COMING OUT: HOW MY CLOSET IS FURNISHED

COMING OUT: HOW MY CLOSET IS FURNISHED

coming-out-of-the-closet-e1346920556773One day in the office, my senior colleague Funmi whispered into my ear: “Are you gay?”

I smiled. “That wouldn’t be your concern.”

I didn’t know what else to say. It was a question that needed a quick answer. I’m not very composed with verbal lines as I am with written ones. It’s the reason I stay away from debates, unless they are online. Online, I can revise what I’ve typed a million times before posting then sit back and watch my perfectness wow everybody. Verbally though, my points are set in my head but as they travel down to my tongue, some mutation occurs and they either come out flat, or unsure or unserious or grammatically awkward. So when Funmi inquired about my sexual orientation, I ended up giving her an answer that was borderline rude.

I have not told a lot of people I’m gay (for the benefit of those without a third eye). The times I’ve been asked about it, I wonder what reply to give. I already made up my mind a long time ago to never say “No.” Feels like self-betrayal. So should I say “Yes”? Or just occupy the broader middle space that encompasses a shrug and a 10-word sentence about why it matters?

In my first year of university, I had a roommate Chiebuka. He was in psychology, third year. A couple of times while we chatted in the room, his homophobia had waved hello at me. He remembered typing “bang, bang, something-something” in Google once, hoping for heterosexual porn, only to be referred to gay porn. I later coded that he may have accidentally walked into the BangBangBoys website. (Oh, the horror of big turgid dicks splashed all over his screen!) Another time, he said the only loss of virginity that counts is that experienced with the opposite sex. I don’t remember what brought about that…perhaps lesbianism and sex toys? I liked him, the way I’d have adored an older brother had I one; he was 24, I was 18. He was tall, was quite the storyteller too. I tease people I like, sometimes shyly, other times boldly.

I don’t remember what happened one Saturday morning. I must have been on to him with one of my many “stupid questions” and silly jovialities when he murmured that I should let him be abeg or was I was gay?

My heart stopped.

Did he know? Did it show? Was it in my gait, facial expressions, voice?

I didn’t even turn my head to check if the other roommates had heard that. An insinuation was as good as an accusation; and if I knew what was good for me I’d better behave, wait quietly for this small dust to settle.

I started to give Chiebuka some space. Distance, detachment (emotionally and physically) would keep me safe in my closet, especially if there was a chance that my flames burned bright (according to the Bible of Gay Stereotypes, Queen Jane’s Version).

I was in that period of life when the words “gay” or “homo”, froze my insides. Was it me? Could it be because I just walked past? Were those guys talking about homosexuality before they saw me? Could they tell my smile had suddenly become forced and sweat was trickling from my armpits?

Did it show?

I’m no longer 18. I am past that phase of fear and have slipped into that of easy irritation.

The first time I kissed a guy (I was 20), my fears lifted. Something in me that’d hitherto been locked burst open. I stopped caring who suspected I was gay. I flirted more. I stopped giving concessionary answers to the question, “Do you like football?” My boyfriend then was more sexually experienced than I was (still is); being with him firmed my backbone, flitted away the panic suspicion brought. I stopped expending energy smothering my gay “signs”. I could be amused at one lanky Precious guy after the pulpit text he sent me as hint that he knew what the BF and I had been up to in my room one of the nights he slept over. What was the Jesus-boy going to do about it anyway, I thought, while trying to gauge his dick size through his fly. Like my BF had taught me to.

Commercial break

There’s the serious matter of personal safety when revealing one’s sexuality. Crazy homophobes capable of anything heinous run loose in Nigeria…

Ahem! Welcome back…

Now when Funmi asked: “Are you gay?” I didn’t think of homophobia at all. (She said she has gay friends so no biggie.) I was pissed later though. Pissed at a society that required me to define myself, set myself apart from a normative fold I was presumed a part of.

My friend Chu reminded me, when I whined to him about this, that living things are historically and biologically wired to reproduce. “Anything that puts a kink in that programming (i.e. same-sex relationships) naturally will cause an alarm,” he said.

Of course, I agree with him. I also see with him the point that coming out is an intrapersonal process which improves interpersonal relationships. He should know!

My other friend Rapu’m, brave for his age, is quite the “telling machine” as I like to call him. He has given many of his friends (a good number of whom are mutual to the both of us) the FYI-I’m-gay speech. Casual. Brief. Like that, and he moves on. He told me that, with Funmi, I let slip a chance to be out to one more person, eat away at the phobia.

“I tease my roommates about my sexuality all the time,” Rapu’m said, “and they tease me back. I’m not sure I have a closet sef!”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I look at it as nobody’s business. So I don’t talk about it much…” What would change if Funmi knows I am gay? My height? The price of garri in the market?

I have a long list of cool peeps I could come out to if I wanted. (Those 20 minutes of celebrity when you can command a friend’s attention as he wants to know some Gay Life 101 ain’t bad for amusement.) But this is what stops me: What do they need that kind of information for? Is it important? Why can’t we just be people? Why don’t we have a society where everybody is expected to swing any way, not be straight until otherwise defined?

“If someone sensible finds out I’m gay,” I told Rapu’m, “I don’t mind.  But I’m not keen on making my sexual preference any more of an issue than it should be.”  I don’t want it to be my major/only defining characteristic.  I cringe to think of someone describing me as their “gay friend”… Of course, I’m comfortable being gay! I’m just afraid that coming out might shove me into this box where if I sneeze, it becomes a “gay sneeze”. If I get my name on Wikipedia, under the section titled “Personal Life” the second sentence will not see its period before the press conference I called for my coming out is mentioned. The Nigerian press does something like this all the time: Gay Man Rapes Boy. Whereas there might be nothing in the story beyond the (stereotypical) anal sex to suggest the man is indeed gay. And if there is (as there might well be), what do we hold on to as the issue/news: is it the man’s sexual orientation or the fact that he raped another human being? Ok, I know our press is a product of a small-minded society. Still…

Rapu’m insists that coming out to our friends makes us realer, less othered.

Hmm. Does anybody, however accepting, really ever forget a gay person is gay? (Do whites ever see past blacks’ blackness and vice versa?) Deep down, does it ever cease to matter, even if in a teeny hair-strand kind of way? You know how a straight guy’s sexual preference is never an issue, unless he is forced to clarify that he is not…aha! wait for the irony…gay?

The first time I came out to my close friend Geoffrey, there followed a conversation I thought was awkward, so the next day I told him I was just pulling his leg, I’m not gay. Could we move on now without the awkward pauses dogging our lives? Maybe I was just overreacting. It wasn’t that I was scared of losing his friendship – we’d come too far for that (besides I’m out to him now anyway). Then, I was wondering: what would change between us after he knew I’m gay? Would he see me through different lens, one that reads me as gay first, buddy next, human after that…and probably gay last? Is there a sense in which coming out exoticizes the gay man, this time through the backdoor? If so, can it be prevented? Will the COLLECTIVE HUMANITY we share with other people weaken after one comes out? Collective humanity is a concept I cherish because it de-emphasizes difference and elevates sameness. It shows that all of us – regardless of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender – are capable of love, hate, wickedness, intelligence, happiness, work, success, grief, death, etc. It’s collective humanity that reminds us that gay rights, women’s rights, etc, are actually HUMAN rights. (It’s just the unfortunate world we live in that makes us have to segment rights in order to attain them.)

Rapu’m says I should drop this needless worry. Chu says it is naïve to even think my sexuality will matter out of context…

“It’s important for people to gradually know who we are,” Rapu’m assured me as we chatted late into the night. “We are on the fringes of society, and we need to come in.” ■

Written by Absalom

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22 Comments

  1. therealsalte
    June 16, 08:09 Reply

    Well Absalom, I feel what you are saying, and I am afraid of coming out to my friends too, not bcos I might loose them (I really don’t care… I choputas never at all!) But bcos they might take it the wrong way and go all gaga at me. I think its better to just be true to yourself and let things unfold on its own.
    If someone asks me ‘are you gay?’ My answer to them is ‘what do you think’ and I always get a ‘yes’ or ‘don’t know’ then I tell them to try and know if I am. I don’t really care anymore. Its my life…a just life!

  2. Chizzie
    June 16, 08:13 Reply

    soooo… ( takes deep breaths and tries not to come across as mean) at a point I thought James wrote this because it was leaning towards rambling,and after a few paragraphs I found myself skipping through hoping there was a climax… didn’t find one

    However you write well and youve written more poignant pieces 🙂

    And PinkPanther why haven’t u replied my email? I might as well post (another ) article that suggests that I am not all talk and I am open to and can handle criticism…reply my email asap.

    • trystham
      June 16, 08:40 Reply

      Absalom again…liked ur prev article….so was this a journal or a rambling-daydreamy-thought put on paper? So how is ur closet furnished? I like Chu. Seems a sensible fella. Una duo make sense

      • pinkpanthertb
        June 16, 09:30 Reply

        ‘So how is ur closet furnished?’ LMAO! I like that question.

  3. “Why can’t we just be people? Why don’t we have a society where everybody is expected to swing any way, not be straight until otherwise defined?”

    This is the BEST POST I have read on this blog!!!! Absalom please follow me on Twitter. We have a lot to talk about

  4. thelostpropertyroom
    June 16, 11:19 Reply

    You know, I knew you were Nigerian before you explicitly stated you were- just by your lingo. ‘Abeg’.

    I’ve been looking for a person like you- no, this is not any form of forwardness on my part. I’ve been looking for an African individual who just happened to be gay. You seem like an educated man, so I’ll ask you, have you heard and watched the debate where ‘homosexuality is considered un-African’, what’s your stance?

    I like to read into things, perhaps I tend to see more than is actually there, but from what you said earlier about your room-mate, I can only imagine that, yes, homosexuality is considered un-African.

    I delved into a hundred different theories, and considered each one of them thoroughly, and no, I will not tell you how I reached my conclusion, but rest assured I have understood not only the culture of Nigeria, as I am an Nigerian Yoruba myself, but also the social standing within the country as well.

    • trystham
      June 16, 13:02 Reply

      Most of the commentators on this blog ARE Nigerians. Living in AFRICA. I did not get to watch much TV and grew up on NTA 2,7 and 10 (I wonder how much more of TV censoring I could get) and did not get to see the airport until sometime last year. So the corruption of ‘external’ influences was very NIL. My attitude got named when I grew older-“HOMO!!!” Trust me, I’m as gay as gay is gay. So all that unafrican nonsense is what it is. NONSENSE. Much as I’m very curious as to what your conclusions might be, YOU need to get used to the idea of a totally hypocricitally blind and greedy African cum Nigerian society. Now draw your conclusions again.

      • thelostpropertyroom
        June 18, 09:04 Reply

        You mistake me, I am not attacking sexual orientation here, but rather, the stereotypes. You need to understand, that though I may be Nigerian, I do not live in Nigeria- I live in Australia. I was just curious as to whether modern Nigerian culture mirrors that of its Western counterparts, or whether, Nigeria, along with many other countries, takes a different stance where sexual orientation is concerned.

        Reading back on my comment, I was appalled that I, (who am not) sounded homophobic. I apologize if this too, is the conclusion you drew from my comment.

        A persons sexuality is something I do not judge a person by. I too, like many others, have many traits and qualities I would loath to be judged upon.

        I enjoy reading your blog, your writing, it draws me in. It’s enticing, it’s fresh, it’s something I would love to see turned into countless best-selling texts.

        I honestly feel that though you may be on one side of the world, and I on another, I am having a conversation with a person who can impart a great deal of knowledge upon my mind, and those of others too.

        So please, do not take offence at my earlier comment. I sincerely apologize, and am sorry for the ambiguous perceptions my words led you to believe about my character.

        Here you have a steadfast follower and reader of your blog,
        thelostpropertyroom

  5. Emii
    June 16, 14:50 Reply

    Well I watched Glee and all I wanted to do was be like Kurt even though I pretended to hate him because I got so many straight friends. I had an experience once where my big sis asked if I was gay I refused to ansa. She pleaded with me and later go the ‘YES’ answer. She was cool with it. The mistake i made was telling it to a friend cos I thought everyone was as smart as big sis.. He told me to avoid it and go to church.. I avoided him for day but everytime I see him i keep picturin myself usin his intestines to form a nice necklace because he started avoidin me..Ur article taught me not to care..thank you.

    • Obatala
      June 16, 19:28 Reply

      sweet heavens. that’s so sick. lol. intestinal necklace? dats morbid and outright macabre. this is one dude I wouldn’t wanna rub the wrong way

  6. KingBey
    June 16, 19:02 Reply

    Only one guy…my EX Bestfriend had asked me that…and I answered him an upright NO….then he went on yarning about how he has Gay friends and all that and how one “Gay” man has been promising him heaven and earth just to sleep with him…I suspect him anyways….what do I care? As long as am in this Nigeria, they will always get one answer from me…..NO AM STRAIGHT !

  7. sensuousensei
    June 16, 20:28 Reply

    This is without a doubt one of the best articles I have read on this blog. Was it rambling? Who cares? One can make an art of rambling and that’s exactly what you did, Absalom. You are just brilliant! Welldone!

  8. CeeCee
    June 16, 22:55 Reply

    Great article, I always admire guys who have woken up to the realisation that theres more to being gay than hunting down the next shag. Kudos Absalom, great article…
    There was a time when I was terrified to even admit to myself that I am gay, I would happily join in with my homophobic straight friends and indulge in vicious gay bashing.if any of the ‘notorious’ gays on campus attempted to as much as say hello to me, I would break into a panicked run looking around to make sure no one saw me even exchanging a whisper with them. Thankfully, am wiser, smarter and loving my gay self more and more everyday, a lot of those guys have become distant acquaintances whom I merely wave at when I happen to bump into them while wondering how on earth I could ever have shared anything on common with them. Anyway, that was in another life, in another time…
    I came out to a close friend a few years ago&he looked disgusted and commenced preaching to me about the evils of homosexuality, exhorting me to change, he tried every tactic he knew to sign me onto team pussy, well … well, lets just say he didnt know any better.
    I havent come out to anyone else, but I honestly doubt that I would say no if anyone were to ask, rather I would counter with “why is my sexuality important to you? How does my being gay or straight improve put an extra dollar in your pocket?”
    A look at gay friendly parts of the world will reveal that for homophobia to begin its richly deserved death and for greater tolerance to exist in society, there is a need for gays especially the ones who by reason of their social or economic status can be regarded as role models to enhance their visibility, only then will the long slow process start of realising that gays are not inhabitants of some twisted freak show, but bona fide members of society who inhabit every sphere and every facet of society, in this regard, Rapum is very correct!!

    • Absalom
      June 17, 13:48 Reply

      I really like your comment, CeeCee. Homophobes are having a field day in Nigeria and we gays assist them in many ways.

  9. kendigin
    June 17, 04:59 Reply

    Interesting issues raised.
    Fact is that most of us will NEVER come out of the closet. Not even to close friends or family. The reason is simple bcos our society swears by the gods that it will hurt u, shld u announce ur homosexuality!
    Personally I think coming out actually removes some weight from ur shoulders. But one must be careful. Cos nothing remains the same once u utter those words “I’m gay!”

    • sensuousensei
      June 17, 10:02 Reply

      You are absolutely right, Ken. Most will not come out because doing so wud be the beginning of immense suffering. Gays still suffer even in the less homophobic climes. Its not an easy decision. And is it even worth it? And to begin with, why should sexuality be something we declare from the rooftops? Isn’t it something that should remain very private?

      • pinkpanthertb
        June 17, 10:56 Reply

        There’s keeping it private and then there’s staying in the closet. Both are essentially two different situations.

    • InLoveWithAPHBoy
      June 17, 17:29 Reply

      You are absolutely right…Coming out to my Best friend who happened to be a Female is the Worst thing I’ve done in my entire life….I can’t describe the set of events that followed….I’ll copy @therealsalte..My answer will be “what do u think?”

  10. henry
    June 17, 11:01 Reply

    You know when people argue what is african or not, I simply get perplexed and weak about so many illogicalities that preceded or succeed the argument. I want to ask, is African some kind of dark hole where light never ever penetrate? First, we don’t have written records about so many values our ancestors cherished. And we cannot even remember many of such values because they were either lost or compounded in mundane unwritten history passed down orally. Being gay or not being gay in historical context has always been favoured by written records across different cultures… You could read about homosexuality in books predating Genesis! Homosexuality is even there in the Torah! Son when someone argues it’s a western influence, I just shudder at such callous naïve illiteracy… If one should argue that homosexuality is unafrican, then it could be argued that africa as a continent wasn’t found but invented! And that would be a gross historical prejudice. Certain arguments like whether being gay is african or not need not be tabled for discussion as the premise isn’t logical in the first instance. I read a comment by someone and I smiled… in my own opinion, it’s actually cool to be hated for who we are than to be loved for whom we are not! I personally have come to realize that people who will stay in your life will stay in spite of your difference… So, come out whenever you are ready. There are more fresh air outside the closet. But don’t be pressured to come out. Do it at your own pace. You may be choked in there if you never try!

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