Gay was an obscure word until my first year in the University. I mean, in secondary school, I knew that girls did things to themselves in the dark in their hostels; my best girlfriend had written a long amused letter from her boarding school in Oyo State to tell me all about dykes and babes. Dyke was an interesting word, I thought, and it just about ended there for the most part. Until University.
On campus, beneath the orderly surface of lectures, parties, strikes, cult clashes, stray bullets, fun, rape, there were the gay rumors. The finger pointing and name callings. And then there was my friend Bayo (not his real name.) He was a shock because he was nothing like I imagined, he did not look like any of the stereotypes I had seen on TV and come to expect.
To start with, he did not, as much as I could tell, harbor a secret desire to wear thongs and pantyhose, and he did not hang his hand mid-air when he talked. Not that I would have minded much. But he wore his good old shirts and trousers and went about his rather ordinary life. On suspicion alone, I would never have been able to tell. Yet, Nigeria’s new anti-gay bill renders a person arrest worthy, on the suspicion of being gay.
It is hard to cut through the very thick layer of homophobia dominating the conversation around Nigeria’s anti-gay bill to begin to explain just how problematic and open-ended the bill is. The sentiments are the same and old, but they are as shrill as before (if not more) and will not be penetrated by any opposing view. In fact, opposing has been roughly rounded off to mean ‘secretly gay.’ Nigerians are more unanimous in their wish to see a gay person put behind bars for fourteen years it would seem, than they are to see a sitting senator called out (read as punished) for not just marrying successive under-aged girls but for trying to sneak in a law that institutionalized it. Ask any Nigerian anti-gay how he/she thinks fourteen years in prison might help a gay Nigerian and your answer could be anything from the very obtuse “if your forefathers where gay, would there be anybody left in the world now to demand gay rights?” to the misguided “it is freedom of speech, I am allowed to exercise my basic human right!”
Perhaps, if we could step out of ourselves and at least imagine how it could be true for them? What most of us know about being gay is NOTHING plus a healthy dose of opinionated-ness. Yet it takes just a willingness to see, to get from dykes and babes to human being like me who is different. And even then, you are by no means free of the effects of a lifetime of social conditioning.
For the Christians, not supporting Nigeria’s anti-gay bill does not mean that you are supporting evil. It means that you will not stand by and see injustice prevail. I am certain it is what Jesus would do. Remember Mary Magdalene and what it must have looked like at the time for Him to stand where he stood, against the status-quo. For the cultural foot soldiers, there are a lot of ways in which we have contravened our very sacred African Culture in the name of Progress so can we not bring that argument up? And for the extra zealous, we have a nicely put African proverb that kind of sums it up: You do not cut of your nose in a bid to smoothen your face.
When people are more willing to stick rigidly to what they know in the face of clear facts, when our notoriously anti-people government officials and politicians suddenly begin to make very curious, broad claims on behalf of Nigerians, when people are thinking more about the preservation of abstract variables than the lives of other people who may very well be friend, sister, brother, aunty, uncle, father, mother, then we know that it is time to start getting really anxious.
By Kechi Nomu:
Kechi Nomu writes from Warri. In 2012, she took part in the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop. Her work has appeared in Saraba Magazine and elsewhere.
A training workshop at the 3rd African Feminist Forum in Dakar, Senegal