Larry Oluchukwu Akusinanwa is 33 years old, was born in Nigeria and has been living in Vienna ever since 2014. His reason for coming to Austria was to find his freedom. Identifying as a trans man, staying in Nigeria was not an option. Currently, Larry is parenting his one-year-old daughter Mona, continuing his German classes and preparing for his training as a nursing assistant. He is an activist at Afro Rainbow and Queerbase, Vienna.
“I came to Austria just for one reason and that is to have my freedom of life, my freedom of choice, and the freedom to live out my sexuality.”
Larry’s path is very interesting: after finishing college, he goes to university and receives his degree in food and beverage science. After that, he applies to enter a convent to become a nun. With the end of campus life, there is traditionally a lot of pressure on young people in Nigeria to get married. Thus, entering a religious life is a way for Larry to escape that convention. What follows are nine years of convent life, strictly structured with days starting at 5:30 a.m. Larry tells us how time flies when you are there: two years of formation and schooling being an aspirant, followed by two years as postulant and then as novitiate, which mean living two years cut off from the world. After taking his religious vows, he works as a driver and finally gets transferred to Rome for further studies, staying in a community house close to the Vatican. In Rome, Larry learns the Italian language and starts to study educational science at university. Around that time he gets fed up with religious life, the community gives him a month to review his decision, and as he doesn’t want to remain in it, he has to go back to Nigeria.
“I saw a lot of fanaticism and hypocrisy. When I came to Rome I saw a lot of luxury; why does the church claim to be poor when it is so rich? So I resigned. So that was that. I went back to Nigeria, I got a job and started working for some time but I didn’t want to confine myself in any kind of doctrine, believe or way of life I didn’t believe in. So I had to leave.”
During Larry’s time in Rome, he falls in love with a fellow nun. She loves him back, but the community is very strict about it, condemning them being together. It is in Rome when he first encounters a LGBTIQ street parade, fascinated by people being out and demonstrating. The love in Rome is not the first one he has shared with a woman: it is in secondary school when he first has a girlfriend but also back then they are not openly together as it is a taboo, they have to keep their relationship a secret, and they finally give up on it. They realize that under the given circumstances it cannot work out. Coming back from the convent, the marriage issue comes up again, but by now Larry wants to nothing but to be out.
“The first thing when I got out of the convent was that they wanted me to settle down. They looked at me as wife material because I was in the convent for such a long time. But I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. People were writing me on Facebook that they wanted to marry me. But now I just wanted to be out, not half out but 100 percent out. Being out in Nigeria is not safe, it is very dangerous. So I had to move to have my life.”
Larry takes the decision to leave Nigeria, comes to Austria and applies for asylum. After two months in Traiskirchen, he arrives at Vienna. His first contact in Vienna is Die Türkis, Rosa, Lila Villa.
“It was my lawyer who told me about it, when she had my case and found out that my reason to leave was that I couldn’t live out my sexuality in my country. She asked me if I would like to meet other queer people. And I was like “What, such a thing exists?” And she was telling me “Yeah, if you’d like to meet them, I can give you an address.” When I first got there, I couldn’t enter, I was too afraid. So I went back home. The next day I went there again and a guy opened the door so I followed him in. I met a lot of people there. The best contacts I have are from there.”
When he arrives, Larry wants to transition his gender and find a girlfriend to have a child with. Larry reconsiders that, because it isn’t always easy to fall in love, but having a family is very important to him. Thus, he decides to have a child himself before transitioning: For more than a year already, he is the proud parent of Mona and is now finally in the process of transition.
Having experienced community and support at Die Villa, he has become an activist. In 2015, Larry was involved in founding Queerbase, an organization that supports LGBTIQ refugees. As there were many refugees arriving in Austria around that time, it was a huge amount of work to set up things like legal support, accommodation and transfer for them. The project has grown ever since and is the most important institution when it comes to the support of queer refugees in Austria. The following year, Larry and some fellow activists start to work on Afro Rainbow, a group for LGBTIQ people from Africa with the aim to create a space, to create visibility, to be heard and to experience community, because even within the queer community in Austria, people are still exposed to racism. Larry tells us that Afro Rainbow is like a family to him: every time they meet, they exchange experiences, eat, drink, dance. The members of the group support each other when they face any kind of problems.
Right now, Larry will start his training to become a nursing assistant. It’s a job that is compatible with taking care of Mona. He is taking further German classes and is continuing with his transition. At some point, he would like to go to Nigeria to visit his family with Mona, but not before he has fully transitioned – not before it’s safe. It is only now that he feels comfortable sharing his story, as it has taken him time to get over the injuries of the past. Larry is a truly strong and inspiring person who has been fighting for the life he wants to live.
“Don’t stop daring. Before you think about what people are going to think, think about how you feel about what you want to do. Since I came to Austria I have been happier and happier. For every decision in life I am happy. I have no regrets. I feel fulfilled with the life I am living now.”
Text: Djamila Grandits
Foto: David Meran