This is part two of the guest blog by our friend “JC” who lives in Nigeria. He is gay, but hidden. He stays to create change within his country. The first part was his message to the people of Nigeria, this part is to the rest of us. Part one is here.
Like many other gay guys, by the time I was in my early to mid teens, I was fully aware that I harbored a strong sexual attraction to men. I had also by then realized that in my society it was taboo, a dirty, disgusting thing that no one liked to talk about, that everyone liked to pretend did not exist. I had by now through playing around, discovered one or two other boys around my age who “liked what I liked”, we were by then already deeply conditioned to believe that what we were doing was abnormal and unspeakable, we fought our innermost feelings, prayed and fasted, contemplated suicide, performed all manner of rituals – a friend of mine recently told me that when he was 16 upon realizing he was gay, he went out butt naked in the middle of the night in pouring rain to pray for a cure to his “sickness which caused him to lust after men” needless to say, his prayers were answered with a raging bout of fever and chills while his sexuality remained firmly in place; while we hoped that we might be cured of our horrible affliction.
Nevertheless, in my own case time and time again, I succumbed to the power of my sexuality all the while begging God to either ‘cure’ me or end my life and free me from this endless cycle of sin. Those were dark and terrible days which I fought long and hard to emerge from. You see, I had been taught by my church and my society that my sexuality was an evil and deeply terrible thing, that it was of the devil. Yet deep within me, I also struggled with the irony that this was none of my fault and that this was simply what my innermost yearnings leaned towards. All through my teens, at the time when other young males are mainly pre-occupied with matters of the fairer sex, I found that in order to “blend in and belong”, I had to get a “babe” like everyone else, I therefore hooked up with one of the several available babes and went through the motions, I learned to make out with them real good; all the while knowing deep within me that I really preferred men and all the while being torn apart from the inside by deep feelings of guilt.
A few other guys who shared my sexual preference had made the costly mistake of letting their true feelings show either by confiding in other guys or making advances at them and were now the subject of scorn and hatred as well as stripped bare of every last shred of dignity. I was terrified of being found out by either friends or family members. I therefore cowered deeper and deeper in my closet while clinging tightly to the false façade of heterosexuality that I had built up all through my teenage years. I still had romantic liaisons with men but it was done with utmost discretion and deep secrecy. Looking at men as well as several of my other gay friends from the outside, you would never in your wildest dreams have guessed that we carried the burden of this secret buried deep within us. On the outside we were boys in our late teens and early 20s doing just what was expected of us at that age, enjoying our youth, chasing the girls and generally having a good time.
All too soon, we found ourselves in the University. For many of us, it was our first time away from home, away from the constantly monitoring eyes of our parents. We quickly immersed ourselves in several on-campus activities and got busy with the daily routines of undergraduate student life. Many of us in a bid to further blend into this exciting new world, continued to pretend that we were straight, we found more girlfriends and kept up the charade.
For me, I had at this point gotten tired of all the tiring pretense and mind numbing deceit, I took solace in my books and joined a very devout fellowship which kept me fully occupied and which I used as an excuse for not having a flock of girls around me despite my obvious handsomeness. This proved highly effective as everyone assumed I was devoted to my studies and religious obligations and therefore had no time for girls. I was soon known as the bookish, churchish (or churcheous) boy who had no time for girls or wild campus parties.
Midway into my university education – at a time when the internet was becoming more and more pervasive, a friend introduced me to a couple of gay dating sites and quickly, my network of friends grew beyond my immediate vicinity and even outside the shores of Nigeria. I rapidly realized that there were actually many many people who were like me and my previously lonely bunch of friends, who shared the same sexual orientation including many who had wives and children but secretly craved a man’s touch. As we swapped stories, I realized that most of them like me had no choice as to the direction of their sexual orientation. These friends as well as others I met through them soon formed the core of my network of friends. They were a varied bunch, some like me were in their early to mid 20s, still in University or freshly graduated while some others were already employed in various fields or running businesses.
I cherished and still cherish these friends as we shared a common trait as well as a sense of belonging and of community. They understood me as I did them. All too soon, I graduated from the University and went on to carry out my one year National Youth Service (NYSC) and shortly afterwards I was fortunate to secure employment in one of the new generation banks thanks to connections via family and friends. I was soon wrapped up in the busy schedule of a Lagos bank employee.
I had a decent job, I was young and goodlooking, I of course got a lot of female attention as well as recommendations from Aunts and older relatives eager to see me married off, “settled down and happy” (so they thought). But I always avoided female company using my busy work schedule as an excuse; by now, I had a steady male lover whom I met during my National Youth Service days, he was then 29, the only son of wealthy influential parents, well educated in top American universities and now working in one of his family’s businesses. He was therefore considered “ripe” for marriage and several pretty girls from equally affluent families were constantly being thrown at him while the pressure to marry, settle down and carry on the family name had reached a feverish intensity. I watched as he struggled to balance the pressure of family commitments and expectations with the discretion required to maintain a gay relationship. I watched silently from the shadows horrified and heartbroken as he finally succumbed to the repeated pressure of his family and got engaged to girl from his town, the daughter of one of his father’s wealthy business associates. I was devastated but I realized that to continue this relationship would only serve to deteriorate my broken psyche.
One day, I therefore sent him a short text ending it all, this was one of the most painful decisions I have taken in my entire life, I can still hear his voice as he cried and begged me over the phone, I still remember the look of deep sorrow on his face on the day he suddenly showed up at my office to try and talk things over, but I was resolute. I had resolved never to get emotionally attached to any man ever again as I was sure I would never be able to survive such heartbreak for a second time. I quickly moved on and went through a string of meaningless and not-so meaningless relationships quickly putting that painful episode behind me.
Meanwhile, smartphones had arrived on the scene bringing with them an unprecedented capacity to network and meet like minded people from all walks of life. I was amazed to find that contrary to the widespread stereotype in Nigeria that gays are usually idle, effeminate young guys possessed by some evil spirit of sexual perversion, gays were in every sphere of life, in every socio – economic class. I met gay doctors, bankers, teachers, lawyers, dirvers, security men, waiters, janitors etc. Most were regular everyday guys. The sort you would walk past on the street without missing a beat. It reinforced my belief that we are just like everyone else apart from our sexual preference for which we have been and continue to be wrongly and harshly judged.
I have watched as some of my friends made the terrible mistake of opening up to friends or family as the love and affection that had previously existed is shattered forever. One of my friends was thrown out of his family home in the middle of the night after his father (a catholic knight) found him in the embrace of another boy, I knew his father very well and often spotted him seated in the front row in church dressed in his Sunday best nodding in vigorous acquiescence each time the subject of the church sermon was on the evil of homosexuality and the sinister intentions of gays to corrupt and overrun the world.
I felt disgusted and sickened by these lies which members of the congregation absorbed and fiercely held onto as true. I have come to realize that this is a major reason why Nigerians seem to have a blind unreasonable hatred for gays and recoil in horror at the mere mention of the word, blindly refusing to see that there are gay people all around them, that some of their beloved husbands, sons, brothers, cousins, colleagues etc. are secretly gay, but deep in the closet living with a mortal fear of rejection and backlash.
I recently returned from an intensive 9 – month Post Graduate Degree in Europe. During my time there I could not help but marvel at the level of tolerance and openness towards gay people. Contrary to what I had been told all my life, acceptance of the fact that gay people have a right to be who they are does not in any way threaten the existence of homosexuals, rather these are open and progressive societies where everyone is empowered to achieve his full potential, where you are not judged by your sexuality but by the content of your character as a human being regardless of your sexual orientation, with all rights to dignity and security fully protected and upheld by the State. I of course made friends with several gay people in several European cities, upon learning that I was Nigerian, a recurring theme amongst them has always been “why is it such a major issue in your country that people are gay? And why is it that of all the multitude of issues plaguing most parts of your continent, your governments devote so much time and energy in pursuing homophobic and discriminatory agendas? Why are people so willing and eager to hate other humans simply on account of what they do in the privacy of their bedrooms with other consenting adults?”
I try in vain to explain to them. But you see, coming from the sort of open and progressive backgrounds they do, it is extremely hard for them to understand. They do not live in a society where the leadership seeks to make scapegoats of gays as a means of scoring cheap political points while diverting the attentions of the populace from more pressing issues. They do not live in societies where the clergy is allowed unfettered liberty to propagate hatred and bigotry and to manipulate a clueless congregation as they see fit while blindly disregarding the duty which their lofty position imposes on them to promote tolerance and love amongst all men; a congregation so severely brutalized by economic hardship that it happily abandons all reason and human compassion and instead is easily guided into the mebrace of blind unreasoning hatred.
I have thankfully, finally freed myself from the mental bonds imposed on me by a life time of conditioning and I have finally realized that gay or straight we are all God’s creatures, designed gay or straight or bisexual in his infinite wisdom. A gay person is no more a threat to a heterosexual person than left handed persons are to right handed ones or tall persons to short persons or light skinned are to dark skinned persons. Homophobia is as unreasonable as hatred of a person based on his racial origins, height, eye or skin color, hair texture …. I could go on and on and on with a long winding list of as many variations of human features as there are.
In conclusion, I ask you the reader if you think that it is right to hate another blindly and fiercely, to hate another person on account of a factor beyond his/her control such as height, body size, hair length, racial origins etc. if you think that it is right to hate or be hated on account of these, then by all means, HATE any gay person you know or ever come across. HATE them with a hatred so ferocious and intense that perhaps the force of your hate might somehow reach into their dark, evil, twisted psyche and burn away the objects of your intense hate.
If however you still possess a shred of decency, a sense of right and wrong, then call out this ominous and obnoxious anti – gay law for what it is. Denounce it in all its true evil colorations, enlighten the blind around you who cannot see but can perhaps hear your voice of reason. Denounce this brazen attempt to collectively hoodwink 160 million people by pulling some fast moves behind their backs while occupying them with false doctrines while their collective birthright is being plundered by an avaricious and coldhearted leadership.
I leave you with the words of Martin Niemoller, “They came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, again I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I remained silent because I was protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one to speak up”.
This obnoxious homophobic disgrace to legislation portends an ill wind that blows no one any good.
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