I parked and climbed out of the car with a sigh. I’m not sure I can ever get used to this crazy Lagos traffic, especially around rush hour. I like the vibe and energy of the city as well as the fact that there is always something going on somewhere to catch my fancy, never mind that it often took a huge battle with traffic to get to most places. I am eager for this six-month training to be over so I can return to the relative calm and peace of Abuja. I miss the fact that I could lie in bed till 7.30 or even 8am, wake up, shower and dash to the office in time for the official 9am resumption of work. Here in Lagos, if I dare to leave the house anytime after 7.15, I am guaranteed to spend at least two hours sitting in snarled traffic. This usually means waking up shortly after 5am!
I walked into the bar where Jide was waiting; he smiled when he saw me. He has such a cute smile. He has large white teeth which makes him look even more handsome whenever he smiles. We shook hands and I sat down. We were soon engrossed in deep conversation over drinks.
Jide and I met three years ago when he was a corper in Abuja. We had actually sorta, kinda dated for a few weeks before he confessed that he really wasn’t the dating type as he could never see himself being faithful to just one man. I was deeply hurt then, as I had grown to have deep feelings for him; the sex was good and he was always ready to give it in abundance. He had said to me then, “How old are you now? 25, 26? Well, one day your tight pretty ass will sag, your firm abs will grow soft, and one morning, you’ll wake up and realize that men no longer want you. Just make sure you’ve fucked your fill by the time that happens.”
His words had sounded so funny that despite my sadness at his revelation, I couldn’t help but burst out into uncontrollable laughter. From then on, we had become really good friends, more like brothers (or sistas, as I liked to tease him). We could share a bed for days and no thoughts of sex would cross our minds. When he was horny, he called me and I hooked him up, and vice versa. After his Youth Corp year, he remained in Abuja for a few months hunting for a job, but all he got were promises upon never-ending promises, especially from men who sought to take advantage of his jobless situation and exploit him for sexual purposes.
Eventually, he decided to pack up his things and move back to Lagos where his family lived. “At least, there’ll always be food in the house and fewer bills for me to pay,” he’d said. “I can’t afford to live in this outrageously expensive city without a job.”
So, one cool morning, I climbed into a cab with him to the bus station where he boarded a bus back to Lagos, and a few months later, he managed to secure a job with a media company. He thoroughly enjoyed his job and seemed to be rising very fast. In just two years, he was promoted to head of a unit. We still got to meet up every few months when he flew into Abuja on some weekends or when I was in Lagos. I thoroughly disliked the city and was always in a rush to leave whenever I was there. Jide always teased me: “Lazy Abuja girl, its 5.30 am, you no go wake up, hian! You dey lucky say you no dey Lagos, dem for don query you tire for late-coming.” And I would hiss into the phone, “Bitch please, I’m still in bed, I need my extra two hours of sleep, I have to look pretty and fresh-faced always, unlike you stressed out Lagos bitches.” And he would taunt back, “Abuja Queen, rest! We don see you, Madam beauty sleep.”
My worst horrors were confirmed when, a few months ago, I arrived at my desk to find out that I had been selected to undergo an intensive six-month training at our Insurance Company’s headquarters in Lagos. I was speechless. How on earth was I going to survive six months in that choked, congested, humid, steaming urban jungle? The fact that it was only six months long was very little consolation.
Later that night, Jide stuck his tongue out at me when we skyped and I gave him the news. “Calm down joor, it’s not that bad. Besides there are way more clubs and way more boys here, you will get to make your pick from a wide variety of men. It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”
I arrived Lagos shortly after and commenced training. It was hectic and often required long hours. So I hadn’t had time to meet up with Jide, who was also insanely busy with work. On this Friday evening, we had decided to have an after-work hangout. “Just us girls, a sistas hangout, then later we can hit a bar or club for a bit.”
Jide turned twenty-nine a few weeks ago. And from his accounts, his party had been one of the hottest in the “gaybourhood”. According to him, he had guys from as far away as Benin at his birthday. The party had been at the home of his expatriate friend, who lived in a large duplex with ample grounds and a swimming pool. The party had been hot and raunchy. “Just the way I like it,” he said with a salacious wink at me as we sipped on our drinks.
On the morning of his birthday, however, his parents came into his room as he prepared for work, it was barely daybreak. They sat on his bed, gave him some words of advice and prayed for him. Then his mother said, “Jide, we thank God for a hardworking and obedient son like you. You have never given us any trouble or heartache. Today, you are twenty-nine years old. Thankfully, you have a good job with good career prospects. Your father was only twenty-seven when he married me, after three years of courtship. By the time he was your age, you were already born, and shortly after that, your two sisters. We think it’s time for you to settle down with a good, homely woman who will bear your children and help you in building a good home. Jide, your father and I are getting old and we want to play with our grandchildren before we leave this world.”
Jide’s heart sank as the blood drained from his face. He was sure that if he had been light-skinned, the paleness of his face would have been clearly evident. He had always known that this day would come, but no matter how prepared he thought he would be, the impact still hit him like a speeding truck loaded with rocks.
Jide had no interest in females. All he knew was that he liked men and it had been so from as early as he could remember. He began exploring his sexuality in his senior secondary school days with a young youth corper who was posted to his school then to teach. They were drawn to each other and became friends. After school before he went home, Jide would stop over at his house to watch some TV and hangout. One day, the corper – Marcus was his name – had looked mischievously at Jide, and then popped a pornographic disc into the DVD machine. As he watched the muscular, well hung, black men heave and grunt on top of the moaning and screaming mostly-white women, Jide developed a huge hard on; even then he was focused mostly on the sexy black men, largely tuning out the moans of the women. Marcus had noticed his hard-on and felt it with his hand, and slowly, one thing led to another. After Marcus, there was a string of other guys – some students from his school, other corpers and other guys from elsewhere. In his second year in University, he fell deeply for a medical student, but the relationship fell apart after they graduated and went their separate ways. In the university, he had attempted to have sex a few times with a girl he was dating, but it was an experience he preferred not to remember.
Eventually, Jide realized and accepted his sexual orientation for what it was. He came to embrace and thoroughly love his wild, gay side. He became adept at hiding his sexuality from the outside world by using his busy schedule as an excuse for his inability to maintain steady relationships with females.
At this time, as the bustle of the joint swelled around us, Jide was wearing a worried expression on his face as he continued narrating his story to me. Apparently, his mother with the active support of his father had decided to be proactive. She had been making serious enquiries about a suitable wife for her eligible son who was ripe for marriage and who had a bright future. Eventually, her efforts had paid off as she finally found a “lovely wife” for her beloved son. The young woman was a fresh graduate of Accounting and was currently carrying out her National Youth Service. She had expressed a desire to proceed to Canada for an MBA, her parents were willing to finance her education, but were keen for her to get engaged or married before her studies. Her parents were well-to-do, and had met Jide’s parents, whom they genuinely liked and got on very well with. Everything went as planned, all was set up and the only thing left was for Jide to meet the girl. Fadeke is her name. Jide was expected to meet and court her for a few months and shortly thereafter, the traditional wedding, as well as a lavish showy white marriage ceremony would hold. His mother was already making serious wedding plans including aso-ebi colours, reception venues, number of guests et cetera. She had said to her son, “You don’t have to worry about a thing, we will package a very colorful and lavish wedding for you, my son. Fadeke’s father is a successful businessman. Between the two families, we can easily put down ten million naira for the wedding.” His mother looked so excited. In her mind, she was already envisioning the flamboyant wedding ceremony with hundreds of guests, the bright colourful attires, and having all her friends from all over attend the lavish nuptials.
Jide bit on his straw and continued, “Ugo, I honestly don’t know what to do. I love my mother so much. My parents have always been there for me and my sisters. But the truth is I honestly don’t think I can develop love and affection for a female. I am simply not wired that way. I frankly can’t stand the sight of a pussy, the thought of having to fuck it continuously repulses me.”
He was considering applying for a visa to Australia and fleeing there, for he had heard that the Australian embassy was more willing to grant visa applications than the American or British Embassies. He was anyway not willing to go to England, he had lots of relatives there, he had visited once and had found that his trip was taken up by numerous cousins and uncles and aunts. He knew that relocating would mean giving up a career he loved, friends and family he genuinely cared about and facing an uncertain future in a strange new land where he could never be sure what he would encounter. Above all, he worried about the devastating consequences his actions might have on his dear mother.
A few of his friends had suggested hooking up with lesbians, but the thought of that height of deceit turned him off from the whole thing. For the first time since I knew Jide, he was downcast and forlorn, he had lost his usual bubbly personality. That had been replaced by a deeply burdened man.
I also felt a flicker of unease because I was only two years younger than him. But unlike him, I was not an only son. I had two older brothers; the eldest was married and had two kids, while my other brother had a fiancé and was getting set for his wedding in about six months. There were already some funny comments by relatives about why I never attended any family event with any female company. It was mild banter and I simply laughed it off. I knew that as the years went by, the spotlight would be beamed more intensely on me. But I preferred to push this thought aside and leave it for a future date. Jide, however, did not have this luxury; he was the eldest and only son. The dynamics of his family greatly differed from mine.
I tried everything I could to cheer my friend up, but it was obvious that he had changed irreversibly. The evening eventually ended, but not on the happy note I’d anticipated.
Since that day, I have been doing a lot of intense soul searching about what it really means to be gay in a homophobic and conservative country like Nigeria. It seems to me like being born gay in Nigeria is an almost automatic guarantee of constant unhappiness. If – like me – you are an early bloomer, who realized at a very young age (in your early teens or younger) that you are different, you battle with feelings of guilt and confusion; isolation and depression are soon your steady companions. If you are a late bloomer (perhaps in your twenties or thirties), chances are you might escape the severe depression with which the early bloomers are beleaguered by reason of your greater maturity, however, you are likely to grapple with the psychologically exhausting burden of living a double life. The end result: true happiness will be far away from you as you keep up the charade of a happy marriage or heterosexual relationship while suppressing and desperately hiding your “gay tracks” and living with the perpetual fear of ever being found out. I have a few friends in their forties and fifties who resisted societal pressure and remained single rather than succumb to living a fake life they couldn’t stomach. I honestly can’t really call them happy; they face constant criticism and torment from society, one has even lost a previous job because his then boss could not understand why a 44-year old man was unmarried and childless. It was clear that his boss hated him for his effeminate and lonesome ways, and had simply entrapped him with impossible deadlines which he predictably failed to meet, following which he had fired off a recommendation for the termination of his employment to the board of directors.
Ever since my discussion with Jide, I am increasingly starting to believe that it is impossible to retain your happiness and emotional wellbeing as a gay man in Nigeria, especially once you approach your late twenties and thirties. No matter how closeted you are, you will eventually be outed, not by what you do, but by what you don’t and aren’t doing.
I’d like to have your comments and thoughts on how to assist and advice my dear friend Jide. It’s heartbreaking to watch such a bright handsome man, who is additionally good in bed, be slowly destroyed from the inside out, all because of an intolerant society which is unprepared to support any form of diversity.
Written by Khaleesi