I smiled. “That wouldn’t be your concern.”
I didn’t know what else to say. It was a question that needed a quick answer. I’m not very composed with verbal lines as I am with written ones. It’s the reason I stay away from debates, unless they are online. Online, I can revise what I’ve typed a million times before posting then sit back and watch my perfectness wow everybody. Verbally though, my points are set in my head but as they travel down to my tongue, some mutation occurs and they either come out flat, or unsure or unserious or grammatically awkward. So when Funmi inquired about my sexual orientation, I ended up giving her an answer that was borderline rude.
I have not told a lot of people I’m gay (for the benefit of those without a third eye). The times I’ve been asked about it, I wonder what reply to give. I already made up my mind a long time ago to never say “No.” Feels like self-betrayal. So should I say “Yes”? Or just occupy the broader middle space that encompasses a shrug and a 10-word sentence about why it matters?
In my first year of university, I had a roommate Chiebuka. He was in psychology, third year. A couple of times while we chatted in the room, his homophobia had waved hello at me. He remembered typing “bang, bang, something-something” in Google once, hoping for heterosexual porn, only to be referred to gay porn. I later coded that he may have accidentally walked into the BangBangBoys website. (Oh, the horror of big turgid dicks splashed all over his screen!) Another time, he said the only loss of virginity that counts is that experienced with the opposite sex. I don’t remember what brought about that…perhaps lesbianism and sex toys? I liked him, the way I’d have adored an older brother had I one; he was 24, I was 18. He was tall, was quite the storyteller too. I tease people I like, sometimes shyly, other times boldly.
I don’t remember what happened one Saturday morning. I must have been on to him with one of my many “stupid questions” and silly jovialities when he murmured that I should let him be abeg or was I was gay?
My heart stopped.
Did he know? Did it show? Was it in my gait, facial expressions, voice?
I didn’t even turn my head to check if the other roommates had heard that. An insinuation was as good as an accusation; and if I knew what was good for me I’d better behave, wait quietly for this small dust to settle.
I started to give Chiebuka some space. Distance, detachment (emotionally and physically) would keep me safe in my closet, especially if there was a chance that my flames burned bright (according to the Bible of Gay Stereotypes, Queen Jane’s Version).
I was in that period of life when the words “gay” or “homo”, froze my insides. Was it me? Could it be because I just walked past? Were those guys talking about homosexuality before they saw me? Could they tell my smile had suddenly become forced and sweat was trickling from my armpits?
Did it show?
I’m no longer 18. I am past that phase of fear and have slipped into that of easy irritation.
The first time I kissed a guy (I was 20), my fears lifted. Something in me that’d hitherto been locked burst open. I stopped caring who suspected I was gay. I flirted more. I stopped giving concessionary answers to the question, “Do you like football?” My boyfriend then was more sexually experienced than I was (still is); being with him firmed my backbone, flitted away the panic suspicion brought. I stopped expending energy smothering my gay “signs”. I could be amused at one lanky Precious guy after the pulpit text he sent me as hint that he knew what the BF and I had been up to in my room one of the nights he slept over. What was the Jesus-boy going to do about it anyway, I thought, while trying to gauge his dick size through his fly. Like my BF had taught me to.
There’s the serious matter of personal safety when revealing one’s sexuality. Crazy homophobes capable of anything heinous run loose in Nigeria…
Ahem! Welcome back…
Now when Funmi asked: “Are you gay?” I didn’t think of homophobia at all. (She said she has gay friends so no biggie.) I was pissed later though. Pissed at a society that required me to define myself, set myself apart from a normative fold I was presumed a part of.
My friend Chu reminded me, when I whined to him about this, that living things are historically and biologically wired to reproduce. “Anything that puts a kink in that programming (i.e. same-sex relationships) naturally will cause an alarm,” he said.
Of course, I agree with him. I also see with him the point that coming out is an intrapersonal process which improves interpersonal relationships. He should know!
My other friend Rapu’m, brave for his age, is quite the “telling machine” as I like to call him. He has given many of his friends (a good number of whom are mutual to the both of us) the FYI-I’m-gay speech. Casual. Brief. Like that, and he moves on. He told me that, with Funmi, I let slip a chance to be out to one more person, eat away at the phobia.
“I tease my roommates about my sexuality all the time,” Rapu’m said, “and they tease me back. I’m not sure I have a closet sef!”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I look at it as nobody’s business. So I don’t talk about it much…” What would change if Funmi knows I am gay? My height? The price of garri in the market?
I have a long list of cool peeps I could come out to if I wanted. (Those 20 minutes of celebrity when you can command a friend’s attention as he wants to know some Gay Life 101 ain’t bad for amusement.) But this is what stops me: What do they need that kind of information for? Is it important? Why can’t we just be people? Why don’t we have a society where everybody is expected to swing any way, not be straight until otherwise defined?
“If someone sensible finds out I’m gay,” I told Rapu’m, “I don’t mind. But I’m not keen on making my sexual preference any more of an issue than it should be.” I don’t want it to be my major/only defining characteristic. I cringe to think of someone describing me as their “gay friend”… Of course, I’m comfortable being gay! I’m just afraid that coming out might shove me into this box where if I sneeze, it becomes a “gay sneeze”. If I get my name on Wikipedia, under the section titled “Personal Life” the second sentence will not see its period before the press conference I called for my coming out is mentioned. The Nigerian press does something like this all the time: Gay Man Rapes Boy. Whereas there might be nothing in the story beyond the (stereotypical) anal sex to suggest the man is indeed gay. And if there is (as there might well be), what do we hold on to as the issue/news: is it the man’s sexual orientation or the fact that he raped another human being? Ok, I know our press is a product of a small-minded society. Still…
Rapu’m insists that coming out to our friends makes us realer, less othered.
Hmm. Does anybody, however accepting, really ever forget a gay person is gay? (Do whites ever see past blacks’ blackness and vice versa?) Deep down, does it ever cease to matter, even if in a teeny hair-strand kind of way? You know how a straight guy’s sexual preference is never an issue, unless he is forced to clarify that he is not…aha! wait for the irony…gay?
The first time I came out to my close friend Geoffrey, there followed a conversation I thought was awkward, so the next day I told him I was just pulling his leg, I’m not gay. Could we move on now without the awkward pauses dogging our lives? Maybe I was just overreacting. It wasn’t that I was scared of losing his friendship – we’d come too far for that (besides I’m out to him now anyway). Then, I was wondering: what would change between us after he knew I’m gay? Would he see me through different lens, one that reads me as gay first, buddy next, human after that…and probably gay last? Is there a sense in which coming out exoticizes the gay man, this time through the backdoor? If so, can it be prevented? Will the COLLECTIVE HUMANITY we share with other people weaken after one comes out? Collective humanity is a concept I cherish because it de-emphasizes difference and elevates sameness. It shows that all of us – regardless of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender – are capable of love, hate, wickedness, intelligence, happiness, work, success, grief, death, etc. It’s collective humanity that reminds us that gay rights, women’s rights, etc, are actually HUMAN rights. (It’s just the unfortunate world we live in that makes us have to segment rights in order to attain them.)
Rapu’m says I should drop this needless worry. Chu says it is naïve to even think my sexuality will matter out of context…
“It’s important for people to gradually know who we are,” Rapu’m assured me as we chatted late into the night. “We are on the fringes of society, and we need to come in.” ■
Written by Absalom