BY HELEN NIMBE
Claustrophobia; is the fear of closed, tight spaces.
I never thought I was claustrophobic till I Kissed a Girl and Liked It, and now I have to hide it.
We did more than a kiss, and now, I feel trapped in this closet by my new secret and the thought of what would happen to me if people found out, by what I stand to lose if I stepped even one foot out of hiding. I have to decide if suffocating with this secret is better than losing nearly everyone I love.
Excitement tinged with panic and worry when a cute boy makes eyes at you because you want to ask if he was making eyes at you or just being friendly. But you don’t because the memory of gay men being mobbed still hangs fresh over your mind.
That lonely feeling that comes when you find out that your friends do not get you, even though it may seem like they do. They reduce your sexuality to a phase, saying, “lesbians are just women who have never been fucked good by a man.”
Do you feel too afraid to question, afraid to experiment, afraid to be anything but straight because that’s what you have been taught is acceptable? Do you feel the air leave your lungs when you sit in church on Sunday listening as your mom stands on the pulpit preaching against your very being? Does it feel like the weight of her words and your secret threaten to crush you in the congregation? Do you tell yourself that claustrophobia is a small price for a mother’s love?
I feel it too.
When I sit with my friends, the loneliness weighs on my chest, knowing they don’t know the secret that simmers just beneath my skin; this one thing that could end six years of friendship. It’s in the panic of suffocating with this secret and agonizing over the lesser suffering; losing my people or losing myself.
You feel it too when you’re alone at night on your mat trying to pray the gay away; because you love your God. But he hates you, and the idea of burning in hell doesn’t appeal to you. Do you tell yourself then that claustrophobia is a small price for his love? For his acceptance?
Well, you’re not alone.
I am always making a scale of preference, choosing between losing the things I have and living free OR hiding and hating every moment of it because I want to be safe.
Every time someone stares at me for too long, I wonder if they can see that I’m an imposter. Sometimes I want to yell, “I’m normal. I’m not like you, but I’m normal. Do you see me? Do you accept me?” Yet, I stay quiet and smile because nothing is more Nigerian than silence and suffering, “Las Las, we go dey all right.”
Still, I am lucky, as lucky as a queer person can be in a homophobic country, because I have a community.
Some of us are in glass closets, not hiding but hoping the world doesn’t see us. Some of us are in wooden closets, hiding from the world but not ourselves. Some of us are in steel closets, hiding from ourselves and the world. And so we come together, trying not to suffocate under this secret, huddling together till our closets feel like Harry Potter’s room of requirement.
I’m in a closet, but so are the people in my community. While we hate this place and the secret we carry, knowing we are together makes the closet feel bigger, less alone, and safer.