Saturday, 6 November 2010

Out of the closet 2

This post is a follow-on to a previous post on this blog.

One often hears and reads of people referring to homosexuality as an "act" or a "practice" and in a mildly sarcastic way, one has wondered whether in using the word "practice" they are perhaps suggesting that gay people are practising to be gay, in the same way that a football team practices in readiness for the next big match; or whether, (as I think they really mean), they refer to homosexuality as a practice because the idea of homosexuality for them revolves wholly around a single sex act. Let us get one thing straight. There is homosexuality, and then there is homosexual sex. These are two different things.

Homosexuality goes to the orientation and the disposition, to the mind and feelings of the individual. Homosexual sex on the other hand is physical sex between two (or more) persons of the same gender. And although homosexual sex acts are in many cases performed by individuals of a homosexual disposition, it is the case that even those who are not normally homosexually inclined are known to engage in homosexual sex acts in situations where the opportunity for sex with the opposite sex is absent. We have all heard stories about what goes on in prisons where men, who otherwise would have no sexual desire towards other men, engage in rampant homosexual sex with other male prisoners. These men have not become homosexuals just for the fact that they have engaged in sexual acts with other males. In actuality they are not homosexuals at all, since they would opt for sex with females rather than with males had they the option.

Given the inauspiciousness that surrounds homosexuality, it is hard for me to understand the assumption by many that gay people have somehow wilfully chosen to be gay; that they have deliberately chosen to subject themselves to all that hatefulness and resentment. I am not an expert on human sexuality and do not claim to be one, but common-sense makes it perfectly clear to me that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. And although I have no wish to pretend to be more knowledgeable than I actually am, I find it bewildering that so many others have failed to come to the same realisation.

Which brings me back to the title of this post.

Am I out of the closet? Well, I suppose this depends on what 'the closet' is. Wikipedia offers the definition for the terms 'closeted' and 'in the closet' as, "..metaphors used to describe a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person who has not disclosed his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.."

Insofar as this definition of 'the closet' is limited only to the non-disclosure of sexual orientation and insofar as this description does not include pretending not to be gay, then I will accept that perhaps for a time during my teenage years I was in the closet. The reality for me though has been that I have never really experienced any such thing as the closet. If at all there were times when I failed to disclose my sexual orientation, it was either because I did not think it was necessary to do so, or because at the time I lacked the intellectual maturity to face the possible consequences of doing so.

Looking back now I can only imagine how odd I must have seemed to my friends and peers back then, since I would hardly ever join them in talking about girls, or join them in their amorous activities. In those days, well before the advent of the Internet, it was nigh on impossible to make contact with others of a similar disposition in a place like Nigeria, especially when one was from a sheltered home as I was. But even if I did not disclose it, I never at any time pretended to be anything other than gay, being a one who thinks of any form of pretence or hypocrisy as highly repugnant.

It is true, I am now present in a country where I have no need to fear physical attack simply because of the pugnacious bellicosity of some others who might think of my sexuality as being resentfully displeasing. In this respect I suppose I have been fortunate so far, although it remains the case that the predominance of my social contact is with those of a similar ethnic and cultural background to me. But even then, I am able to pick and choose with whom I engage in social contact, unlike back in Nigeria where the socio-cultural circumstances are such that the individual has little or no control over who he must associate with.

With this in mind, perhaps I have been guilty in recent times of failing to fully appreciate the precariousness of the situation for those who are like me, but who are living in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa either by choice or of necessity. Perhaps, living away from home has caused me to become less sensitive to their vulnerability. I mean, I am able to without fear, write about my sexuality on this blog, using my real name. It is doubtless that there are those who will come across this blog and be utterly shocked. But for me it has been easy; my sexual orientation is not something that I have any reason to be ashamed of. And living in the UK as I currently do, I am protected from any unpleasant maliciously motivated acts by those who might be so inclined. Of course I'm aware of the issues concerning my reputation back at home in Nigeria, but I remain firm in my conviction that my sexual orientation is not a problem and that it is they who are homophobic, who by their homophobia are possessed of a problem that requires a solution.

A few days ago, Gayuganda (Gug) a long-standing friend of mine and a champion of the struggle for gay rights in Uganda, gave an interview to CNN on the recent exposing of gay men in that country's tabloid newspapers, which lay the men open to danger. Gug has now for years been blogging on the issue of gay rights with particular reference to Uganda, but has all along chosen to remain anonymous. Protecting his identity was sensible, given the unrivalled levels of homophobia that have been displayed in that country. In giving this interview, Gug was filmed and half of his face was broadcast to television screens right around the world, including of course Uganda, where he lives, works and is well known. It was only the lower half of his face, but it was quite easy to identify him, especially if one already knew him in person.

When I saw the interview on CNN and knowing how brave Gug has always been, my assumption was that he was aware that his anonymity was going to be blown, but that this was another brave and bold step forward in the struggle for recognition and acceptance. My thinking was that there are other gay Ugandans and indeed other gay Africans living in Africa who have openly declared their sexuality. Indeed, David Kuria a gay Kenyan gentleman is running for Senate in his country. Gug posted the CNN interview on his blog and in responding to it, I left a comment to the effect that there is only so much to be achieved if one remains anonymous, suggesting and expressing the view that coming out boldly could only be a positive thing.

However, now when I think about it I remember that, "Keeping our anonymity is the only thing that we have.." were among the words that Gug said during the interview in responding to a question and also, "I don't put my name on the blog because I don't want to be killed.."

In responding to my comment in a subsequent post on his blog, Gug pointed out that the CNN reporter had assured him that his anonymity would be intact and now that I know different, I feel some remorse. I put it down to what I was saying earlier about me in my mind possibly experiencing some disconnection from the reality of being gay in Africa, becoming less sensitive to the very real threats that gay people face on my home continent. I have expressed my apologies to Gug. Perhaps in my fervour to see change come about, I have been overly optimistic. But even then, I remain of the view that remaining in the closet indefinitely cannot be the way forward. Peace..


Savvy said...

The first and third (or is it the second and fourth) paragraphs are so on-point I feel like I wrote 'em myself. The whole 'practice' thing is irksome. Nice one, man!

AfroGay said...

I have dealt with this subject myself in the past ... with it here

GAYUG decided on his own volition to stick his head higher up above the parapet. And it is clear he is comfortable with the choice he has made. Everyone should have latitude to exercise that choice.

Anonymous said...

People will continue not to see the wisdom in your post simply because they choose not to or cannot understand because they are not one wearing the shoe that pinches.
They cannot understand what it feels like to be gay because they are not.
Being gay, I know I feel 'something' about the same sex that I do not feel about the opposite sex. I cannot describe it, words are inadequate to convey these feelings, but I feel this 'thing'.
No, you have never come across as an insensitive individual in your posts and, I believe, you are not. Being resident in a clime where certain liberties (that are anathema here) exist - you have taken some things for granted (like I tell my friends who visit Nigeria from the UK, US...), unconsciously.
I am in my 40s (the other side) and I have become bolder - with the outward expression of my emotions and feelings - than I was in my 20s. I feel this urge to break the restraint and set myself loose from the bands of torture. But...

Gay Nigerian

Anengiyefa said...

Hello Savvy, its good to see you and I hope you've been well..

Yep, someone needs to explain to me what I'm practising and why I'm practising FOR it.. lol

Anengiyefa said...

Hi AfroGay, as I read your post that you linked to, the realisation came that I'd read it previously..

Yes, I totally agree that each of us should have a choice, but from what Gug has stated, it appears that there was some naivety involved in what occurred.

He seemed to have sincerely believed what he was told, ie., he had been assured that he would retain his anonymity. And it was clear too while watching the film that there was an attempt by the film's producers to keep to their word.

However, I do think that in 2010, there are technologies available to do a better job than CNN did. The attempt at hiding his identity was amateurish and seemed almost half-hearted. Perhaps CNN didn't take their promise quite as seriously as they should have, and perhaps they too were lacking somewhat in appreciating the potentially serious consequences to him of exposure.

Anengiyefa said...

Greetings to you Anonymous - Gay Nigerian. Welcome and thanks so much for your comment..

I agree, living away from home and being physically removed from the constraints and restrictions that we have to cope with back at home in Nigeria, can have the effect of desensitising us to the reality. It helps when one is able to identify this when it happens and make the necessary adjustments.

Yes there comes a time when sitting back and suppressing our feelings becomes acceptable no longer, and one feels the need to open up, speak out and act boldly. Unfortunately, not many have been able to summon the courage to do this, but those who have done so, must shoulder the responsibility of advancing the struggle for acceptance.

Our people don't understand homosexuality largely because they have not received the correct information about it, and are having to rely for their views and attitudes solely on the religious/moral instruction that they have received, which as you and I know, is not always accurate.

The way forward in my view, is to create awareness by talking openly and boldly about our sexuality and providing to them factual information concerning it. So that when people form an opinion, let it be an informed opinion based on fact and science, rather than on some ancient religious text that does not stand up to modern rationality.

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Mimi said...

Interesting that you give the example of people engaging in homosexual acts when they have no other options. It has been observed with hens too, that when they are left alone some of them start to exhibit cock-like behaviour (excuse the pun).

I also went to college at an all women's university where we openly joked about people who were "LUGS" that is "Lesbians until Graduation". Without the safety of the college campus where it was acceptable to explore their sexuality, many students who had same sex relationships in college went on to identify as completely heterosexual afterwards.

I know many men who engage in heterosexual acts as well as homosexual acts, but prefer to be defined not by their acts but by how they perceive themselves. I think it all has to to with the Kinsey scale, and how big your balls are: some people are somewhat attracted to people of the same sex, but not enough to override their fear of societal backlash/rejection. Perhaps it is these people straddling the two ends of the Kinsey scale who could easily go either who and lean towards the "easier" way who might call being gay a "choice". Other people are ONLY attracted to people of the same sex, so try as they may they must suffer through societal backlash in order to be true to themselves.

This is sad that your friend was outed without his consent. It is common for people without a full understanding of the consequences not to take the necessary measures to protect people who aren't out. It's not always possible....... not at all.

Anengiyefa said...

Hello Mimi

I couldn't help smiling when I read what you said on your blog about being too shy.. I'm not sure you come across as one who's shy..So I'm quite pleased to see your comment.

What you've suggested about the either-way folks and how it might be easier for them to think of being gay as a choice, makes a lot of sense.

I know Gug is very smart. He probably was well aware of the risk of exposure and chose to go ahead with the interview anyway. So in actuality, the picture might be exactly as I'd read it initially. However, it might not. But, even as AfroGay has mentioned in an earlier comment, it was he Gug who decided to put his head above the parapet. And reading Gug's later posts, he seems not to regret it to any great extent.

My take on this has always been that folks like us will never be understood, if we are all to remain hidden and anonymous, and nobody knows who we are. The responsibility is ours to educate our communities and enlighten them by shedding some light on who we are. None of this can happen if we all remain hidden.

CodLiverOil said...

Nice piece man.

All I will say is that one has to be practical and pragmatic about coming out, and be prepared to deal with the consequences. We don't all always get second chances.

I exercised caution in doing that, because at the time when my Mum suspected. Despite being born and raised in England, I had no other place to go. No one whom I could rely on, the world is an unfriendly place even in 'civilised' England. With that knowledge in mind and in my teenage years, I played it cool denied it (being gay that is, not wanting to be thrown out, being a lonesome black boy on the streets in London was not a welcoming prospect) and waited until I had some financial independence. Then I was prepared to deal with the consequences.

So in homophobic Africa, one has to be even more cautious as the the police and courts are not on your side (despite all the human rights declarations that have been signed).

Anengiyefa said...

Hello CodLiverOil

Please pardon me for not acknowledging your comment sooner. A grievous oversight on my part. Accept my apologies.

I totally agree that one must carefully guage the circumstances in which one comes out, because once out of the closet, its almost impossible to go back in, which I presume is what you meant when you stated that we don't always get second chances.

Financial independence helps, but in the countries of Africa even this independence can be threatened since an out gay person stands the risk of losing his job and even his home. In that sense I would qualify financial independence in this case to that of a gay person who is self-employed..

Thanks once again for another thoughtful comment.

Quitstorm said...

Good article.