Nigeria human rights, reflective poetry & the thoughts of a Nigerian gay male. 

By @Akpa_Arinze

In 2009, a Ugandan MP, David Bahati, drafted a bill named Kill the Gays. In late 2013, this was called the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, and was passed as law in parliament. This Act changed the previously held “imprisonment” sentence, to the death penalty. In 2014, the Nigerian government also criminalised homosexuality, and many other African nations took it upon themselves to follow in the footsteps of these two countries.

I was in the undergrad school for my BA and was also facing labelling. Some of my mates (male colleagues) took it as fun to say “He behaves like a woman – he is gay”.

Because of the tension in the country during this period, there was no gay person I knew that was ever “so gay” (going with people’s views on who is gay, and who is not). Every one of them went into hiding. Many took to fake lifestyles, pretending to be who they were not. Society became vigilant. Everyone seen acting as the law stipulated was caught and sanctioned. To be gay in Nigeria within this period was to be stoned, ridiculed, brutalised, or beheaded.

During this time, I sought comfort in several works of poetry. I loved the work of Jericho Brown, Francine J. Harris, Kaveh Akbar, June Jordan, Danez Smith, Roxanne Gay and Ocean Vuong. I admired their courage in the documentation of the “goings-on” of the society – the hostile attitudes towards gays and transgender, or any member of the ‘Rainbow Family’.

The want or need to belong drives people to social places. It can also drive gay men to clubs – though some of these clubs are hidden in Nigeria. I witnessed the death of friend when police raided one such club. I then came across this poem by Danez Smith – The 17-Year-Old & The Gay Bar:

this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we.

bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew

this need to be needed, to belong, to know how

a man taste full on vodka & free of sin.

At once, I thought of all the things the gays I know in Nigeria do to stay hidden and be who they are – everything that had backlashed – that had claimed their lives in the process. All of this, because someone somewhere thinks that homosexuality is “sin”, but whose definition are we using? Words given meaning by fellow human? Like the way “heterosexual” formerly meant “perv”?

As a child, I fancied my sisters’ clothes – I’d never wear any clothes but theirs. I’d walk in my mother’s shoes, tied her head scarf, and paraded myself in the village as a grown woman. Other times relatives mistook me as a new person in the family and would ask my mum when she gave birth to another girl. Other times too, I’d be caught and made to remove the attire. It was fun for a child of eight through twelve, but then I was sent to a high school that was bent on instilling morals into young ones by threatening the students with hell.

Bring back to life the son
Who glories in the sin
Of immediacy, calling it love.
God, save the man whose arm
Like an angel’s invisible wing
May fly backward in fury
Whether or not his son stands near.
Help me hold in place my blazing jaw
As I think to say, excuse me.

Jericho Brown’s poem (above), Prayer of the Backhanded, makes me weep every time I read it. It haunts me as I try decoding the meaning of every figure of speech encountered. What prayer is the next gay man facing execution saying? How does God approach it? I know the things that will kill a man like me (either in Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe or any other country of the world criminalising LGBTQIA+) – this thought alone makes me sweat.

I grew up in a religious home, which meant that every one of my footsteps must be ordered in the way of Jesus, as written in the Bible, but not as he might have lived the said life. I have found myself in arguments about whether gays are God’s children or not. I’d shriek and shriek to no end sometimes.

…men when they cannot change anything

Jet themselves indoors and feed on what is left

Of a magic mushroom and watch the world dance

Like a bereaved widow –

Before I had the courage to choose who I was, people already defined it for me – the sexuality question was all over me. I saw myself fighting this often in my teens and finally, in my current 20s. In Nigeria, you are either gay or straight, no one knows of pansexuals, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, asexuals, etc. No one cared, everyone who is conceived of not being straight is bundled and thrown into this “gay” frame, and persecuted as expected. Families disown their children or wards or whatever. Anyone who comes out is reported to the police or sent to be stoned by the mob outside. I used to think I was asexual because I wanted to stay away from all of this. I like my life peaceful. I stayed this way for years before finally admitting that I am pansexual. Which leaves me explaining to people that “I am not so gay, neither am I so straight”. No one listened to that, so, I joined the other young Nigerian creatives to make some people hear it, and keep hearing the story until everything is changed.

Everyone fights for something, but I don’t see myself fighting for anything – I’d lived six years of my life in denial and lying to myself. This, of course, led to excessive drinking and engaging. I had failing health, but I lived an unhealthy lifestyle. I stayed out with friends of all types to keep sane of whatever thing that was happening. This experience is better captured in:

Fellow young angels and I

Hallucinated upon Angel Dust –

We saw the world coming to an end

In 2013 before it ever did –

We all believed in the powers of resurrection –

Two angels leapt off the 3rdMainland Bridge

And now it is my turn to show the city of Lagos

How disco lights flicker

Every one of us – young as we were, had something to hide from, think about, and forget. So, some mornings, it wouldn’t be news whenever I heard any of my friends had died – I always knew the cause of death.

In 2016, I came online for the first time, to show my support to the loved ones of the victims of the Orlando Club shooting. With millions of people, I condemned the act and ever since have been active in the decriminalisation of gay people. We are all humans. Let love lead.

In 2017, a gay poet friend of mine won a Brunel Prize for Poetry, and young Nigerians took to the media to slander this award, and ever since, have targeted the LGBTQIA+ advocates. Another poet was kidnapped, another friend was shot, another in the police custody, another disappeared – me? My phones never stopped beeping with threats, and on three occasions, I was beaten with my devices confiscated and run over a motorcycle. Other times, hungry youths have come asking me for money, or else I’d be reported for supporting gays.

This is the Nigeria I live in. This is not the Nigeria we want, or the future we dreamed. My poems, or that of the poets I mentioned earlier may not do that much, but let them teach, as well as inspire people to embrace love. How much dead do you want to witness before you start accepting what you cannot change?

Interview with the creator of The Outcome Project. 

Thanks for doing this interview with Pride matters.
Can you explain what Outcome is all about? 

Outcome, in a nutshell, is a portrait project of LGBT+ people, representing the notion of ‘it gets better.’  In detail, I photograph LGBT people as they are now – as out adults – referencing part of their daily life; the tools of their trade for example, while they hold a childhood photo of themselves. Visually showing the child they once were, to the adult they are not, after coming out.  Outcome hopes to stand for an optimistic outlook for anyone growing up feeling different and isolated, not quite sure who they are or if anyone else feels the same. Furthermore, Outcome helps to breakdown stereotypes of what an LGBT+ person looks like or can achieve, because there is no absolute definition.

What inspired you to do this project?

I was inspired to start and develop the project out of a desire to do more portraiture and needing a concept, I chose a gay theme, as I was now out and could talk about these things and be confident to associate myself with a gay related project.  Outcome quickly became clear that it could do some good to the audience. Showing young LGBTs, that they are not alone and being gay/bi/trans etc is OK and you have all these portraits serving as role models.  I’m now responding on twitter to young people telling me they’ve had the courage to come out, because I’ve reached out to them, simply by saying “be brave, you’re not alone.”

What is your background?

Born and raised in south east London, I had a typical childhood. Family holidays, good school, plenty of friends and things to do in the school holidays. Really I can’t complain.  However, in the back of my mind I knew I was different and just tried to hide that part and deal with it when I was older. I got older and still did not deal with it. My own insecurities held me back, fearful of outing myself I started to become introvert, but found comfort in school work, creative work and TV. An awakening and, needing to grow up, I started to deal with my confidence and came out. With hindsight I should have got it over with sooner.  This is a message I wanted to express with Outcome, don’t let fear hold you back, go out and grab life, it’s yours to live!

When you was questioning your sexuality how did you feel?

I tried to hide it – hide it from others and even myself. I was too scared to deal with it or let others know. I told myself when I was old enough I’d probably move away and be out with the new people in my life. A ridiculous thought because I love my family too much to leave them.  So I let the fear build up and delayed coming out.  After having done so, the great weight had lifted. Looking back now, with hindsight, I should have got it over with and enjoy life. Which is partly my message with Outcome, showing it does get better and a life out of the closet, can be a happy & rich one.

Do you think it’s easier to come out in 2016 than ever before? 

I do think it’s easier, than maybe 20 years ago, as there is more acceptance and less prejudice against LGBT people – but still not enough. I do, however, think that it’s still incredibly difficult. I have met alot of people and heard alot of coming out stories through working on my Outcome portrait project that I know for some it has been very difficult. Yet we talk about coming out, but it is the feelings of fear, isolation and anxiety before coming out that we all share. Incase the reaction is a bad one. You prepare yourself for a negative reaction and this is not a good feeling; of impending doom.

Do you think the questioning stage could be made easier? 

The questioning stage will be different for everyone. I remember not having any questions, I just didn’t want to deal with it.  At least with social media nowadays, if anyone has questions they can reach out to find their answers through self-help/well-being organisations and charities.  I think it is difficult to target people to help them with their questions – they will seek the answers; we just have to make sure the answers are there and clear. So for instance, I’ll make sure Outcome is visible and accessible for people to see the portraits and get to see some role models through that. Other websites offer case studies and other people’s stories to help support.

I understand that you raised the funds through crowd funding. How successful was it raising capital for a LGBT project this way? 

Working with Arachne Press, the publisher of my Outcome book, we set up a crowdfund.  Money started to trickle in, then it poured in and thankfully we got more money than first requested.  I found that people who wanted to help could see how a project like Outcome is important. I had messages from people saying they wish they’d had seen something like this when they were growing up. Which is really humbling to think a project that came about roughly 2 years ago, can have such a positive influence on people.

Clearly your project does add to the mix of helping people to find comfort in their gender or sexuality, but what else could be done? 

Yes, my Outcome project helps to demonstrate there are LGBT in all walks of life, breaking down stereotypes that do still exist. Also, the portraits stand as individual role models for those growing up realising they may be different. To see so many people, in different professions and at different stages in life stand proud as out LGBT people, it gives a reassurance that you’re not on your own and it does get better.  I think more can be done by having something brought into social science classes. A presentation for example, of Outcome with some role models giving talks.  This does already happen through some great organisations – such as Educate & Celebrate.  I also think more can be done within our own community. I had great help from a friend who had already come out and helped me tackle the fear I had about it – we need to look out for others not quite out of the closet and make a welcoming family for them, incase things don’t go too well with their coming out.

Do you think some form of lgbt fund would help projects like your own? 

I could see that working. Working with my book publisher, we successfully crowdfunded enough money to produce the book and prints for the large exhibition I have at the University of Greenwich, coinciding with National Coming Out Day.  However, crowdfunding is hard work and a lot of begging and sharing links for money. An existing LGBT fund would help project such as mine a great deal.

Sign up to Tom’s Outcome Thunderclap:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/46902-outcomebook-exhibition?locale=en

To order Outcome the book:

https://arachnepress.com/shop/#!/Outcome-LGBT-Portraits-Pre-order-due-October-2016/p/62912054/category=18323013

Questioning yourself. 


Last updated on 31st December 2016



Questioning you’re self identify is hard to do.

As a friend put it, it’s the period between discovering you may not be ‘heterosexual’ or you are feeling conflicted in regards of your gender’ and knowing who you truly are!

Often a while before you come out too.

So I asked the question……. 

What advise you would give someone who is questioning their sexuality and/or gender?


@skylar596

Don’t feel pressured to figure it out now. It’s OK to explore.

@jaguar1960

Be true to who you are. No matter what. It’s the only peace.

@fuxyeahitstommy


You don’t have to label yourself. Have fun, be safe, and be happy.

@MrHellInBoots

Don’t be rude! Use some lube.

@TraciBayless
You are perfect no matter the answer to your question

@CBCelestine444

If you have questions you have in regards of your identity, then explore them with the person you are attracted to.

@the79show

Don’t be afraid to be your own brand of lgbt

@Jess4Hillary16

Dr Seuss said it best #loveislove

@ThirdOracle

Feel free to question someone you trust who’s gone through the same type of questioning. It’s natural. Seek support.

@roygaybiv

Sexuality are gender are spectrums, don’t let labels define who you are.

@fakeddetamore

No matter your answers you’re still you. Don’t find a label that fits? Define your own orientation.

@jonna_boy 

Don’t let other people’s opinions influence who you want to be.

@LesDane

Don’t ask for advice, and if someone tries to advise you, don’t listen. That’s my advice.

@KittenKoder

Try it before you buy it.

You don’t have to feel guilty if you make a mistake, simply be honest at all times, as much as you can and don’t rush, don’t ever feel obligated to give yourself a label!

From this point onwards Also available in Spanish http://wp.me/p7ZaHo-7

Going through adolescence is tough at best of times. however when you are unsure about your self identity it can make it much harder. So I asked our followers on @Mattersofpride what advice would they give anyone questioning their self identity….. 

@The_BadBlogger

If you spend your whole life hiding your true self because of what others think, you’ll only end up hurting yourself.

@scytheanon

You’re not the first and nor will you be the last to have doubts and discovering your true identity is not a race. Relax.

@sara_harnetty

Take your time. Find support. Reach out to someone you trust before the stress gets to you.

@Winkypopo

You don’t have to know today. Love who you love, accept love, and be honest about your feelings. It’s to hard trying to be someone else.

@QueerComedy

A lot of us struggle with self identity. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Surround yourself with encouraging, positive people

@gregstevens 

It’s ok to not know. 

It’s ok to not have an answer.

@Wisemanmoore

Authentically be yourself and realize that your gifts to the world can never be reproduced.

@psavoie626

Question in a gentle, loving way. Put aside bias from upbringing/religion/community. Know that identity is fluid over time.

@jasper_jen 

There is lots of time to find out and explore yourself, as long as youre living your life and having fun you’re doing.

@MALSTWR

Shine.
Allow yourself to be the star you truly are.

There is only one of you.

See your potential.

Live, love and be happy.

Life is for living and loving.

I personally would recommend to concentrate on your own mental wellbeing, don’t worry about telling people because of ‘honesty issues’, people keep secrets all the time.

The number one priority is YOU. 

What is most important is understanding yourself and moving away from the questioning group at your own speed accepting the beauty of who you truly are.

Extra information. 

Here are Wipe out Homophobia’s pages on advice for families and lgbtqia persons. 

http://www.stop-homophobia.com/comingout.htm

http://www.stop-homophobia.com/my-coming-out

The above are also available in Spanish. 

http://wp.me/p78BZ8-15E

There is plenty of support out there for parents too. 

Pflag groups are global. Here are a few of countries groups websites. 

UK – http://www.pflag.co.uk/

Canada – http://pflagcanada.ca/

USA – https://www.pflag.org/

Australia -http://pflagaustralia.org.au/

If you would like your countries pflag group adding please contact us with the details.
We are constantly updating these pages with more information, please keep checking and advising. 

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