Digital Sex and Make-Up Wonders

ENGAGEMENTS: With Chidi Amuta


The rave of the moment is not only the raging politics of presidential stampede. We have to admit that the ongoing pageant of presidential aspirants is an impressive circus with limitless comic value. The material of good political entertainment. Underneath all this, however, two other endemic obsessions have recently crept in and taken root among us.

The first is an obsession with sex as a form of national sport that unites young and old alike both online and in real time. The other is a new fascination with externals, with appearance and make belief. The latter is marked by the emergence of make-up artists as mobile illusionists and new aesthetics wonder workers. There is now an explosion of make-up and disguise artistry as a vibrant new economic sub sector.

Suddenly, the strange things that have sneaked in on us have acquired their own language and assumed new names. Transgender, cross dressing, LGBTQ are the names of a strange animal in town. These are the fancy names for an open sex regime in which even toddlers are playing what has become a national game. Sometimes it takes place in full public glare or via viral social media posts in full digital colour. To compound the confusing picture, we have entered an age in which things are no longer what they seem. A make-up epidemic has come to muddle the divide between appearance and reality, between beauty and ugliness and between modern and ancient. Ancient and Modern used to be a catch phrase to capture the divide of time. Not anymore. The divide has been breached and rudely bridged by a new art form whose canvass is the human face. Welcome to the age of illusion, the season of masks. Everything looks like its opposite and everything is nothing in the final analysis.

For a long time, hardly anyone in authority seemed to care about the societal moral implications of the new epidemic of gender and sex code violations. While officialdom was preoccupied with more weighty issues of pocket books and bread and butter, a clandestine gay culture emerged and crept under the radar of law enforcement and legislative surveillance. In that hazy moral underground universe, rape and under age sex abuse and other sordid violations grew into a national virus.

The police has been overwhelmed and shocked into opening novel files to accommodate new forms of deviance and sexual criminality. How does the law deal with a pastor who commandeers a squad of hapless women and converts them into a temporary harem on lease for a short while. How does the law judge the wonder of miracles wrought in the process? Or, for that matter, how does the law deal with a man who sleeps with both his wife and their daughter until a neighbor lodges a complain? Worse still, what does the system do with a healthy young man who is a normal male in the day and an alluring ‘female’ at night , complete with a real female voice, coyness, bums and boobs of real texture? Not to talk of the money tree that thrives in between his groins at night with immense transactional value and lavish returns? So, as things stand now, no one seems so sure anymore as to whether sexual deviance and perversion constitute immorality, criminality, digital age entertainment or democratic freedom turned into license.

Gradually, a curious cultural aberration called ‘cross dressing’ emerged. It was first part comedy and part fashion until it took root as a disguise for sexual perversion and other trespasses across a badly perforated national moral canvass. Underneath the canopy of ‘cross dressing’, crimes like narcotics peddling and money laundering dropped abundant hints. A cult of dubious  ‘celebrity’ emerged to decorate these aberrations into a fad.

Something was bound to give in a society where ‘celebrity’ has become another name for embarrassing emptiness and glorified mediocrity. A daughter who dropped out of an undergraduate programme in a local university but has the temerity to go periodically naked in a fourth rate a movie set becomes a ‘celebrity’. It gets worse if she is paid enough to buy some fake designer atrocities that scream “Gucci”, “Fendi” or “Ferragamo” committed in some Shanghai backyard, the home of intellectual property desecrations.  That is how our ‘celebrities” are born! Disturbing the peace of innocent people on multiple social media platforms follows logically. The routine dishing and flaunting of videos of half clad youth is forced down our throats. A new profession called ‘twerking’ emerges which is no more than a relentless swirling of near naked backsides to the beat of wild esoteric beats. Forget the brain; no one cares what is in hour head.

Sometimes the boys fare even worse. “Junior” returns home on vacation hiding his bad grades under the disguise of braids, natty dread locks, countless dangling ear rings, nasty nose piercings and an annoying accent that is neither male nor female, neither Anglo Saxon nor African American, neither Indian nor Ajegunle Nigerian. It is time to look mum and dad straight in the eyes and tell them the new truth: junior has found a new passion: music, dance, entertainment with excessively ripped jeans to wit. But let us leave fashion and life style outrage to the spirit of the times, the grip of modernity and the license that unlimited freedom breeds. We are in an individualistic society; it is a free world. People now walk about as islands of legalised insanity. The mad man in rags at Oshodi a few years back never knew he was prophesying a future in which tattered clothes would become the fashion rave.

Cross dressing is in a somewhat different class. It is the new phenomenon of youth who start out dressing like the opposite sex. Healthy young men dressed like women or women dressed like men who gradually abandon their original sexuality and adopt the opposite.  Cosmetic surgery, sex change, voice alteration therapy, elaborate make-up, severe physiological alterations follow. The result is a quaint creature that mocks the original intent of nature and embarrasses the cult of parenthood. “Oga, your son is now a girl o!’, is the spontaneous outcry of hapless passersby and neighborhood busy bodies.

Some of the transformations are disarmingly real or surreal. In the more common ones of ‘men’ turned into ‘women’, the results can be curiously seductive and deceptively tantalizing. Hips retract. Sumptuous backsides emerge overnight and gyrate. Rebellious bosoms and breasts are held in check by retraining harnesses and extreme bras variously called ‘waist trainers’ and ‘body shapers’!. False eye lashes blinker and hallucinate the unsuspecting. Lips drip in deepest red lipstick and the practiced voice of a real damsel lures the unsuspecting into unprintable indulgences. The phenomenon of cross dressing has become a short hand for a clandestine thriving gay culture and sundry sexual ‘419s’!

Other associated industries and merchandise have grown in response to the new wave of demand. A thriving trade in false buttocks, lush hair extensions, natural hair of dead Indian and Latino women, false eye lashes and fake boobs is booming. Your reporter once wandered into a part of Balogun market in Lagos that houses shops dealing in these oddities and ‘cosmetic’ wares. The itinerant marketing foot soldiers of these products are a theatre unto themselves. “Oga, you want buy …bum or boob? What size?” Just as you try to recover from the initial shock, another more aggressive voice comes along: ”We get plenty boobs o!… This one soft well well o!” The sheer volume and variety of the merchandise on display is a disarming confirmation that there is a new rave of sexual enhancers and illusion paraphernalia.

Happily, some important people have noticed our slide into a moral wilderness. A draft legislation is reportedly in the offing at the National Assembly to ban and punish the aberrant practitioners of cross dressing and related aberrations. Known and proven cross dressers are liable on conviction to months and even years of imprisonment. Just the mere hint of that approaching legislation has sent some of the faint hearted cross dressers scampering. Some of the ‘boys’ have quickly cleaned up their dressing and returned to their smart suits, trendy jeans and T-shirts. But the more ardent ones have already invested too heavily in irreversible alteration surgeries  and gone too far into the wild to come back now.

The intervention of the House of Representatives is a welcome direction in our legislative history. The House has woken up to a matter of urgent national moral importance. As a human society, we are not just a collection of economic and political animals. We are first and foremost a human society, a moral community that ought to be held together by agreed norms and values. We are kept sane by a certain stability of values and clear moral boundaries. It is those moral guardrails that keep us all clothed, forcing us indoors when we seek to copulate or procreate.

I hear the loud voice of liberal democratic advocates. After all, it is a free society. People are free to look however they like, free to love whoever they like and anyhow they feel. What I eat does not make you fat! Strict insistence on the traditional boundaries between male and female indicate an unfree society. So, the argument goes, transgender is good and cool! After all, the gay and transgender people are not bullying the straight and compliant majority. In a free society, my freedom to swing my arms ends where your nose begins. So, why harass the cross dressers and trans people thereby limiting their freedoms as citizens?

I also hear the contrary voice of conservative African cultural nationalists in our midst. We are first and foremost Africans. Matters of sexuality belong in the privacy of individual life. Women and men are wired and sculpted differently. Men marrying men or women marrying women are abominable taboos for which the gods are bound to visit transgressors and the society that permits them with apocalyptic vengeance and incendiary calamity. African gods would smite today’s gay rights advocates and practitioners with a thousand poxes and a million maladies too gruesome to name. We should insist that the sexes remain what they were intended to be. Let men be men and women be their kind. Matters of sex and sexuality should be left behind closed doors.

There is an even more aggressive source of moral reservations. The religious army mostly of Christendom. In a country where religion is easily the largest industry, the fellowship of ‘casting’ and ‘binding’ priesthood are not finding this cross dressing, gay and trans gender epidemic funny. The emergence of this cultural curiosity has been variously used as evidence that the end is nigh. The signs and wonders of biblical end time describe a season when strange happenings become the norm. The more recent misguided and primitive versions of end time signs and harbingers of the apocalypse include the global spread of commercial pornography, the coming of 5G technology, the rise of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and the advent of jihadist  terrorism.

A key enabler of the cross dressing and LGBTQ hurricane is the cosmetics industry. It has birthed the new age industry of make-up artistry. A new breed of itinerant young men and women armed with attaché cases replete with assorted concoctions, brushes, concealers, dyes, sprays and false eye lashes are on the prowl. Prior to any social event, they have a capacity to banish decades and even generations with strokes of brushes and the magic of their trade secret concoctions.

Ahead of a television appearance, men already blessed with several years in excess of the biblical three scores and ten are transformed into dashing youngsters. See what magic a talented make-up artist can perform with the freckled and wrinkled visage of the great grandma around the corner who is instantly transformed into a glamourous damsel and star of the next wedding party.

Digital television, digital photography, multiple internet Apps and the necessary nuisance of the social media have stepped in to assist the make-up warriors in their onslaught against our sense of reality, beauty and the inevitable passage of time. You can now filter, fade, highlight, air brush, photoshop, tint, slice, tighten, pull in, spread out or mangle a captured face to the extent that the unsuspecting will swear that the illusion is the reality. Make-up artists are a cross between plastic artists, graphic artists and magical illusionists.

The make-up revolution has drastically altered our sense of aesthetics for both good and for grave ill. The striving for beauty, the natural attraction for the physically attractive and the repulsion of the ugly is part of our natural wiring. That accounts for the current universal appeal of make-up artistry.

Arguably, make up artistry is making the world a lovelier place to live in. Suddenly everybody touched by a make-up artist is either extremely handsome or supremely beautiful. A mix of the right concealers, covering of faders, the right combination of sprayers and brushes erases decades from the ageing tired face. Add a matching hairdo or wig as the case may be and the right eye lashes, lip gloss and a sprinkling of skin energisers and Mona Lisa is reborn!

But the blossoming of make-up artistry is also creating other unintended problems in a world ruled by the eruption of new recognition technologies. Digital security technologies use facial recognition to enhance security across international boundaries. With elaborate make-up on faces, people are no longer who they originally said they were. Security technologies are using techniques like iris recognition to overwrite the reliance on facial recognition alone. It is even worse with your new generation cell phones. They now use face ID in addition to numerical codes to  get activated. Too elaborate a make-up can deny you access to your very own phone if you forget your numeric ID. If your phone can no longer recognise your face, you are literally lost.

Elaborate make-up, sex change surgeries and criss-crossing dressing boundaries can find validation in some constituencies. But the choice of telling oneself the truth about your sex, age , and state of beauty remains a private and personal obligation. It is even a democratic right bound to your freedom which no one can take away. But creating a new genre of humanity by pretending to be a cross dresser affects the rights of others and the sensibilities of the society we all share. Deliberately creating and sustaining identity illusions to gain advantages or deceive the unsuspecting into parting with either their money or sexual favours could be criminal.

Once the National Assembly rolls out the new anti-cross dressing law, the prison houses should happily receive this new set of inmates and convicts. But let us keep the toilet facilities at ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ for goodness sake. And the prison uniforms should not be transgender. No unisex prison uniforms please! All make-up remain banned in the prison yard as well!

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