A NASTY BOY
“For many marginalized people on the fringes of society, I believe freedom is not so simplistic. Freedom is a perilous journey fraught with danger and violence for queer people. Founder of A Nasty Boy, Richard Akuson on the paradox of freedom. Richard also discusses the disconnect between Queer individuals and the Queer “establishment,” Nigerian creatives on his radar, the legacy of A Nasty Boy, “otherness” and self-forgiveness.
In 2017, you launched A Nasty Boy, beyond a gay mag, it was a publication championing social equality for LGBTQ+ Nigerians through bold genderless editorials. Whilst production has ceased does the legacy of the mag live on in Nigeria?
Yes, I believe so.
I believe A Nasty Boy has ushered in a new era in Nigeria, and certainly within the publishing and creative industries. Since A Nasty Boy, I’ve witnessed a new wave of creatives, magazines, and journals that are subversive and progressive in a fashion like never before. It’s affirming knowing, in some way, starting A Nasty Boy contributed to this.
As a victim of a homophobic hate crime fuelled by backlash and ignorance to A Nasty Boy. What message or tool would you give to someone who has been “othered” by their family and community?
I think the hardest and, possibly, the only thing to do is to find strength in your truth. To find a purpose to live for. I think, having a community of friends that are truly accepting could be very affirming in a society where you’re made to feel more alien than native.
James Baldwin once wrote, “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given, freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.” The freedom of paradox applied to your survival and experience might be interpreted as a negative freedom. Throughout your journey from the launch of A Nasty Boy to seeking asylum in the U.S. how do you define freedom?
For many marginalized people on the fringes of society, I believe freedom is not so simplistic. Freedom is a perilous journey fraught with danger and violence for queer people. So, I don’t know if Baldwin’s take on freedom is, quite honestly, obtainable for everyone. I believe for some people, the road to freedom is deadly. Should we encourage what would ultimately amount to self-harm for a quest for freedom? I’d encourage self-preservation over bravado for queer people in places where homophobia is deadly. There’s an imminent danger that accompanies homophobia which Baldwin’s “freedom” does not take into account. There’s absolutely nothing worth losing your life or compromising your safety over. We need every LGBTQ+ person alive.
What impact did conservatism and being shamed in Nigerian culture have on your creative projects and aspirations for yourself and if so a legacy?
It definitely held me back in a number of ways, but one that easily comes to mind is how hard it made it for me to realize and, eventually, actualize my full creative potential. Most importantly, however, every day, I’m reminded of how much I’m unlearning and learning. Per legacy, there is so much toxicity I subconsciously internalized for so many years that I’m finally shedding day by day.
A quote that best reflects your approach to life?
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” Bob Kerrey.
“I believe for some people, the road to freedom is deadly. Should we encourage what would ultimately amount to self-harm for a quest for freedom? I’d encourage self-preservation over bravado for queer people in places where homophobia is deadly.”
Since the launch of A Nasty Boy how do you think the landscape of queer publishing has changed and what aspects of it do you hope evolve or are introduced in the future?
In America, I see a trend – somehow, sometimes, I believe there’s a disconnect between every day queer folks and the queer “establishment.” I was complicit of this, too, when I launched A Nasty Boy, back in Nigeria. I made the grave mistake of assuming a young, femme boy in Potiskum, Yobe State, Nigeria cared about the same things that, I, or any of my very straight-presenting, privileged friends, cared about it. So, I hope we can move past symbolic representation to advocating for real issues affecting queer people such as homelessness, school dropout rates, hate, amongst many others [issues]. I hope we can go back to fighting for real survival in America and around the world.
What’s your relationship with Nigeria today given the re-election of Muhammadu Buhari and do you hope to return?
I’ll always have a strong affection for Nigeria. A big part of me still yearns for the noisy sounds of Lagos and the smell of Abuja; that rich smell of men and women bathed in Arabian Ouds. I miss Nigeria every day. It’s strange how I’m so broken by her, yet, so beholden to her. Nigeria is not an easy country for anyone, but especially so for LGBTQ+ people. But I’ll always root for her. I’ll always fight for the future I know is within Nigeria’s reach. Someday, I hope to return. I’d love to. Politically, I can only hope things get better with or without Muhammadu Buhari.
Are there any young Nigerian creatives that you have on your radar?
I’m obsessed with Vche Uba. He is, without a doubt, the future. His gender-bending take on masculinity is awe-inspiring. I spend hours just looking through his Instagram page. There’s his elevated sense of style, the politics of how he presents, and the effervescence he adds to the conversation around masculinity. Menswear designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal still remains an all-time favorite. His pacesetting androgynous take on menswear still remains as revolutionary as when he started. I’m also impressed by Papa Oyeyemi’s ambitious vision for menswear in Nigeria, it’s simply incomparable – for a lack of better word.
There are photographers like Dafe Oboro, Stephen Tayo, A Cup of Mikey, and Terna Iwar who are documenting the times and evolving pulse of Nigeria. Then there’s style blogger Denola Grey who brings a certain liberation to dressing up for the everyday Nigerian man through his personal style. On Instagram, you see his influence evidently seep through from the posh society affairs of Lagos to boys in far-flung parts of Nigeria who, like him, cinch their jackets with a sash or belt.
Living through a phase of uncertainty and possible regret how do you cultivate self-care for your mental and physical wellbeing?
I allow myself forgiveness. I’m kinder to myself, I indulge my impulses more than usual. I work out; I eat healthily. I let myself cry when I feel overcome by emotions, but then I don’t allow myself to wallow in that feeling for too long. I’m also at a place where I’m journaling a lot. Writing and reading have been more therapeutic than I ever imagined. I’m also reflecting and planning for the future. But when I’m down, I text loved ones – I tell them how awful I feel, and they remind me how amazing I am, how beautiful I am, how important I am. It feels good. It makes me laugh. It uplifts my spirits.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
Definitely a graffiti of Rihanna or Genevieve Nnaji giving me a kiss on the cheek.