'Africa's male Bar­bie' speaks out af­ter Nige­ria con­tro­versy

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Across-dress­ing so­cial me­dia star dubbed "Africa's male Bar­bie" has shot to fame in Nige­ria, spark­ing a charged de­bate in a con­ser­va­tive coun­try where al­ter­na­tive life­styles re­main frowned upon. Okun­eye Idris Olaren­waju, who goes by the name Bo­brisky on SnapChat, makes his liv­ing sell­ing 100,000 naira ($317) skin-whiten­ing creams while chron­i­cling on­line his life of lux­ury in La­gos. But Bo­brisky re­ally went vi­ral in late Oc­to­ber, when an aide to Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari and a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive pulled out of ap­pear­ing with him on a so­cial me­dia panel in Abuja, the na­tion's cap­i­tal.

"The in­clu­sion of Bo­brisky un­for­tu­nately sen­sa­tion­al­izes and rad­i­cal­izes what should oth­er­wise be a se­ri­ous dis­course on new ap­proaches to me­dia en­gage­ment," said Alder Con­sult­ing, whose so­cial me­dia ex­ec­u­tive with­drew. Mean­while, Buhari's so­cial me­dia aide Bashir Ah­mad said he would be "un­avail­able for the event". Em­brac­ing the mantra of ev­ery suc­cess­ful re­al­ity star-there's no such thing as bad pub­lic­ity-Bo­brisky went ahead with the talk.

"The or­ga­niz­ers in­vited me to speak on the fact that peo­ple are talk­ing about Bob risky ," the 25- year-old told AFP, char­ac­ter­is­tic ally re­fer­ring to him­self in the third per­son ." Them with­draw­ing wasn't nice. In Nige­ria, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple here judge you so fast," added Bo­brisky, who re­counts on­line how his life­style is funded by a rich, mys­tery man he refers to only as "bae." "We are in this life once, peo­ple should be given the free­dom to ex­press them­selves."

Re­bel­lious

In the wake of the scan­dal, Bo­brisky has earned him­self a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a rebel. It's a dan­ger­ous rep­u­ta­tion in a coun­try where in 2014, for­mer pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan signed the same-sex mar­riage pro­hi­bi­tion bill, for­bid­ding not only mar­riage, but same-sex co­hab­i­ta­tion and any "public show of same-sex amorous re­la­tion­ship" with penal­ties rang­ing from 10 to 14 years in prison. But Bo­brisky, who gets over 150,000 views on each video he posts, in­sisted his ap­peal isn't be­cause he's a civil rights cru­sader.

"Peo­ple love the fact that I'm real," he said, speak­ing at his apart­ment in Lekki, an up­mar­ket sub­urb in Nige­ria's com­mer­cial hub. "It's about the way I dance, be­cause I'm a very good dancer, and my makeup." Bo­brisky has a slight build, with a close crop of black hair he wears in gelled curls. He's wear­ing red sweat­pants with a Mickey Mouse car­toon em­broi­dered near a pocket and a hot pink mesh tank­top, as he gets ready for a night out in his small liv­ing room, dec­o­rated with gold and black wall­pa­per and a crys­tal chan­de­lier. "I'm do­ing a party look, a diva look," he said as he ap­plies the first out of many lay­ers of foun­da­tion, ex­plain­ing that he was 12 when he first ex­per­i­mented with makeup. "I liked my mom's look," he said with a de­mure smile.

He fin­ishes his makeup by glu­ing gold glit­ter on the in­side cor­ner of his eyes near the tear ducts, the sparkling be­gin­ning of a swoop­ing cat eye even Cleopa­tra would envy. "Beauty is pain," he said, winc­ing as he ap­plies the chem­i­cal glue, "but this is the one that holds the glit­ter on the long­est." Bo­brisky is the ex­cep­tion in Nige­ria. Al­though no one has yet been charged un­der the 2014 same-sex mar­riage law, it has led to "real fear and abuse", said Wendy Isaack, a re­searcher with Hu­man Rights Watch, who wrote an Oc­to­ber re­port on the is­sue. "It cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for the po­lice and mem­bers of the public to en­gage in extortion and get money from peo­ple they be­lieve to be LGBT (les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, and trans­gen­der)," Isaack said.

"If you pass a law that leads to vi­o­lence with im­punity, you're cre­at­ing a sit­u­a­tion where there's lack of re­spect for rule of law in Nige­ria, and that's not help­ful," Isaack said. Still, Bo­brisky says he "doesn't bother" with the haters and in­stead is fo­cus­ing on launch­ing a YouTube chan­nel where he'll do makeup tu­to­ri­als. It's ex­actly that born-this-way de­fi­ance that en­dears him to fans.

"He doesn't have to take on a lead­er­ship role," said Olu­mide Femi Makan­juola, deputy di­rec­tor of The Ini­tia­tive for Equal Rights, a Nige­ria-based non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ad­vo­cat­ing for LGBT rights. "Peo­ple like Bo­brisky are cre­at­ing the con­ver­sa­tion. They didn't start out to be an ac­tivist, but it hap­pened. That's one of the pow­er­ful things of pop cul­ture." Transvestites are al­most non-ex­is­tent in Nige­ria, while gays are reg­u­larly the vic­tims of vi­o­lence.

Snapchat celebrity and Nige­rian male Bar­bie, Bo­brisky, poses in La­gos.

Snapchat celebrity and Nige­rian male Bar­bie, Bo­brisky, poses in La­gos. — AFP pho­tos

Bo­brisky, ap­plies eye­liner in prepa­ra­tion for an event.

Bo­brisky, poses in La­gos.

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