4 Aug 2016

US-Based Nigerian Transgender, Noni Salma Speaks On How It Feels to Be a Woman and Societal Expectations


Nigerian transgender and New York based LGBT rights activist, Noni Salma formerly known as Habeeb Babatunde Lawal in a recent interview with Joy Isi Bewaji, explained how and why he decided to leave Nigeria to become a transgender in the United States.

Habeeb was an entertainment journalist in Lagos before he left the shores of Nigeria to pursue a degree in film in New York. There he said he found a place that was accepting of who he truly is - a woman.

Noni also reveals she has always been attracted to men because dating women made her feel like a lesbian. Enjoy excerpts from the interview below.

JIB: You are transsexual because you have done the gender re-assignment surgery, right? Noni: It’s a personal decision and I don’t need a surgery to be transgender. Whatever I decide to do is personal and an individual choice. The surgery is not a requirement. Sex re-assignment is personal. Transgender is an umbrella term that has nothing to do with surgery. If a transgender has had surgery, they are called pre-op trans and after surgery, they are known as post-op trans.

JIB: How does it feel to be a woman? Noni: I have been a woman all my life. I was born a woman. It was more of accepting myself. My gender has never been in question. I was just scared of living in Nigeria while being a woman in a man’s body. I have never been a man. I don’t know what being a man feels like.

JIB: How did you deal with societal expectations? Noni: I was bullied a lot. I was attacked for being feminine every day. I couldn’t tell my parents. Everything was exhausting and I became suicidal. The only way out was to transition. I kept asking myself why I wasn’t comfortable in my skin. It took me a year of therapy to finally convince myself to go through the transition process. It was scary. I never thought it would get to a point I would accept myself.

JIB: What gender are you sexually attracted to? Noni: I have always been attracted to men. Dating women made me feel like a lesbian. A woman could be standing naked in front of me and it would be like a mannequin. I was at an awkward stage in my life and didn’t date much.

JIB: You live In New York. Do you have a lot of support there? Noni: I have a lot of support here. I live in the Bronx, and daily I am amazed at the love people have shown me. I can navigate my world without feeling trapped. Not every Trans woman is lucky.

JIB: If you meet a man you are attracted to… do you tell men you are trans? Noni: I always say it. I put it out there. Because it is shocking how holding back can hurt everyone. People can get violent at the drop a hat. ‘I love you’ can turn violent really fast when they don’t get the full picture of what they are into.

JIB: Who was the first person you told you were Trans? Noni: In Nigeria I didn’t tell anyone. I carried a lot of baggage around. Since the news got out, I haven’t reached out to my family. I am not prepared to handle their reaction right now. I know the whole of Nigeria knows by now but it’s basically not my concern. I have enough support here. I go to therapy and belong to several support groups. I am not responsible for anybody.

JIB: Are you reacting badly to the hormonal drugs? Noni: Not badly, just more emotional. I cry a lot these days. I cook a lot too.

JIB: Did your mum have and inkling that you were different? Noni: I think she was in denial. I got into trouble a lot doing feminine things and wearing feminine clothes. I tried to be someone they expected me to be for four years from 25-29 years. I used to feel disgust for trans women. But the moment I accepted the trans woman was the moment I accepted myself.

JIB: How did your name come about? Noni: I got my name from a movie. Noni was the name of the character I liked.

JIB: How does it make you feel when you hear that gays and trans are getting lynched in Nigeria? Noni: At the end of the day, I want to be surrounded by love. Nigerians have no love for the LGBT community. I have no plans returning soon. I can’t change Nigeria and her laws.

JIB: Any plans to marry and raise kids? Noni: Oh yeah… I have those plans. If it happens, fine; but if it doesn’t… I am not going to lose sleep over it.

JIB: What would you say about those going through gender issues in Nigeria? Noni: It is going to be hard but it will get better. Do what you have to do to survive but do not transition in Nigeria. There are lots of Trans women in Nigeria but some just relocate to other places after a while; or they keep it really quiet so nobody knows. I believe that things will be better. For now, I don’t practice any religion. I just practice love. People who are not even Christians show me so much love.

JIB: You just premiered your movie. How did it go? How is life now? Noni: It went well. It won an award and got a huge viewing. I am just eight months into my transition. Life is good but sometimes when I am alone, I still feel sad, especially about the years I tried to be someone I wasn’t. I used to care about what people thought but I do not anymore. I have priorities now.

JIB: Are you dating anyone? Noni: I am not dating anyone. Not yet.

JIB: What is your kind of man? Noni: I cannot stand small minded people. I want someone who is “woke”.

JIB: Who is your celebrity crush? Noni: I’ll say Ikechukwu- the Nigerian rapper and Tom Hardley.

Last words from Noni: I plan on going into acting and making more movies. No butt enhancing surgeries for me! I am not ashamed of my transitioning. My people should know that I am fine. I don’t mean to hurt or harm anybody. I. AM. FINE. And I am truly happy!

My thoughts? Live and let live.

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