred to Somto as her girlfriend, but only in her head.” The relationship is unusual to us, the readers, but for the most part, Ify and Somto seem perfectly content with what they have going on. Until they aren’t. One might wonder, then, what place such a plot might have in an anthology about queer joy. As with most other things, joy is complex and takes its form in varying, sometimes contradictory ways. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke in an acclaimed TED talk about the danger of a single story. There is no one single story of joy.

Equally, there is no one single story of queer joy.

What is true, however, is that joy, queer joy, exists for everyone. And it begins, as Daniel puts it, with “stories about humans and their good feelings .”

A Feel-Good Book is available [for free] online at afeelgoodbook.com. Also, watch “Hanky Panky” on YouTube today.

This article was first published on MinorityAfrica. It is reprinted here with permission.

View Comment (1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2022 ERASING 76CRIMES
Scroll To Top

Discover more from Erasing 76 Crimes

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading