There are somethings that no one is expected to admit to in Nigeria. Perhaps being gay is on the very top of this list of things, well above being a fraud or taking bribes or raping children in the name of marriage. Even when you have family and friends that know you’re gay, they expect you never to say it, to bear it silently like the shame they believe it is.
I see this often. You cannot be an openly gay man and not see it. People want to shut you up. Most times, depending on how much they love you, they say it’s for your good.
Shut the fuck up, for your own good.
It can be very easy to spot their bullshit. The legal peculiarities of being gay in Nigeria hardly bothers them. They couldn’t be bothered to speak out against this law that puts you in danger. They’re complacent. Indifferent even. And you living in the shadows is at best collateral damage. Sometimes I imagine I’m speaking in colours, and they’re trying to censor my words with black and white filter.
Personally, I do not have a coming out story. In fact, I do not usually refer to myself as out. I simply say I’m openly gay because it feels exactly that way. Being openly gay can mean many things. It could mean having people I thought were friends being hostile or classmates falling back on gay slurs whenever they are cross with me. It could also mean full on physical assaults from people I’ve never set eyes on before.
Sometimes I find it hard to differentiate. Between the men that attacked me, once, on my way to class and the so called friend that said, “Sorry o but have you tried to stop this your gay thing? Like visit men of God because I believe this thing you have is caused by demons.”
There is no difference when at night, alone with the privacy of your own thoughts, these experiences come in shadows, and try to force you into a dark musty closet. Because to be frank, staying openly gay is in itself an everyday struggle.
I’ve seen this struggle overpower many; queer people leaving their closets only to crawl back in because of how much more tumultuous life gets when they begin to live as their true selves.
You lose a lot of friendships, you become disillusioned with family, you make yourself a target. Being openly gay in Nigeria is making yourself a target.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a labyrinth, and the walls are filled with picture frames, and I’m trying to find the walls with the most friendly faces, and stay close to them, close to warmth.
But even then, many of those who swear they don’t hate you only say that because they think it’s possible to love the version of you they are comfortable with, and still hate your sexual orientation.
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
There is no separation between me and my sexuality. It’s not just a sin. It is something that will always be part of me. Kayode will never stop being gay. It is not something I can change.
But I guess this is hard to explain, especially when you see the person is trying to make space for you in their bigotry. It can be very annoying, too. Especially when they make it about them, as though my living, my being me, is a function of their own lives.
On one occasion, I got into an argument with my friend over a movie scene where a gay couple displayed affection. He turned to me and he said, “I still don’t understand how a man will be following his fellow man. Tufiakwa!”
And I told him what I tell people that say such things: You don’t really need to understand it considering it isn’t your life. And even the assumption that your ‘understanding’ is somehow relevant is ridiculous. And as is the case with homophobes, he immediately began to grasp for straws.
“Oh but even they themselves, they know what they’re doing is an abomination. Oh but even animals don’t do this.“
I never miss the opportunity to dispel a myth about homosexuality. It was one of the reason I found myself to be open.
Found, from to find, to encounter or discover.
I talked and talked and talked, and at the end, he was like, “Well I don’t hate them o. But I can never be friends with them.”
I have known him since primary one. We went to the same primary school, walked home from school together, lived on the same street. We attended catechism classes together, and though we grew apart a bit, he remained close with my elder brother whom he plays football with, and so we still saw each other regularly. I could have sworn he was my friend. So I asked him, “What do you mean you can’t be friends with them? I’m gay, Hahahahahahaha. Jokes on you.”
This is what my “coming outs” mostly look like, if you can even call them that.
He came at me with, “No you’re not. You don’t behave like them. I’ve never seen you with them sef.”
“I am them,” I said. I am them. I love that I said that.
“Well if you’re gay, how come you don’t wear adult diapers.”
You know, basic homophobic bullshit.
That’s another thing about being openly gay. It gives all the homophobes an avenue to direct their homophobia straight at you. I always have to be available to answer to jokes on adult diapers, or to grave warnings of anal cancer which, and they know this for sure, is heading straight for me. I have to wade through the questions. Not literally but sometimes it feels like it. It feels like I’m surrounded with questions drenched in prejudice and hate. It feels like fighting, like a struggle, a constant struggle. Even after creating a conducive online space, I still have to face the real world where people are so quick to judge what they don’t understand. Where there are people desperate to snuff out those that speak of colour, those of us that dare to refuse to hide.
Being openly gay is a reconciliation of all these jagged pieces, putting them together and reminding myself that I do not need validation from people blinded by dogma, or anyone else for that matter.
There is nothing wrong with being myself and being open about it. It’s my way of saying I exist, and my existence is just as valid. It is a pain, a real pain. But it is the most wonderful gift I have given myself. To stand tall without worrying or fussing over who knows, or who might find out, or what they would say when they do. Who would love me and who would leave. It is a freedom in and of itself. It is me loving myself.
Ani Kayode Somtochukwu is a short story writer and poet. His work has appeared in Tuck Magazine, Enkare Review, Gertrude and After the Pause. His flash fiction, “Dope Delivery” was a finalist for the Dublin Brilliant Flash Fiction Contest, and his poems were shortlisted for the 2017 Erbacce Poetry Prize. He is currently studying Applied Biology at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology. You can follow him on twitter @kayode_ani