Negotiating Identity: Sexuality and Gender in Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing (2017)

Author: Nurayn Fola Alimi, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Published: December 24, 2019

Citation: Alimi, N. F. (2019). Negotiating Identity: Sexuality and Gender in Olumide Popoola's When We Speak of Nothing (2017). IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 8(1).


“Sexuality” and “gender” are two cultural indexes regarded by gender and culture theorists as well as their allied feminist critics as fundamental to the construction of the Self. It could be observed however that, the spaces and platforms for the construction of identity are diverse and complex when viewed from the psychosocial platform. In this discussion, I elect to interrogate Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing (2017) as a textual space where sexuality and gender indexes are yoked within psychosocial experiences to complexly negotiate personal identity. I engage the concepts “sexuality” and “gender” with the aim to use these as tools to examine the construction of an identity for a transgender African in diaspora in the novel. “Place of negotiation” and “self-discovery” are analytical variables understood in this discussion as inherent in “the analytic third” espoused by the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden, illustrating also “the third space of enunciation” explained by the postcolonial theorist, Homi K. Bhabha. Thus, standing on a fair blend of mainstream psychoanalytic and postcolonial critical platforms, I read When We Speak of Nothing (2017) as a postcolonial diaspora text-space where identity becomes a phenomenon emerging through a psychosocial process for the diasporic African person. In this novel, the protagonist's identity emerges through a process that unfolds within a space of complex dialectic tensions between his sexuality consciousness, his gender category unconscious, and the sociocultural environment. In this essay I conclude that sexuality and gender, as they play significant role alongside the protagonist's experience of cultural dispersal, are fundamental indexes for mapping his identity and self-discovery as an African in a diasporic space.


self-discovery, gender, identity, sexuality, the analytic third, the third space