AND THEN HE SAID TO ME…

AND THEN HE SAID TO ME…

We went to the same university, my paternal cousin and I. He was a couple of classes ahead of me, older, of course, than me, and treated me with the avuncular affection of a big brother to a younger one. He always gave me money and provisions whenever mine had depleted, and frequently asked me over to his place for sleepovers. He is tall, dark and handsome, and there were moments then, when I nursed a crush on him.

He graduated from school before me, and it wasn’t long before he relocated to the UK to further his studies. We kept in touch, and he continued to look out for me. A year or two after he left Nigeria, he apparently found his calling as a clergyman, and was soon ordained an Anglican priest.

For some illogical reason, I felt as though he had betrayed me.

This was around the period I’d just started getting disillusioned with my faith and the church. I had battled for so long to accept my sexuality, only to suddenly find myself facing the self-righteous indignation of the church. Disapprobation against homosexuality were starting to salt the teachings in my church, with priest after white-garmented priest standing at the altar and shaking his fist in condemnation of the ‘sin’ of man sleeping with his fellow man, and woman sleeping with her fellow woman. I refused to feel guilty about my desires. I refused to be torn up over my libidinous choices. And so, when it came down to a choice of the church and my sexuality, I found myself resenting the compulsory Sunday morning routines and sulking in the face of the crucifix that frowned down at me from the pulpit with sorrow-faced patronization.

And so, with the widening chasm between the church and I came the distance between my cousin and I. I simply couldn’t be bothered to keep in touch with him, this very close relative of mine. Soon after his ordination, he got married and had a kid in quick succession. Expectedly, word of his progress in life filtered back to Nigeria, and my father would gush, “Ah, look at how Henry is doing so well in London – a wife, a son…he’s becoming quite the man.”

The old man never turned to me to ask me the perennial question: “So when are you going to become quite the man yourself?” He never did. But it was implied in the gushing pride he took in my cousin.

I wasn’t bothered. Henry was after all years my senior, I reasoned. He was allowed to get married and have children, first before me. It was his time.

And then, the president signed into existence the anti-gay law, the move that kicked the Nigerian internet hemisphere into an uproar. The blogosphere and social media were split into the multitudinous right wing conservatives who lauded the president’s decision and the defensive pro-gay minority who preached the violation of human rights. At first I was afraid, and my fear brought about my silence. I cowered from arguments that rehashed the law. And then, I slowly began to get indignant, outraged. And when the vitriol came pouring, I lashed back. I got antagonistic, I unfriended contacts, I cut off acquaintances. When a friend queried my passion with a thinly-veiled insinuation about the true nature of my sexuality, I shut him up with a scathing rejoinder about the fight for human rights.

And then Henry called. There was a financial matter he wanted to discuss with me. Somehow, we went from that fiscal issue to him asking about my pro-gay stance, something he’d been silently observing from my social media activity.

I was instantly guarded, wondering where our conversation was going. If he however had any suspicions, I didn’t think he would give voice to them. Because no matter how passionately we may feel for or against the controversy of sexuality, when it hits close to home, when it becomes an elephant in the room, everyone likes not to talk about it.

But Henry surprised me. He hit me with the question point-blank. “I’m saying this thing because I’m wondering,” he said. “I’m wondering…are you gay?”

I reeled. I was speechless. How dare he ask me such a question? In a matter of seconds, I had battled with different instincts, anxiety with suggested I lie, and defiance which prompted for the truth.

“I hope you are not,” he continued. “But if you are, talk to me at once.”

I was still speechless.

“Talk to me, I’m waiting,” he urged.

Feeling suddenly resentful, I snapped, “How did we get from the money issue to my sexuality?”

“Related, I suppose,” he replied. “But you know you can confide in me. I’d never judge you. But I don’t want you living a lie and in denial. Just be honest with me. I won’t judge.”

Thing is, I’d heard someone once say: The ironic thing is, it’s those who say they won’t judge that are quick to pick up the gavel.

So, no, dear cousin, I can’t be honest with you. I won’t be honest with you.

“Come on, kid brother, if it’s any help,” he continued, “I have gay people in my church, and they are my best friends.”

I couldn’t lie to him, not out of any obligation to him, but out of respect to myself. So, I said as coldly as I could manage, “Whatever my sexuality is is no one’s business. Please, let’s drop this issue.”

He let a heavy silence pass, one which underscored my remark, one which was heavy with his conviction about my sexuality. I didn’t care what he knew or thought. I didn’t bother to try to convince him otherwise. As long as I was concerned, his thoughts were his, and had nothing to do with me.

What if he tells your parents, a little voice nagged inside me, what then?

Well then, that would be that.

But Henry didn’t tell my parents. Nothing got back to me. Life went on. Months passed. He had another baby. His life was expanding in the UK. Mine was still just about me in Nigeria.

And then, last week, he buzzed me on Facebook. An inbox chat. I replied. And in his characteristic point-blank attitude, he asked: So, how’s the sexuality exploration coming along?

ME: Um, sexuality exploration?

HIM: Yes, you exploring your sexuality…

ME: When did we talk about me exploring my sexuality?

HIM: You told me something a long time ago about your sexuality. I was wondering if you are still feeling the same way.

ME: (thinking: I did, huh? I remember that conversation differently. But what da heck…) Well, it’s going good, the exploration.

HIM: Have you been able to tell anyone else?

(Note how we were now suddenly sure about me being gay. How did that happen?)

ME: No, but my brother found out earlier this year from my phone. We had a quarrel over it. Then he stopped talking to me. And then he started talking to me, but not about it. So now, we’re basically ignoring that issue.

(Yes, my immediate younger brother is the one family member who has been confronted by the reality of my sexuality. But that’s a story for another time)

HIM: You know it’s going to be a very hard road, right? But you’re a person with so much love. So I’m sure all will be well. You must be careful because of the law in Nigeria. I wish I can get you over here ASAP. That way you are at least safe.

In that instant, I felt a suffocating feeling in my chest, an emotion that was starting to squeeze the cavity tight. I could not believe his response, my cousin, the Reverend, was sounding like . . . like . . . he was accepting of who I am. My brother had called me names when he found out. He had told me how disgusted he was of me. And then, he had made me feel like I was being a failure to our family, and a disgrace to my birthright. My brother . . . if I didn’t feel an obligation to love him, I’d have hated him for the things he said to me.

But this, this tolerance from my cousin, it was entirely new to me. I tried to give voice to my feelings.

ME: You have no idea how much these things you’ve just said to me means to me. This has been a very lonely living. But gone are the days when I was in denial or afraid to accept myself. I’m quite okay with my life now. I manage myself fine. I try to stay out of trouble. I know the worst yet lies ahead. So I’m basically taking it one day at a time.

HIM: Jisi ike, inu? I’ll be home in a few weeks time. And we’ll think of a strategy to get you out of that country to someplace where you can live your life to its fullest potential.

In that moment, I thought I would cry. I didn’t. Instead, I typed: If nothing, I’m happy you have not condemned me.

HIM: Condemn you?

And then, as though digital print was not enough to convey the wealth of his next words, he called me.

I answered his call.

And then he said to me: “You are my sweetest cousin. You are a man of so much love and I’m blessed to be related to you. Your sexuality is a blessing and your ability to recognise it is a gift. You are much loved. Never doubt my devotion to you for a second.”

That was all he said to me before he disconnected the call and came back to Facebook. We carried on with other issues, but his words stayed with me. All that he said to me – they stayed with me, they filled my heart, and they gave me hope.

Written by Pink Panther

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45 Comments

  1. Samaurai
    October 25, 04:34 Reply

    …sorrow-faced patronizationLMAO!!!
    Oh! Pinky, how dare you talk about the image of Christ like that?

    Anyways, as always, having the support of a family member, whether extended or nuclear, is always a huge boost. As for me, my family suspects sha. Because they somehow caught the guy who “disvirgined” me. But as for me telling anybody openly, whether cousin or brother or uncle, etc, I don’t think I have such understanding people around me.

    At least, I’m happy for you, Pinky, that you have a support system right within your family circle.

  2. Rapu'm
    October 25, 04:37 Reply

    This almost brought tears to my eyes. I grew up Anglican too, and I remember when the gay issue became highly contentious, threatening to split the church. The Church of Nigeria, with its second-largest Anglican population, was a big homophobic bully. I’m grateful your cousin chose to stay there. Those words he said? They almost made me cry.

  3. daniel
    October 25, 04:42 Reply

    Whoa! They αre consoling αηd nice

    • daniel
      October 25, 06:07 Reply

      There’s another Daniel? Since when mbok?

      Nice article Pinky, I could never stop going to church, so I faced my deepest fears, there was a time when I quivered on my seat in church as the pastor mentioned Homosexuality, bcos I felt the eyes of accusers were on me.(And trust me u don’t wanna make eye contact with anyone at that time). Now I don’t give a damn, I enter into church for worship, and no one can make me feel bad about it.

      • Max
        October 25, 06:34 Reply

        I use to be terrified of church then.. In fact I stopped going in my teens cos I had a horrifying dream where the priest came to my seat and brought me out saying the lord ministered to him that I’m gay and that I should repent. So then in church I use to be terrified. Imagine that happening in real life.
        Growing up, I’ve found out it was conceived from a mixture of the childhood brainwashing about homosexuality which we all went through as kids. You have no idea how much that shit can affect you if you let it.

        • pinkpanthertb
          October 25, 06:50 Reply

          Hahahahaa. That your nightmare was mine too, Max. In fact the time I was about to go to boarding school in time for the start of my senior WAEC exams, my parents took me for prayers. And all thru the ordeal my heart kept on pounding cos I thot the priest would suddenly circumvent his prayer for my exam success and pounce on a revelation that (horror upon horrors) this young lad is gay. Lol.
          Suffice it to say, I never agreed yo go for prayers anymore.

  4. king
    October 25, 05:54 Reply

    Yeah pinky now I know where you get off being the way you are with religion and all and ah yes I do appreciate and now understand you a little but more and should say am sorry for being so unfeeling (well not that I knew anything bout your past). This story touched me in all the right places and I really feel you in this. Wow what a lovely big cousin of yours you have and such a blessing….that he could actually feel you and calm you the best way possible thru that spontaneous phone call…..that was special!! He is and should be treasured!$$

  5. olima
    October 25, 06:09 Reply

    Pinky!!!!! Ur cousin is a grt man. Thank God got d likes of him. At a point I was tempted to think I knew dis Anglican priest of urs; tho mine lives in naija.
    U r truly blessed n loved bro. I can’t tell u how blessed I am to hv such a person in my life.

  6. anonymous
    October 25, 06:23 Reply

    Beautiful write-up.
    I’m so sorry about your brother, that must’ve been painful.
    Cheers to your cousin.

  7. lluvmua
    October 25, 06:50 Reply

    Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww *cleans tears* I wish I had a cousin like dat!!! Awwwwwwwww

  8. chestnut
    October 25, 06:59 Reply

    Pinky,ur cousin is a special man. It’s amazing that d love he had/has for u was not overshadowed by knowledge of ur sexuality.I guess his exposure to a diverse array of people over there in london also helps him to understand and accept that gay people are not monsters, nor did we “choose” to be who we are voluntarily.

    • pinkpanthertb
      October 25, 07:05 Reply

      I guess his relocation to a more tolerant atmosphere helped his lack of prejudice.

  9. Lothario
    October 25, 07:08 Reply

    Oh wow! That’s a lot….lucky you!

  10. Dennis Macauley
    October 25, 07:33 Reply

    Ok. I am not gonna cry! No I refuse to cry!
    Damm it I won’t cry

    *covers eyes with ferragamo shades*

    • Khaleesi
      October 25, 07:48 Reply

      @dennis, heiii, drama queen!!! C’mere babes ***gently takes off your pink ferragamo shades, and wipes your tears with silky Versace hanky held in my manicured hands with bright red painted nails’ taking great care not to ruin your long fluttery eyelashes***

      • Dennis Macauley
        October 25, 08:00 Reply

        Hian*

        Pink Ferragamo shades?

        Eye lashes kwa?

        *runs away*

        I think you have the wrong guy biko!

      • Khaleesi
        October 25, 08:03 Reply

        Akuko! Running to where? ***grabs you by your long silky hair and wipes your eyes some more***

      • Dennis Macauley
        October 25, 08:08 Reply

        Chimo!

        Where you see silky hair?

        Obara chisos!

        Pink Panther abeg come and rescue me!
        Hian*

  11. Aproko Pikin
    October 25, 07:40 Reply

    Ah, some pple should not find out i’m gay in my family o, na serious meeting…

    Lucky you Pinky! Pray tell, when are you whisking away to the UK?

  12. gad
    October 25, 07:49 Reply

    Can we say that this Priest represents that part of the Church that sees things differently? I’m sure with this “sacrifice” by Pinky, there will be more tolerance in umbrella condemnation of the church’s anti-gay stands. One remarkable thing I have noticed in this and other gay stories is that gays are always quick to deny their sexuality. I understand our fears but let’s relate it to the members of the society who won’t dare speak up for gays too.I think we all have same fears therefore,its only fair that we apply restraint in our attacks and condemnations. Brother Pinky, I understand your fears and anxieties. I suffer same too but let’s take all as a duty to the generations that are coming after us. We will get there.

    • Dennis Macauley
      October 25, 08:02 Reply

      Gad I guess you are a nice person, but it always riles me up when you say “gays are…….”, and you always use that term, as if gay men are these twisted people that you are not a part of and cannot understand!

      It is patronizing and very condescending! It also smacks of hypocrisy!!!

      • gad
        October 25, 08:57 Reply

        Iam gay. That doesn’t mean that if fellow gays do something wrong, I should applaud it or close my eyes to it. I believe we all are pursuing one common goal: to build an egalitarian society where people,s rights are respected. We can’t achieve that through falsehood. I’m not looking for fans or supporters here. I’m here to learn from my kind and maybe they can learn from me too but all must be done in good faith and honesty.wait a minute! He thought I’m a Goodman!! *head swells* thanks

      • Dennis Macauley
        October 25, 10:30 Reply

        @gad

        *punctures swelling head*

        @King

        I haven’t seen IluvMua’s groom price oo!

        I am waiting

        • gad
          October 25, 14:00 Reply

          Groom prize? Groom prize! Is it part of the changes?hmmmm

      • king
        October 25, 12:52 Reply

        Oh Dennis I still haven’t gotten the list yet..my pipo wanna also visit your pipo so we want a date to…so…Iluvmia darling kiss kiss…leys just hope you re not expensive oooo…

  13. Micky Mouse
    October 25, 07:56 Reply

    Awww!! This is so amazing. My brother and a few of my cousins knows about me and it has made life so much easier.I don’t have to hide when it comes to them. Having this kinda support from a family member is the best thing that can happen to a Nigerian gay.

  14. simba
    October 25, 07:57 Reply

    All I can say is.. thank God for giving u such an uncle. Ur lucky dear, mine is complicated, tho I have plenty out gay families, but mine will be a different story

  15. Khaleesi
    October 25, 08:00 Reply

    Wow … your cousin … now thats some man!! This story deeply touched me!! Clearly his sojourn in a more tolerant clime has changed his views towards gays …my feelings about religion are crystal clear to anyone who has followed this blog for even a few weeks … the church here in Nigeria is largely led by homophobes who have simply cloaked their ancient homophobic feelings under the garb of religious piety … I cant and wont deal with that! You’re lucky to have such a wise and compassionate cousin, because I know some people who even after years of life in the West still cling stubbornly to their homophobia, its like they live abroad yet refuse to accept the reality of their adopted country … please keep this cousin close … he’s one in a million …

  16. Deola
    October 25, 08:26 Reply

    This Kicked me in the FEELS!!!
    The fact that you have someone close to you who knows and accepts it, wow I can’t even imagine how that would feel.
    Whenever the gay issue comes up in my family, every single one of them condemn it with words like abomination, disgusting, revolting, ungodly, disturbing and my heart breaks a little all the while I just slip away from the discussion and put on my earphones and Imagine I am someplace else, somewhere where I can openly be myself without the fear of being lynched, I take a deep breathe and I feel just a little bit better again

    • gad
      October 25, 10:22 Reply

      Families adopt a hard posture against gays until they realize that one of their own is gay. Your family won’t lynch you if they find out. I bet you

  17. Greg
    October 25, 11:40 Reply

    What a cousin to have. So nice of him,and I think he is well exposed. I also had a frnd dat was very homophobic when he was in nigeria,but if u see d way he talks about hypocrites in d nigerian government when d anti gay bill was signed,after his sojourn to d u.k. Ones environment changes ones mentality.

  18. Peak
    October 25, 12:41 Reply

    Hmmmm hearing that fellow nigerian gay men who ve some form of support system is like. A ray of light in a dark dark tunnel. Touching story pinky! I don’t see that happening for me though. My dad would gut me like a pig first than hear such a thing. Its heart wrenching to be watching a movie with ur younger ones and a gay scene comes on or watching a reality show and someone identifies as being gay, you can cut the level of disgust coming from them. So thanks for sharing pinky such a soothing story

    • simba
      October 25, 12:57 Reply

      Oh @peak… cheers and hugs, we all there, but it’s gonna get better.. one day at a time.. que sera sera

    • king
      October 25, 12:59 Reply

      Wow its actually sooo nice to know that all the pipo here..well most that we have heared from have about the same pressure that family potentially erupts….it actually seems to me that there should be a poll out on the Nigerian family that says for every 3 children in any Nigerian family 1 is gay!!! Am feeling this to be so not far from the truth right about now abi….

    • gad
      October 25, 14:04 Reply

      Wait till they know your sexuality and see how the will change sides

  19. s_sensei
    October 28, 16:19 Reply

    God bless your cousin. Biko, leave this country if u can. Somehow I have always felt you don’t belong here!

  20. Musa
    October 30, 16:14 Reply

    Glad to hear this story pinky!.. I know your cousin very well. He was my friend at the university. I was also physically present during his ordination and wedding ceremonies. He got a very liberal mind. I do not think reasons for his actions are far fetched: He had a very close friend in uni days, who is one of us (His friend’s dad was an Anglican archbishop).

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