Nigerian footballer and Studs model Chified speaks to Lou Stoppard about using her career and platform to address discrimination.
Nigerian footballer and Studs model Chified speaks to Lou Stoppard about using her career and platform to address discrimination.
Lou Stoppard: Tell me a little bit about about yourself.
Chified: My given name is Chi-Chi Igbo but I’m known as Chified, that’s my artist name as well. I was from Nigeria but moved 6 years ago. I'm a professional soccer player playing out here in Denmark. I’ve been playing here for ten years, professionally.
LS: So how did you get into soccer and to sport? Was that something that has always been one of your key interests?
C: I mean soccer is my life, you know. I’ve been playing since I could remember you know, growing up. It was really difficult because back home it’s not believed women can make it out of soccer you know? That they can make a living out of it. So I went through a lot of trouble from my dad and some family members. But with the support of my mum I made it this far. Around 2000 or 2001, my team came for a U-tournament, we played here in Denmark. My team from Nigeria came and we won the tournament. Then we came back in 2002 as well. I didn’t know that people were watching me, were watching my games, but when we came back 2002, the organisers of the tournament approached me and they were like, we like how you play. I was only 16. They said they would like me to come play for their fielders for the junior team, and I was so happy I took the offer even though I knew it was going to be difficult because it was a different culture, a different language, like a lot of things and I was just too young you know? And they were worried about my parents, whether they would let me leave. I told them, 'that’s no problem', and I went back home and then I came back. I’ve been playing here since then, since 2002.
LS: You mentioned that your mum was really supportive of you, why do you think that other members of your family weren’t as supportive?
C: It’s pretty different back home, you know, in Nigeria. Like I said, even though it’s getting better. My mum, she was into sports growing up but she went through the same thing that I went through, so she thought maybe that dream could come true through her daughter, so I guess she thought, 'why not support her you know?’ So she stood by me, she pushed me to come this far and I owe her big time.
LS: Do you go back to Nigeria quite often, or do you stay in Denmark most of the time?
C: Yeah I go home, I’m supposed to go home like twice a year but I visit home every Christmas.
LS: And how do you find people’s reactions when you go back? Are they proud of you or do they not understand what you do?
C: Of course my family are very proud of me. I wanted to prove to my dad that he was wrong. And not just him, I wanted to set an example so that they’ll have more belief in women, back home. They can let them, allow them choose their own part, choose what they want to do. Back home they believe that women are just meant to marry and make babies and take care of home, you know, they don’t believe that women can have a career or have their own life. So I took it as a challenge on myself to prove my dad wrong. Sadly he passed away in 2006, but I’m glad that he was alive to see what I became. I became what he said I wouldn’t, so that for me it was an achievement. It's getting a lot better back home, you know, women are doing things that we’d not been able to do few years ago. People are following their dreams. I played on the national team, you know, I’ve been in some other teams. I was at the World Cup 2007 and even though I’m not known that well back home as a national team player I get respected for what I do, for who I am, you know? My family are proud of me, that’s what matters.
LS: Do you hope to inspire other women to sort of follow a similar path to you and realise that they have lots of opportunities?
C: Yes, definitely. I have a YouTube. Most of my videos on YouTube are about body building and living a healthy life and keeping in shape, but sometimes I post issues that are about believing in yourself and following your dreams. Because that’s how I got to where I am. I believed in myself. But you still have to have a support from your loved ones or else you wouldn’t go far. So I try to encourage people to, you know, do what they love and most especially love yourself you know?
LS: I wanted to ask you about your YouTube videos because they’re very inspiring in the way you talk about what it feels like to be a woman and about the female form. Do you think a lot about sort of body issues? Is that something that’s very important to you?
C: I research on that topic a lot because I get criticised a lot, you know discriminated, like people have a problem because it’s not normal to be who I am. Like a girl shouldn’t be buff, a girl shouldn’t have six-pack, a girl shouldn’t wear baggy jeans or carry myself the way I carry myself. Sometimes I do ignore them but sometimes I feel like it’s important that I let them know who I am and that I’m doing what I’m doing for me. I’m not here to impress anybody. This is who I’ve been from day one and I’m happy with who I am. So nobody, I don’t need anybody’s opinion, you know? People have their opinions but I don’t want their opinions to influence my being or my existance? So I try to tell people to mind their own business you know, live your life and let others live their lives. My videos are about being different and accepting yourself for who you are. This is life, no matter what you do, no matter who you are, there is always criticism, that’s just how life is. I know a lot of people go through that problem, whereby you know, they feel like they don’t belong, you know, they feel rejected by society and that’s causing a lot of problems, mostly, in our community. You know, people commit suicide because they feel outcast. So my ‘Rather Be Hated’ video was preaching on being yourself, being different, accepting you for who you are. We don’t have to look alike. Life would be so boring, you have to stand out. I told them that you know, I was born to stand out, why would I want to fit in, you know? Some people, they ask questions, they say I should do the whole sex change thing, because I just look... I’m like, 'I’ve never given any of you any impression that I want a sex change'. I am, I feel happy, I am happy with my outer look, I love who I am, I love what I see beneath, I know that I am a mystery to many people you know, that’s how people see me but I accept myself for who I am and I love myself how I am, I’m not going to change a damn thing. I’m a woman, I’m just an extraordinary woman, you know? One of a kind, so why would I want to do something to fit in, to look like everybody else? I try to make the videos like a movement, because I went to a gathering, I don’t know what the word is called in English though, it’s like people that feel that because they’re special or they feel like they don’t belong in the society, you know? They keep mostly to themselves, the majority of them are like nerds, you know. We went to talk to them about soccer, and what it’s like to be a professional player now in another country and what not. And I looked at them I was like, this will be a good opportunity because this is what my video is about - not just about being a lesbian - it’s all about you know, if you ever feel different, if you ever feel that you’re not accepted - I played the video, the music video, I did a little talk before so that they understood what the video was about and then they watched it and focused well, it was overwhelming you know, the response, the - how they felt, I was like, ‘this is what this video’s about’. This was why I made this, you know, to touch lives, to tell people that you’re not alone, you know, they’re many of us out there but it’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be special.
LS: Why do you think people are so afraid of being different? And so eager to separate things, to have women that look like traditional ideas of women and men that look like, sort of, very narrow concepts of what men should look like, like big and masculine, whereas women have to look small and pretty? Why do you think people are so scared of moving away from that?
C: Well most of the time I feel like it’s ignorance, because why shouldn’t people be who they want to be? Why can’t they be themselves? They are talking about living their lives, being who they are, why can’t they let others be? I just feel like it’s a stereotype thing, it’s just being human, you know, it’s a normal thing. Especially back home people are so ignorant, they feel like they have to live in a certain way, you have to be this certain way to fit in, you know? And I feel it’s wrong. People should be allowed to be themselves, be who they want to be, choose their part, be who with who they want to be with. This is their life, I tell them. ‘Why are you worried about me and what I do here?’ They tell me, they try to, or put bible verses and, like, first of all, the bible says you shouldn’t judge. You’re not in any position to judge nobody, that’s the thing. Especially back home, I’m like, ‘why are you worried about where I’m going from here? Why you don’t care about my well-being here on earth? You said I’m going to hell? If I’m going to hell, I’m going alone. Why are you worried about it? You should care about me, help me now that I’m here.' I tell them, ‘I’m not saying that being a lesbian is a sin, I don’t know about that but if I’m going to hell, it is a sin, let it be my sin! Let it be my hell! Mind your business!' You know, because I get really, you know, sometimes I ignore comments and but when it comes to such comments, I don’t ignore it, I go all the way, you know? Because I need to put the message through, they need to understand where I stand because I don’t care about what anybody thinks. This is my life and I’m going to live it my way, you know? It’s a lot of criticism, discrimination. I don’t know, things just need to change, you know?
LS: Do you think that things will change? Do you think that people are becoming more sort of accepting of women who don’t look like traditional concepts of women, women who do follow their own paths, women who are gay, women who are bisexual, women who are asexual? Do you think there’s more acceptance of that now?
C: I think so, because personally I feel like because I have this stage, this massive stage on Facebook, where they debate about this, you know, people I think are more open to it, and talk about it, you know? They try to understand what people are, how they are, even though maybe sometimes there’s no reason, it’s just who you are. It was difficult for me because I didn’t change for my family, this is who I’ve been to them since I was growing up. Even though it was difficult for my mum to accept the fact, you know, that I’m a lesbian that, you know, I’m not going to get married to a dude, because that’s the tradition back home and tradition means a lot, you know, it’s like something we have to live by you know. And people care more about what that person would think, what my neighbour would think, they don’t care about your happiness, you know? And I told my mum, 'if it comes to whether I have to choose between you guys and who I am, I’m sorry you guys are going to lose me because this is who I am and I don’t think I’m ever going to change. I never changed to you guys, this is who I’ve been from day one growing up, so why would I want to change now? To become who?' You know? So like, I’m glad that we sat down, we had an understanding. Like she spoke, she did her part, but what she wants is for me to be happy, she wants me to be happy, whatever makes me happy. We had that understanding, and I feel like I’m fortunate because others have been worse, you know? There’s people out there that their family would never accept them for who they are. No matter what, you know? They’ve been thrown out, disowned and some get even killed and, you know, a lot of crazy things. So I find myself very lucky, very very lucky. Because I’m never changing for anybody. I’ve made that clear.
LS: I want to ask you a little bit about different terminology, because you said that you’re sort of keen to be you and that what’s most important to you, just being yourself, and you don’t like being sort of put in a category, but there’s quite a lot of terms that you use, things like Studs or Femmes or Butch. Do you confine yourself to any of those terms or do you not find them helpful?
C: You know Butch, I mean, that’s just a way to describe us because we’re masculine but I prefer not to be labelled. I’m just a woman that loves women, you know? There shouldn’t be more to that, you know? That I’m masculine and I carry myself how I carry myself, some tell me that I want to be a dude because I wear clothes like that. I’m like when God created Adam and Eve, he didn’t put no clothes on, from what I’ve seen, from the movies I’ve watched, he covered their private parts with grass. Clothes are a human invention, like, it’s human invention, so I’m allowed to wear whatever I wear and what I wear doesn’t define me. I know who I am, you know, I didn’t, I really don’t like the whole labeling thing because I feel like it’s causing a lot of problems, in the community, in the LGBT community, because how they’re categorising everybody. ‘Oh you’re supposed to be that, because you’re a Femme, you’re not supposed to date a Femme, because you’re a Stud, you’re not supposed to date a Stud…’ Why can’t we just be women that love women and just do it without drama and all the extra, you know? So I prefer to be referred to by my name or as a girl that loves girls, you know? A lesbian.
LS: So do you, do you work quite actively in LGBT?
C: I mean out here I don’t know many lesbians, but like on the internet world it’s like a family you know? You feel at home, when you know that you’re around people that you know have the same interests and what not. I feel a lot at home around my LGBT community. I mean, we don’t have that many lesbians, we do have but they’re not like out, they’re not open about it back home. Now they try to legalise it in Nigeria. When I was home last year, around Christmas, there was this thing that, you know, the President was about to sign, what’s it called? I can’t, I don’t remember what it’s called in English. But, he was supposed to be illegalising lesbianism and gays you know, that if you’re caught in the act or if you’re lesbian, you have to go to jail for four years. Around that period, that was when I was trying to release my music video, people were like, ‘oh this is a bad idea, you know people are talking…’ I’m like, 'this is the right time', you know? I can’t hide who I am, I can’t hide what I do. What’s the essence of living if we live in denial? I’m like, 'we’re having a lot of crises going on and you guys are worried about two people loving each other?' Like something is seriously wrong in that country, seriously. And I’m not going to pretend that, or hide who I am for nobody, I don’t care. If I go to jail for being who I am then so be it! I would never hide myself because I have a lot of friends in the US, even in UK, you know, from Nigeria, and they are scared to go home because they’re afraid of acceptance and what people would think. I’m like, I never have any problem! I’ve been this way since day one. If people have a problem with me, that’s their problem. I’m just going to go ahead and do me and they do them, you know, it’s not that, I’m causing no problem for anybody, I’m not standing in nobody’s way, I’m just living my life. So it’s really sad, you know, but this President hasn’t signed the whatever yet and I don’t think he’s ever going to sign it because people are even coming out now, you know, so I feel like the more people are accepted the better like, the earlier they’re accepted the better, you know? Because that’s how it is, there’s nothing they can change about it.
LS: What do you hope for the future? What do you look forward to? Do you hope to find a partner? Do you hope to have children? What’s your ambition?
C: I want to settle down some day, I want a family. It’s so difficult now because I travel a lot and I can’t have a steady girlfriend. In the future, I want to settle down, get married and and have my own family, that’s my biggest dream. I want a world where people will just be accepted, not just lesbians and the gays and what not, everyone. People should be allowed to be who they are. Live their life how they want, you know, choose your own path yourself. If you choose to raise a family with a woman, that’s your choice. So I just hope some day that people would open their eyes and accept it for what it is, you know? I feel like it’s getting there but it’s going to take time.