As we all know, a gay person is someone attracted to people of the same sex while a ‘fag’ is a homophobic slur used to describe the said person. I have long been aware of my homosexuality ever since primary school when I didn’t even know what it was called or what it meant. Growing up I would wear my mum’s makeup, wear her shoes, walk and talk in the most effeminate way but it didn’t stop there, I would also go on to make out with some of my classmates in boarding school. Most of what I did growing up weren’t wrong they were just me being me, but I wouldn’t have known that.
I wouldn’t have known that, because instead of being made aware of the fact that I was gay so I could love and work my way through it I was called ‘fag’, ‘boy-girl’, ‘batty-boy’ and lots more. Now, the problem is, when you are first made aware of your identity through a lens of bigotry and prejudice instead of a lens of humanity and love; you spend the rest of your life trying to deny that identity, hide that identity, be defensive or even change that identity unless you are lucky enough to get a reawakening later on.
You try to get into sports or you try to get a girlfriend like your other class boys so questions are not asked. You try to listen to hip hop/rap cause that is what other boys are doing and you constantly check the way you walk and talk to make sure you are not giving anything away and that is the rest of your life.
I am reminded of the scene in Love, Simon (a movie you should go see if you haven’t already) where Simon asks his mum after he was outed if she knew he was gay the whole time and she said something along the lines of “I knew you had a secret. When you were little, you were so carefree. But these last few years, more and more, its almost like I can feel you holding your breath… you get to exhale now, Simon.” This for me encapsulates it perfectly when you internalize your identity as being a ‘fag’ and not ‘gay’ you shrink, you are like a bird who cant fly cause you are trapped in a cage, you hold your breath and you can never exhale.
Knowing of yourself as a fag before knowing of yourself as gay is akin to black people in America knowing of themselves as ni**ers before knowing of themselves as black. Today, despite the difficulties black people around the world still face, they can acknowledge and live in their blackness, live in their truth and still aim for the stars because they have seen people like them such as Barack Obama, Beyonce, and Oprah Winfrey do just that. This is because they know themselves now not to be ‘ni**ers’ but to be black people with a culture and history worth reveling in.
Sadly, gay people in Nigeria and in many countries around the world are not that lucky. For many of us, we have to make a decision between accepting our queerness and losing family, friends and literally everything or stifling your queerness so we can fit in and live a faux-happy life. Many of us have internalized all the homophobia from our childhood that we still see ourselves as fags, as outcasts, as people with a problem that either need curing or needs moderating which is of course not the case.
I am trying to re-imagine a homophobia-free childhood for myself and for other gay people I know. How different would my life be now? What would I have achieved if I spent my time loving myself and appreciating the things I am genuinely interested in instead of trying hard to fit in? Would we be so ashamed of ourselves or would we bask in our truth? I will never know the answer to that because homophobes and bigots have deprived of us that but it is imperative on us to make sure that the people coming behind us experience a homophobia-free childhood because even though it doesn’t mean it’ll all be perfect, they’ll definitely turn out happier and that’s a start.