BY OBINNA TONY-FRANCIS OCHEM.
Their conversations about us, enables violence.
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.