They Are Killing Us.

BY OBINNA TONY-FRANCIS OCHEM.

Their conversations about us, enables violence.

Negro Elkha – stock.adobe.com

Us here means gay. It refers to the community.  

We are dying. Nigeria is not a safe place to be a minority. They gaslight us, and say that we complain too much. They say that the anti-gay law is not entirely effective for us to be whiny babies. That we should not live in fear. That we should live, provided we are not forcing our sexuality and/or gender identity/expression down their throats. Everyday, they say we’re forcefully making them accept us, but they forget that we watch heterosexuals get married, watch them kiss on our television screen, and see them make marriage a part of their lives. The only way they want us to live freely is by not forcing them to accept who we are. 

This is their meanest form of gaslighting. I am in pain. I am angry. I am devastated.

A queer friend confided in me. We had met at the love garden of my University campus, flanked by the senate building, faculty of Arts, and J.P Clarke Art center, and we became immersed in words, sitting on the moulded block chairs. He said that he wished he was not a gay man, and I could relate to him. 

We all wish we were not gay men because to be a gay man is to be a masochist. A masochist who will endure pain, derision, subjugation, and all evils of patriarchy. To be gay is to say, you like to soak yourself in pain. You like people hurting you. You like living in the shadows. 

He said it’s the reason he would never understand people who say we choose to be gay. 

There were occasional chatters, and at the particular location, there was a smooth distinct breeze that seared on one’s skin, deep into their pores. The University is surrounded by a Lagoon, with its source from the Atlantic Ocean. I looked up to his face, to watch as his teeth clattered while he spoke. He said no one would choose to be gay and suffer subjugation. I agree. But now, for me, I think I chose to be gay. That I did not choose to be gay is to accept the silence of men before us, and be equally yoked with an unsuspecting woman of any sexual orientation. That I did not choose to be gay is to say, I am okay with the Anti Same-Sex Marital law instituted by the Nigerian government. I am writing this essay because I chose homosexuality over heterosexuality. I chose my sexuality. I am not hiding in the shadow perpetrating violence against gay people. Trying to make laws that don’t favour gay people even though I am one. 

Whenever the argument surrounding homosexuality comes on social media, some gay people invested in likeability politics, talk about how a lot of people in power are closeted gays. They think it’s something cute to brag to cishet men about. I ask, “If they are closeted gays, why then do they choose to make dehumanising laws against gay people?” The answer is simple: unlike me, they did not choose to be gay. I chose to be gay.

Their laws are killing us. Every day, gay men live in the shadows, trying to hide away from violent homophobic laws. When I had a serious conversation with someone during the early years of my sexuality, he told me to be wary of kitos. I asked him what kito was, then he laughed and said, “which gay man doesn’t know what kito is?” 

I believe it stemmed from the fact that when we see gay men, we see someone who knows violence: physical and emotional.

He told me that once, he had gone to visit a man he had met on Grindr. He left his house in the evening and on arriving at the terminal, he climbed down the motorcycle, paid the rider, and called the man he had gone to visit. The man picked, and directed him to his house. On getting there, the man seized his phone, took his wallet and emptied it. When he was done, he made him give him a blowjob and pursued him away after. The man robbed him. These are a few cases of kito, perpetrated by fellow homosexuals because unlike us, they don’t want to be gay. They inflict pain on fellow gays, but to say a lot of gay violence perpetrated on gay men is done by fellow gay men is to deny the systemic oppression in place to violate gay men and people who are different. It’s the same myth that women are each other’s enemies, ignoring years of patriarchal violence instituted by men.

We did not make the law. We didn’t start the segregation of people based on their sexuality. Our fellow men-cishets-are killing us. They are violating us. They want us to become extinct. To love is not a problem. Yes, I said to love is not a problem because in Nigeria, to love is to unshackle yourself from the obstacles of religion, tribe, and for a few minorities, sexual orientation. 

They are killing us because whenever I stroll to Twitter, cishet men are talking about LGBTQ+ representation in popular culture/entertainment. They want to kill and repress our voice. I believe when a heterosexual says there are too many queer representations on TV, a part of us is killed because to say we are trying to be aggressively seen, and make everyone accept us by force, is to say we are abnormal. We are perfectly normal. We want to live and do things like everyone else in a normal way, without anyone saying it as a form of agenda. Our lives are our lives. We are everywhere, needing to tell our truth. 

Every day, we feel unsafe in our space whenever heterosexuals are having conversations about queer people. Their conversations enable violence. If the violence doesn’t come from them, it comes from their audience. Their conversations make laws. Without their conversations, there would not be anti-gay law and without the law, there would not be people like me, living in fear. Living every day as if we are going to die. 

Also, I do not believe in coming out. That there should be a day you tell your friends, family, and relatives, “Hey, I have been hiding this from you for a while, but today, I want to tell you I am gay.” I believe in people reading the environment to get the drift. People seeing gay people with their partners and say, “oh. Okay. He is gay.”

My default sexuality is not heterosexuality. My default sexuality is homosexuality. Our default sexuality is different from each other. We are not monoliths. I am different from Mr. Raphael, Mrs. Catherine, etc. What should bind us should be our humanity.

This draws me to the conversation I had with a friend. My school literary club was invited to an event. We were on a luxurious bus with like minds, having discussions on gender, sexuality, and another liberal standpoint of view. Inside the bus, the air was raucous. It was a Saturday evening, the road was unusually free. We had finished the event and were returning; everyone looked boisterous. Lagos is a busy city. One wondered about the rare phenomenon where the road is unusually free because Lagos is the hub of traffic congestion. The driver stared ahead, driving at minimal speed and the noises filled the bus. People were pressing their phones. The argument was getting lousy, everyone trying to drop their inputs and someone suggested he moderated the argument because people could not understand what everyone was saying at a point. So, after he did, he took in the first question and it was a guy. The guy hummed, then began talking, navigating through various views, and said we should also allow people to voice their opinions. He said we should have honest conversations on everything without trying to stop people with divergent views from expressing themselves.

What? I stopped pressing my phone and I wanted to cuss him out but refrained. I would have if it was online. I could not easily be crass offline. Why would I debate about someone’s humanity? We are not your conversation’s pack. If your conversation is not revolving around how happy we are. Around something that benefits us, stop discussing us. We are dying. You do not need to inflict more pain on us physically and emotionally. 

To be gay in Nigeria is to be at the forefront of attention, linking our activities to social vices. Whenever the election arrives, we are being used for violent campaigns. During a recent gubernatorial election in Nigeria, the opposition party released a video of his fellow candidates. In the video, it was a series of pictures made with a video app, affixing the governor’s picture with fellow men as evidence of his homosexuality and why no one should vote for him. The campaign goes like: “we don’t need man wey dey sleep with another man as governor.”

Also in Nigeria, while navigating through youthful lives, cishet men bear the violent blunt of anti-gay laws. The subhead of the Police officials in charge of overseeing crimes (SARS), subject people with perceived queer incriminating evidence on their phones to torture them, or in the end, extorting money from the classed ones. In Nigeria, homosexuality is a violent political campaign against the lives of people who are different. It is not funny because we are dying from this violence. We need help. We seek aids. People are losing their jobs when they are outed.

We live every day, navigating through our sexual orientation in secret because we might be killed. We constantly live in the shadows. The queer dating apps have been infiltrated by heterosexual men who are either trying to rob us, or are trying to scare us by threatening to out us. They know how to weaponize outing us because to be outed is to lose our source of livelihood. Most corporate organisations act as if our dating lives should be part of our lives, reflecting our productivity. 

In Nigeria, when someone greets you, they ask about your wife or husband and children. The level of cognitive dissonance is astounding. We want a society where we can live peacefully without fear. It is not an agenda for demanding our rights. We no longer want to hide. We want to live.  

 

Obinna Tony-Francis Ochem writes from the comfort of his tranquility, exploring the theme of gender, class, sexuality, climate change and shape shifting monsters. He is an alumni of the Lolwe Fiction Workshop facilitated by Zukiswa Wanner and SpringNG ’20 cohort writing mentorship programme. He has works published in various journals and they can easily be found here, https://linktr.ee/obynofranc
 

The Struggle.

BY VANESSA NWOSU.

No one ever talks about how hard it is to unlearn years and years of mental slavery.

Creator: FG Trade | Credit: Getty Images

I had begun to question a lot of things at a young age. I struggled so hard to fit in among my peers because I loved things that the others didn’t. I read newspapers and argued about them, and I only danced to         
songs by MJ and also wanted to dress like him.

Being a person who loves wearing trousers, I rebelled when the church my dad made us go to spoke against women wearing trousers. You see, when people rebel, people automatically think that they are possessed. The church was the last place I wanted to be in because my feelings were always indirectly torn apart, and labeled a demon. Watching people getting delivered from demons made me wonder if the demon they claimed was in me was stronger. Tell me the name of the demon that creates a love so pure and true and I will conjure more of that demon.

There were moments when I struggled to be like everyone else. Moments when I was in denial.I began to watch what I wore, starting from earrings. The only reason I wore them was because I didn’t want to be called a man. I hated when 
people called me a girl boy because of the way I was—that didn’t make me go all girly. I struggled, and still struggle with religion and sexuality. If there’s any restraint against us it is religion. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like if I grew up without hearing rules from the bible, but also acknowledging that there is a supreme being.

When you think of it, religion is the description of love, the love you have for God and your neighbours. A neighbour can be that woman laying next to me. The one I’d give my life for. A neighbour can be a stranger or a friendly face, no labels 
whatsoever.
I am beginning to see things a lot clearer now, and accepting myself. I am proud to call myself a Lesbian even though some people—queerphobes—find it irritating. They give that dirty look, when in fact it just describes the love and affection a woman has for another woman.

If you ask me who I am, I’d introduce myself as Ms Vanessa Nwosu, She/Her, Nigerian lesbian/queer woman.

This is what learning from the struggle does to you. Accepting yourself, 
and claiming all terms.

 

Vanessa Nwosu is a writer, and volunteer. Her pronouns are SHE/HER. You can follow her on Instagram, @nessakem.

IS AN APOLOGY A RITE OF PASSAGE TO ALLYSHIP?

Opinion

BY VANESSA NWOSU.

Recently, a musician I have always listened to from my university days—someone whose voice could make your day—issued an apology to the Nigerian LGBT community because she witnessed someone getting lynched by homophobes. This is months after her homophobic comments on her show, saying queer individuals are unnatural. 

Everyone has been so dramatic about it, with different opinions. If there’s anything I know about my country Nigeria, it is the fact that we are easily distracted by every trending tweet, or persons. 

The Burna Boy and Sam Smith’s music collaboration is an example. It got so  many people excited that I began to wonder if it was going to change anything. 

Having a collaboration with a non-binary musician doesn’t mean anything, unless you are using your music to address the injustice faced by the community daily. To be honest, Sam Smith is the only reason why I listened to the song. I find them inspiring. 

When it comes to Simi, it doesn’t matter if her apology is for the gram, or a genuine one, I believe  what matters is her actions from now. We can’t call her an Ally simply because of an apology that was due months ago. It took her to see/hear that someone was lynched, before she could take any step. Now, are we going to be hearing her address homophobia in her music? Do we think she can withstand the public opinion of homophobic Nigerians? All these, and more are what I believe are going to be used in judging her apology. And while we are at it, taking the apology to the same show where she was homophobic, should be on the list too. 

While we call on public figures to have a say, and stand for human rights, our human rights, we—the community—should not forget that we also have a role to play. We can not sit and watch them tell us what to do, or wait for their approval. Yes, living in an homophobic country is not easy, and not everyone is bold enough to come out of the closet, but we should not forget that it is a fight for every single person, for generations to come. Most of the time, ask yourself if you are happy with the way things are. Do you even take pride in who you are? These are the little things. 

  I always look up to the likes of Matthew Blaise, Vincent Desmond, Walter Ude, and so many others, who are active in a hostile country. Young minds trying to do the little they can. Not forgetting the wonderful minds behind the LGBT naija page on Instagram, who work daily trying to sort out issues, Living Free Uk Organisation, EqualityHub, House of Rainbow, and so many others. When I see the things they do, I ask myself if they can do all they are doing, what then is my excuse? Why should I run and hide? Why should I be quiet??? 

Nobody is going to understand the struggle like we do. We are the ones to build ourselves, to be strong, and resilient, and to build our table, large enough for each and every one of us to sit on. To this end, I say, United we stand, divided we fall.

Vanessa Nwosu is a writer for Living Free UK. You can follow her on Instagram @nessakem, and on Twitter @nwosu_vanessa to know more about her. 

Editor: Chisom Peter Job | INSTAGRAM: @peter.fect | TWITTER: @peter_fect