Monday, 30 November 2009

I am a mythical being, I don't exist

Among Africans generally, same sex attraction has been a myth. It has been as much the subject of whispered conversation or gossip, as it has been talked about in absolutist, loud, angry condemning tones, usually from the pulpit, but also in the media and even in social situations. There has been an overwhelming leaning towards intolerance and there appears not to have been until recently, a moderate middle ground. Outbursts of "This is an abomination!", "Our people don't do that!", "We will never accept this!", are familiar reactions. Sometimes, homosexual behaviour among Africans is blamed upon the "white man". Our continent's leaders have even publicly declared that homosexuality does not exist among Africans. Declarations such as, "There are no homosexuals in Nigeria", or "They have been corrupted by Europeans," are common.

I heard all of this as a young person growing up in Africa, while knowing that at no time in my young life had I interacted with anyone from Europe to the extent that he would have had the opportunity to impart his sexuality on me, if at all that was possible. The only Europeans I met were those who I ran into at the supermarket, or by chance at the swimming pool at a place we called 'The Club', sort of like a country club, which was a relic of the old colonial administration. The Club was originally intended to cater for the frolicking of that administration's large number of expatriates, for whom a posting to Africa was supposed to mean a life of comfort and luxury. After independence from Britain The Club remained in existence, but it was now the domain of big-wig Africans in top government positions and their expatriate friends in the private sector, more particularly the petroleum industry; expatriates who still saw Nigeria as a veritable gold mine. Then there were those Europeans who were fellow passengers on the very occasional flight in an aeroplane. As a youngster my movements were so tightly controlled and my parents so strict, that I simply had no opportunity to stray into the hands of a predatory African to be 'corrupted', much less a European. And not even if I had actually desired to be 'corrupted' and had actively sought it..(I use the term 'European' loosely, to include every person of Eurasian ancestry).

I heard these things being said and I knew they were wrong. But I had no way of pointing out to people that they could not be correct, because here I was among them, feeling same-sex attraction, having never even once been intimate with a European. This caused me sometimes to be upset and there was a strong temptation to be negative about my same-sex feelings. There are many gay men who unfortunately succumb to this temptation; self-loathing, sadly, is commonplace among gay people. But I refused to be negative. I knew categorically that I did not ask for the feelings that I had, and that I had had these feelings for as long as I had been sexually aware, which would take me back to when I was about seven years old. I was attracted to the boys more than I was attracted to the girls at school. I liked the girls too, but I liked the boys better. There was nothing to it. I was not influenced or taught, nor was I "corrupted". And I was never ashamed of it, despite all the negativity that surrounded it in the conversations that I heard. Indeed it is in being true to my feelings that I believe I have remained pure, by staying the same-gender loving man that I was intended to be. In other words, I could in fact have become "corrupted" had I sought to become a pretend-heterosexual man, while knowing deep down that this in actuality is not who I am. I am fortunate that I did not experience to a great degree that psychological and emotional turmoil many gay men go through as they progress through their teenage years into adulthood. I was always sure of who I was, but the downside was that I found myself in a very lonely place, since there were hardly any others that I knew socially who shared the same sexual feelings. And it was impossible to share these feelings with most of my peers at the time..

Over the years I have come to realise that there are many other gay Africans. We have remained hidden because our society has been firm in its intolerance towards us. But I am convinced that this intolerance is borne entirely from the lack of information concerning homosexuality among Africans. And this is where we come in, me and many others like me who through our blogs have sought to tell our story more honestly, clearly and persuasively than ever before. The result we see of this huge unprecedented amount of information about homosexuality and Africans being put into the public domain, is that among my generation of Africans and younger, there is a greater awareness of the fact that gay Africans are real flesh and blood human beings, who are entitled to live their lives happily just as everyone else. I see the beginnings of a shift in opinion, a shift that becomes apparent when we hear respected African men and women publicly voicing moderate opinions, and calling for restraint and caution when gay people have been maliciously vituperated in the media, as in Kenya and in Uganda recently. Times are changing and I am positive that this story will have a happy ending. I just hope that I am still around when that ending does come..


c'est moi said...

Great piece Anengiyefa!

I found myself nodding as i read on & agreeing with your arguments and the case you were making.

Interestingly,i could identify with some of the things you mentioned here as well : like the bit about the parents ( & i almost swore you might actually be the long-lost brother my folks never told me about,lol);

where i lived & grew up,we also had a "club" which was frequented mostly by expatriates,nigerian professionals & other well-to-do folks in town;

I also like you knew that i was "different" from like when i was about 8 years old..yes,i liked the boys,especially the big,strong ones in class LOL!!

No,we didn't ask for these feelings to be put in us and we were not & have not been "corrupted" by anything or anyone..this is who we are,this is how we were born..this is how we would leave,and let live i say!

I would like to share your optimism about the future and what it bodes for us same-gender-loving folks , but part of me is asking would it really happen & can we get there? Maybe we shall,but i feel the road is surely going to be a long & arduous one.

Nevertheless, i say Viva all gay people everywhere!!

Anengiyefa said...

Hi C'est moi, truly the road will be long and the journey will be arduous. Hence the reason why I qualified it by saying that I hoped that I would still be around when the freedom and equality that we seek finally arrives.

As to whether it will happen, I am in no doubt whatsoever. The fact that you and I are able to talk about it openly at all, is proof that there is indeed a greater openness in our time. I can't imagine a gay African man of my parents' generation openly declaring that he is gay.

Times are changing C'est moi, although the pace at which this change is taking place remains slow. I suspect that when we persist and continue to talk about it articulately, without necessarily appearing to be hostile and antagonistic, they will relent in their resistance...eventually. :)

Abiola Sanusi said...

This is an excellent piece! Refusal to submit to the 'ideal' version of sexuality in Africa. Not an easy feat in Nigeria as we are told to 'obey'. I can only imagine what your confidence and self belief may have caused you then.

Anengiyefa said...

Hello Abiola,

Its great seeing you again. Of course, there has been some unpleasantness from people who have somehow deduced that I am "different". I have had people call me names, loudly and to my hearing, more often in the native land of my ancestors than anywhere else.

Once, while in the village, I was standing on the street having a conversation with a young man of about my age who lives there, asking him the sort of questions that any city dweller like myself would be asking someone who lives in the village. Then up comes this woman who takes hold of the young man's hand and without saying a word to me or even looking at me, leads him away.

I have figured that much of this animosity is borne out of a desperate desire to put me down, since there are hardly any other opportunities for them to do so. I have not reacted in any way, since that would mean that I was playing to their tune. I have held my head high at all times, secure in the knowledge that it is they who by their homophobia are in the wrong.

I think it is important too that I remain unflinching, because there must be several others who are like me who will be looking up to me since they have been unable to summon the courage to stand up and speak out, as I have done.

The feeling when one is scorned is not a very nice one, but one feels encouraged knowing that people like you and the many others who have expressed support are right behind me. And I hope too that other gay African men, especially the younger ones, will gain strength from what I am doing, so as to be able to speak up for themselves in their own right.

I have been careful to avoid situations where such unpleasant experiences could occur by making myself unavailable to most of those whom I believe are hostile. And I do not feel that I am missing out on anything, because ultimately I have limited my social contact to those who know me and accept me as I am, and am therefore much happier for it.. Thanks Abiola for the comment.