As a gay, Muslim, Nigerian living and working in Nigeria, coming out to anyone other than my family and closest friends was never on my to-do list. I was content to live my life in relative silence while others passed judgement on ‘the gays’ but allowing us to live in relative peace. Then came January 2014 and I realized coming out was no longer a choice, but a necessity.
I started by changing my twitter handle and substituting the word happy for gay. I immediately felt empowered. Relieved of a burden. Visible. Alive.
I got questions from a lot of people and I said to them yes, I am gay.
Soon I realized that the more I came out to people, the easier it became and the more I wanted to come out to others. I walked up to my boss and told her ‘the he I have a crush on whom you want to meet, well its a she and not a he’. She smiled and told me to rock on. I came out to my largely homophobic football group?—?to mixed reactions. I came out to the highest ranking legal officer?—?surprisingly, he only wanted to discuss the unconstitutionality of the law. I came out to a senator of the republic who had voted in favor of the law and we had a vibrant 4 hour discussion. Even though he still maintains his support for the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act, he now has a different opinion about letting people live their lives. I will look at that glass as half full.
But I am no longer selective about who I share details of my life with. Whenever I introduce myself, I find a way to mention without prompting, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, that I am gay. I see a lot of surprise, a lot of disapproval, discomfort, disdain and occasionally disgust. Another recurrent theme is curiosity. They wonder why, they wonder how, they ask me if it is a choice, when I knew, how my family reacted, what the new law means to my life and I find that they really want to know; which makes me answer as honestly as I can.
I am hoping that attitudes will change after spending time with a real life gay person and leaving with their humanity, religion, relationship and heterosexuality still intact. I usually have the one question for them: now that you know me, do you still think I should be in jail for 14 years? I haven’t gotten an affirmative yet.
My sudden refusal to hide who I am to make them comfortable in their homophobia is forcing them confront their feelings about the topic. And I believe the more visible gay people are as a community, the faster it will be for others to stop speaking about us in the abstract. We do exist, eat, laugh, love, sleep and work: just like heterosexuals do.
Coming out will not be easy or even an option for everyone, but if you do decide to come out, I wish you luck! Visibility definitely matters.
The truth is, I never wanted to have a conversation about who I have sex with, but because the government and the population is having that conversation, I too am forced to. The simple fact at the end of the day is: I am human. I am Nigerian. I am gay.
Now my social experiment may or may not work. What I do know is that I must try. I will attempt to change minds, tackle homophobia and let Nigerians see a real life gay person: one introduction at a time.
Article written by Azeenarh Mohammed