Hi, my name is Isaac! I’m 19 year old Nigerian and I currently go to school in the UK. And I’m gay.
Ever since I was young, I knew I was gay. I would rather play with Barbie and Bratz dolls than action figures (even though I love my X-men). Every Friday, you could trust that I was in front of the TV watching Heidi tell me, “in fashion, one day you’re in and the next you’re out.” I knew I wanted a boyfriend and not a girlfriend. I knew I was gay.
Now, I know that these examples seem to reinforce gay stereotypes and I just want to say: not all gay men like fashion, act “feminine” or enjoy “feminine” things. I know that. Everyone should know that. Because as Chimamanda Adichie (a renowned Nigerian author) said, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Personally, I happened to fall into this stereotype of “feminine” gay guys.
These examples were simply meant to give somewhat of a segue into the topic of my experience growing up gay in Nigeria.
Nigeria is a busy country buzzing with over 170 million people and 370 ethnic groups. It’s a rather interesting place to grow up, and it has its unique set of ups and downs. Some rather obvious ups (that are increasingly shared with the world) include its: music, food and somewhat sociable nature (especially in places like Lagos where I grew up). On the other hand, its downs range from a corrupt government, to a strong hold on some rather misogynistic and homophobic cultural/ religious beliefs.
At a young age, I thought my interest in fashion was somehow tied to my sexuality. Looking back, it was probably because these two things fell into my “what-makes-me-different” box. Majority of the men and boys around me seemed to care little to none about the numerous dress silhouettes or fashion trends. The men had wives and the boys had short-lived crushes on the girls in class. I was different from these men and boys, and I felt that everything that made me different was related.
Growing up in Lagos where the fine line between “masculinity” and “femininity” was (and still is) so important, my difference was not welcomed. People didn’t quite understand why I’d rather play dress-up than football. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding opened the door to a lot of scrutiny and bullying. As I grew up, people assumed my sexuality based on my interests and mannerisms, and (invalid) insults changed from derisive “ew, you’re a girl in a boy’s body” to one of my many trigger words, “fag.”
Even though I know now that those insults were void (what’s inherently wrong/shameful in being attracted to the same sex/ enjoying things that society claims to be for the opposite sex?), I didn’t know that when I was growing up.
I allowed those insults get to me and for the longest time, I decided to pretend to be straight. In acting straight and “masculine” (which I did horribly by the way), as much as I saved myself from dealing with a couple of insults, what I lost was more valuable. I forcefully hid important aspects of my personality and at times regrettably betrayed communities which I was actually a part of.
It was exhausting and unhealthy. Take it from me, it’s never a good idea to suppress harmless aspects of yourself. There will always be a place for you to fully embrace who you are. Find it and be yourself there.
I found my place in accepting friends, cities and extracurricular clubs. Heck, find your place in music, movies and TV/web shows (s/o to About Him & RuPaul’s Drag Race).
Wherever it is, there’s always an enjoyable sense of ease found in your place. And while we are waiting for the world to become our place, it’s also our responsibility to make it so. So, in whichever way you can, do try and make the world a more accepting place.