Previously on THIS STORY: I was set up on Friday, lured to my entrapment, beaten and relieved of my possessions, and thereafter, got ‘saved’ by the SARS police, only to proceed to spend an entire weekend under the custody. I was outed to my brother and had to be released upon a 200 thousand naira bail.
But the story continues…
The rest of Monday went by in a blur of activity. My third-oldest brother and I didn’t talk much; we simply had some things to get settled in Lagos in order to be able to fly back to Enugu the next day. First I was taken to my workplace, where it was easy to get a short leave of absence, considering my story (that I’d been kidnapped) and how I looked. The office directed me to the company clinic to get checked up. The check-up was very perfunctory, and then I was released. As this went on, using my Nokia torch phone (which was the only thing, beside my wallet, which I got back from the entire nightmare), I called my childhood friend, Jerry. According to my flatmate Zubby, Jerry had been helping with information and direction on how to best locate me during the time Zubby was searching for me. I called him to thank him for the part he played, and he accepted my gratitude graciously. Little did I know that Jerry had been less of a friend during this ordeal; in fact, he’d been a real snake. I would get to know this later.
Tuesday came, and my brother and I flew to Enugu. I have two siblings living in Enugu, my oldest brother and my sister. We first went to my oldest brother’s office; his countenance as he received us betrayed the fact that he already knew everything about what happened. As in, everything! He is the most homophobic of my siblings, and I could tell from his stiffness around me that he was struggling with this new revelation about me.
From his office, my third brother and I went to my sister’s workplace. Unlike my brother, she didn’t ask for us to come in to see her. She preferred instead to come out to see us. Part of me wondered if this was because she felt that I was wearing my homosexuality like an ugly mark on my forehead, one which would reveal to everyone who saw me the disgrace I was bringing to my family. The thought didn’t help with the guilt that weighed down on my soul.
She got inside and promptly began her queries.
“Bia nwoke m, when did you start all this nonsense?”
“2007,” I replied woodenly.
“He raped me.”
You see, somewhere within me, I was still frantically holding on to the determination to preserve myself, my image for my family. Somehow, I believed that if I could just paint a narration that didn’t show me off to be the raging homosexual that I am, that if I could make it seem like homosexuality just happened to me, then perhaps all this would pass quickly and things would go back to the way they were.
That hope however was shattered when my sister said, “All these things you’re saying… Hmm, I don’t know what to believe o. We talked to Jerry when we were searching for you, and he told us everything. He told us that you are gay, a confirmed gay. Those were his words – confirmed gay. So what are you now saying?”
I was speechless with shock. Jerry had outed me to my family even before it became an issue?! So apparently, my brother had known before he even came to Lagos. And to think I’d been desperately trying to get the police not to tell him what he’d already been made aware of. In that moment, I felt ravaged by hurt, by a sense of betrayal. A friend I trusted to be my confidant, my ally, had turned the knife in my back – not the first or second opportunity he got, now that I think of it, but for the umpteenth time.
That was when I swore to sever ties with Jerry. I couldn’t believe how my closet was just disintegrating around me, and all I could do was watch.
My brother and I then returned to Onitsha, and he dropped me off at home. My mother received us. She was cold, just a little distant. She’d been told everything too, by my sister. Just her though; my father knew about the ‘kidnapping’ but not about my sexuality. That night, we had a small family meeting, during which we talked about what happened. Or rather, my parents asked questions and I answered. But I remained minimal with the truth. Even now that I was basically out to everyone (but my father), I couldn’t bring myself to bare myself, my soul, my trueness to them. The prospect of doing that to myself felt too raw, like a naked man stepping out of the bathroom without his towel for everyone outside to see.
My father suspected something was amiss in my story and kept voicing his doubt. My mother merely looked at me and said, “Why can’t you talk again? Talk to us. You heard your father. There seems to be more to this story.” She seemed to want to get me to make a full confession, her expression one of someone who knows something and knows that you know she knows, but wants you to confess that thing you both know.
I wouldn’t do it – couldn’t do it.
The next day, Wednesday, I had to go to the hospital. During the time I was attacked, those hooligans had been repeatedly punching my face, especially the area around my eyes, so much that my eyes were affected. The sclera for both eyes was not white, but an angry red colour that made any form of light painful to look at. So I’d been wearing sunglasses since I was released from the police custody. I went to the hospital to get my eyes checked and to procure some medication. Thankfully, there was no lasting damage that couldn’t be fixed by some eye drops.
I returned home and eventually gave in to the darkness that had been threatening to overtake me ever since I left Lagos the previous day. There were too many emotions churning inside me: despair over how drastically my life had changed, guilt over what my foolishness had cost my family, fear over what they now see when they look at me, and anxiety over how far I’d fallen from grace.
Because, let me tell you something, before all this happened, I was undisputedly the favorite son of the family. And it just wasn’t because I am the last child. No. I strived to be the best at everything I was a part of – my academics, my responsibilities, everything. I was the child everyone, from my parents to my siblings, loved, because I was quite simply without fault. This made the burden of my sexuality very heavy to bear, but as with everything else I dealt with in my life, I was determined to keep it that way, secret, away from my family. I had accepted myself for who I am, but I’d always believed that I’d rather die than let my family even glimpse at who that person is.
But now, that prerogative had been taken from me, yanked out of my hands, and I was faced with the insecurity of one who used to be so loved but who was now no longer sure how his family felt about him.
And that uncertainty drove me deeper into the clutches of depression. I was going through silent pain, an aching pain, pain I allowed myself to wallow in, as though its brutal bite was what I deserved.
My mother noticed me ghosting away, sinking into the darkness, and she began to get worried. On Thursday morning, she came to talk to me, tried to get me to talk to her. She tentatively broached the topic of my sexuality, tried to make me understand that she would never judge me.
“After all,” she said, “you were what you are all this time, doing all these things all these years, and you were progressing, still being the best at what you do.”
And that – I remember thinking – was the point. I was not only driven to be good at everything I did because I wanted to look good for my family; I strived to be the best because I wanted it to be said, should I one day come out of the closet, that I was able to be great while being gay. I didn’t want anyone to blame any failures I might have on my homosexuality.
It’s because you were wasting your life as a homo, that’s why you’ve never succeeded.
I didn’t want to hear that.
Eventually, my mother said she’d take me to a monastery to see a monk.
“It’s not so they can try to change you with prayers,” she said before I could object. “It’s so you can talk to them in the way you can’t talk to me. Whichever monk we see will basically be a stranger to you, so you can open up to him. And get whatever you’re feeling now out in the open.”
We went to the monastery just before 11, but didn’t get to see a monk until 2pm. They were having their prayers. The man I eventually saw was tall, dark, and had the look of a man who’d seen it all.
Sheltered in his office alone with him, I opened up to him. I told him everything: how I grew up knowing I was different; how contrary to popular belief, I didn’t learn being gay as some sort of bad habit; then about my kito experience in Lagos, and how it had changed everything with my family.
The monk responded without judgment. Aside from maintaining that homosexuality is a sin, he did not try to condemn me or castigate my ‘sin’. He however encouraged me to go more often for confession (I’m Catholic) and try to reconcile myself with God. He said what I was telling him was nothing new to him, nothing he hadn’t heard of before, and encouraged me to try to get past my anxieties and put myself back together.
“Life goes on,” he said.
I went back home with my mother, feeling marginally better. But I still couldn’t leave the house without purpose. The irrational that my secret was open for everyone to see and judge me with kept me in the house and in my room. Plus I was wallowing in the thoughts of all I’d lost with my laptop. All the projects I’d been working on, important files I’d acquired over the years… Starting all over seemed like a daunting prospect. I couldn’t even think of where to begin.
I have a bubbly personality, and so, this contrast in my behaviour worried my mother still. When my immediate older brother visited on Saturday and she confided her worries to him, he told her to get me a new smartphone.
“He’ll get back to his old self once he’s able to start interacting on the social media again,” he said.
That evening, my mother came into my room and said the words that surprised me greatly: “Nna, what kind of phone would you like to buy?”
My brother was right. By the time I was back online, most of my good spirits had started to return. In fact, I was so nearly back to my old self that I reclaimed my position as choir conductor during service on Sunday. As I waved my hand and gestured at the choir, whipping their voices up to the glory of the Lord, I could see my mother’s eyes on me. (She is in the choir too) I could imagine her still trying to reconcile this son who she’d always known, the one who was a choir conductor, with the son she’d just recently discovered, the one who is homosexual.
I am back to Lagos now, putting myself back together and moving on gradually from all that nightmare. I have tried to minimize the guilt I feel by apologizing to my siblings, not for who I am, but for what my mistake cost them. They have forgiven me my indiscretion, but on the subject of my sexuality, everyone’s staying mum on the issue. I was never prepared to come out of the closet, and if it was up to me, I would never come out. But it has happened, and though sometimes, I wish I could dial back the hands of time, I’m learning to deal with my new circumstance one day at a time.
Written by Freeman