I Don’t Think Gender Is A Useful Concept — Man Like Osarumen

February 7, 2021

What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up.

“Man Like” is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.


The subject for today’s “Man Like” is Osarumen Osamuyi. He’s a tech investor, a music composer and industry analyst. Osarumen talks about dropping out of school to pursue music and disappointing his parents at the time. He also talks about the struggles he faced during the transition from leaving school to his rise back to glory by building a career in tech, reviving his music career and the release of his new EP. He closes off by telling us about being polyamorous and why he doesn’t think that gender is a useful concept.   

When would you say you had your “man now” moment?

To properly explain this, we need to go back a bit. As a child who started out life with my parents being proud of me, dropping out of school was painful for everyone around me. Initially, I was along with my parents’ plans for me  — in secondary school, my dad used to talk about me getting a PhD at 25  — but as I got more exposed, I realised that the path they wanted for me was the least exciting way I wanted to live my life. I dropped out of school to go compose music, and that was the first time I ever heard my dad cry. He became microaggressive, like during morning prayers, he would switch from talking to God to talking about me. Or being compared to my childhood friends who finished school, graduated and were now doing NYSC. All these created a relatively hostile environment for me that when I saw a tweet that TechCabal was hiring writers, I applied. On 6 January 2016, I told my father I was moving from Abuja to Lagos and he let me move. That’s how I started my journey to sleeping on the office couch. 

Wait. What? 

Coming from a super privileged upbringing to basically earning ₦40,000 a month was not an easy experience, but it was one of the most genuinely happy moments of my life. I remember sleeping on the office couch and waking up at 6 a.m. to get ready before my colleagues resumed at work. I was on a journey to prove to my father that he was wrong about whether or not academics would make or break me. I was also on a journey to prove that I was better than the people my father said were better than me because they finished school. 

What in the name of comic book villain origin story is this? 

Lool. This is why, in the past, when people met me I had a big chip on my shoulder: I thought I was the greatest thing on earth and that nobody understood that. I felt the need to show them that not only was I smart but that they were also foolish to disagree with me. Thankfully I’ve since grown up. I became a “man” through the process of moving out from my father’s house to progressing to the stage where I no longer felt the need to prove myself to anyone. 

Interesting. Did you ever earn your parents’ respect?

Yes. I’m now friends with my father again. It has become a relationship beyond “Oh he’s now doing well” to one where they started to communicate their disagreements with me. I suspect this change is because I’m doing better than the people that they compared me to.

I’m dead. What was hardest about moving out?

I think that would be the first time I failed. I remember getting promoted to a new role and I wrote a flowery blog post about the job and its importance to the world. However, four months into my appointment I hadn’t shipped a single one of my deliverables. In hindsight, this was a no brainer because I had no experience and I had moved up the ranks too quickly. I failed at that role and quietly left for school. After I was done with school, I came back and resumed at my old role before the promotion. Somehow everyone at the company just kept quiet and moved on from my failure.

Damn. 

Until that point, I had taken it for granted that whatever I did turned out great. Learning I was not invincible was painful, but it also made me realise that I had to work really hard to get good at anything.

I feel you. With all of this knowledge, does anything still scare you? 

I’m scared of stagnation or failure. One of my biggest fears is failing as I did in the past. It’s super scary now because such a failure will be very public and very severe. I’m also worried that I’ll reach a point where I’m no longer growing quickly.

My old boss once told me: “you can assume that you’re a smart kid and the youngest person in every room so you’re making lots of progress. Then you turn 30.” Most of my career has been built around being the youngest smartest person in the room but I’m getting closer to 30. While it’s a fake standard to hold myself to, I do think that I have to do something globally significant before getting old. The thought that I might not makes me tremble.

It seems we’re all in the same WhatsApp group.

Lol.

On the flip side, does anything give you joy?

I haven’t been happy for a long time. However, seeing my “work” have an impact on the real world pleases me. For example, roughly once a year, I write a long essay about the tech industry, and it makes a bit of a splash and that pleases me. I’m also pleased when I’m making music even without any financial rewards. 

Lmao. You and this music. Tell me about it. 

I composed the score for a VR film that got nominated at the International Documentary Film in Amsterdam. I’m really proud of it because the entire score was made in a couple of days. I’m also releasing an EP this year under my music act: LMBSKN. I’m excited to live my old dream and build a career as an artist, and I’m singing on some of the tracks I’m releasing.

Wait. What? 

I’m excited about this project because I’ve found my sound. I’ll know I’ve succeeded when I’ve built a high-level tech career alongside a successful music career.

Love it. 

I’m curious about your style. You’re the first man I saw with painted nails. 

Funny story about the nail thing is that it happened during a fight with my ex-girlfriend while we were trying to reconcile. On that day, we went to a nail bar, and I thought it’d be a funny joke to get my nails done to make her laugh. And laugh she did. Mid-laughter, I kind of looked at my nails and was like, okay… I like the way this looks and so it became a thing. 

Interesting.

The truth about my personal style is that I have periods of obsession. Sometimes, I might be obsessing over turtlenecks. Another time it’d be waistcoats. My most recent fascination was kimonos and I wore them everywhere. I’m currently in the long sleeve dress shirts, jeans and sneakers phase. My dressing reflects how I’m feeling inside at different points in time. And as cliche as it sounds, my dressing is also a reflection of the fact that I do think myself different from other people.

Do you think you’re a different man from other men?

I don’t think gender as a concept is very useful. On some level, there’s definitely attributes and similarities that I have in common with other men. However, I find it increasingly ridiculous that we try to put people in neatly labelled buckets. I think gender definitions are too straitjacketed when in reality, the world is a lot more complex. I don’t think gender or masculinity is a meaningful concept because it means so many things to different people. There are individual dots in the entire construct for each person that are similar, but you can’t add that into a coherent concept that defines masculinity. In fact, each generation has a different idea of what it means to be a man. The only utility I’ll say gender has is organizing society into useful buckets so it can be more coherent. 

I—

What would you say is different about being a man in Nigeria? 

I think Nigerian men like all men are a product of their society. I don’t think you can say that Nigerian men are uniquely good or bad along a certain axis because a man who grew up in Ikoyi probably has more in common with a man who grew up in Kilimani, Nairobi than he does with another man who grew up in a less affluent part of Lagos. Again, I don’t think that the concept of a Nigerian man is a coherent one.

Fair enough. 

Tell me about your love life.

I’ve been really bad at relationships in general so I’ve had to mature emotionally. I’m still maturing. When I’ve loved, I’ve often not paid enough attention to my partners needs, instead,focusing more on what I imagined their needs should be. Additionally, because I have spent a lot of time explaining myself to the world, I have often reacted strongly to cases where it felt like my partner was misunderstanding me. However, I’m glad that things are way different in my current relationship and I’m learning every day. I should add that I’ve been polyamorous, aka an ashewo. 

Ahan. Spicy. Don’t you get jealous?

All the time. 

Lmao. Then why were you there?

I don’t think polyamorous relationships preclude the concept of jealousy. The only difference is coming to an understanding that the way to respond to jealousy is not by raising your voice or by throwing a tantrum. The solution is to talk about it. People get jealous in non-romantic relationships all the time, but nobody pretends that’s enough reason to have only one friend.

Polyamory sounds like a recipe for premium tears.

It is. But the heart wants what the heart wants.

Is your current relationship polyamorous?

I prefer not to speak.

Lmao.

Before I go, what’s something people expect you to like that you don’t like?

I’m many things to many people. Those who interact with me in professional settings never expect me to be able to have fun in a very carefree silly way. But a few times in a year, I dedicate time to letting myself go — parties, music, and all-nighters. Those who meet me as a producer or DJ are often surprised that I’m leaving our overnight studio session to head to the office. Sometimes, my different sides don’t quite make sense together. It reminds me of the Walt Whitman line, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; (I am large. I contain multitudes).”  



Check back every Sunday by 12 pm for new stories in the “Man Like” series. If you’d like to be featured or you know anyone that would be perfect for this, kindly send an email.

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