As an effeminate child, I grew up having low self esteem and being insecure about how I looked. That, I think, came from the constant comparison with the other boy children around. I would avoid mirrors like a plague because I had been conditioned to not like what would be staring back at me.
When I was sixteen, as I grew more and more aware of how different I was, and indulged with some sexcapades with other boys in secondary school, I was feeling overwhelmed with confusion about the things I felt. I was internally torn between disgust for what I was doing and a thrill for the forbidden nature of it. I wanted to purge myself of my homosexuality and the only way I figured I could do it was by seeking advice from an-Naseehah, an Islamic magazine I used to read then. So, I wrote a letter to the magazine, detailing all my sexcapades; I figured I would send it to the editor and he would publish it with my anonymity intact and some advice on what I could do to rid myself of my homosexuality.
My mother however found the letter before I could send it, and all hell was let lose.
My parents were frantic over their belief that I’d been possessed by jinns. They wanted to commit me to Ruqyah, an Islamic deliverance carried out by an imam, who is skilled enough to summon the jinn from the body of its host and command it to leave. The Ruqyah is done by the imam reciting some Quranic verses on the possessed, making them drink zamzam water from Mecca or taking some other prophetic medication or a combination of all.
I went through all this, hoping that at the end of it all, I would be cured. After all, the letter I’d been about to send was to seek for a way to achieve this same thing. Different means, same end.
Instead of getting cured, I found myself spiraling in depression. I wanted to be loved by my family, and instead all I got was condemnation. They never failed to remind me how I was a failure as a child, and the shame became too much for me to bear.
So, at 16, I attempted my first suicide. I swallowed a combination of my mother’s blood pressure meds and some other drugs I found in the fridge. I went to bed hoping I’d die from my sleep. Instead, I woke up the next morning with a crazy stomachache, which soon led to me vomiting junk that had traces of blood in it. I was hospitalized for six days, and the comeuppance I got for my suicide attempt was stomach ulcer.
I was outed again in the following years at ages 17, 18, 20 and 21.
When I was seventeen, I got into the university in another state, Ilorin, where my sister was residing. I was on a trip back to school from Lagos, and was tasked to take a phone to my sister. During the journey, my phone died. I was bored, so I put my sim into the phone I was supposed to give my sister and logged onto Facebook. Before long, the phone also died and by the time I got to my sister’s place and handed her the phone, I’d totally forgotten that I logged onto Facebook with it. Weeks later, I was called to come home from school and my sexually-explicit chats in Messenger were read out to me in a family intervention. I was distraught and this began the second cycle of deliverance. Before I returned to school after the deliverance, my parents seized my sim and deleted all the contacts I had stored in the phone.
Then I was in 200 Level at age 18. It was Easter break in 2013. I had a hookup planned for that weekend in Lagos. In order to make it, I’d lied to my parents that I was attending an Islamic camp close to school, so I couldn’t come home for the break. Unbeknownst to me, my father was coming to Ilorin from Lagos and didn’t inform me. When he was done with his business, he went to the camp which I claimed I’d gone to and of course couldn’t find me. Then he called me, asking how the camp was going, and I fell neatly into the trap by telling him it was going well, that I was learning new things.
I returned to Ilorin on Monday and met up with my father, who was still around. He simply drove me to the camp venue and asked the facilitators if they knew me. They obviously didn’t and he turned to me and ordered me to tell him, in front of the other adults, where I’d been. I didn’t say anything, and in a fit of anger, he blurted out that he was very sure I’d gone somewhere to “practise homosexuality.”
The aftermath of this had my parents yanking me from school to go see two Muslim psychologists at a major teaching hospital. Apparently, they’d deduced that since religion wasn’t working, perhaps science would. The psychologists even informed my parents that they’d done well by bringing me to them. During my sessions with them, they kept asking me such inane questions that I began to wonder if they even knew what they were doing.
At the end of it all, they gave my parents a list of tests to be run on me. When we got to the diagnostic centre, my father met a family friend who he confided the whole situation to. The family friend told them not to bother doing the tests, as that would be a waste of money.
And so, my parents simply bundled me back home, where I was again put through another phase of deliverance, this time more rigorous than the first two. At some point during this period, while I was in school, I attempted suicide a second time. I slashed my wrist with a razor, hoping I would bleed out. A close friend found me and tried his best to stanch the wound. It turned out not to be deep, and my life was saved. I was at a mental low that so bad, I stopped going to classes for a month. I wanted to drop out of school at that point.
In between this period and the next time I was kitoed to my family, my parents would frequently confront me with their suspicions of my homosexuality still being in me, and I would deny. During this time, I was using a Samsung phone. Because my sister lived in the same place as where I was schooling, I visited her during some weekends and holidays. And during my visits, I suspected that whenever I wasn’t looking, my sister and her husband would spy on me and go through my phone. You know how when you insert a memory card into a Blackberry phone, and automatically, the folders that a typical for the Blackberry phone would be created? Well, I noticed my memory card would often have these Blackberry folders popping up in it whenever I visited my sister; and the only person in her house who owned a Blackberry was my brother-in-law.
They spied and I didn’t much care because I knew they weren’t going to find anything that way.
I was 20 in my final year, and the year was 2014/2015. At this time, I had begun to question my faith and religion, and I had all these PDF files I was going through on almost every religion, on Satanism, occultism, atheism. Whatever it was that had to do with faith, you name it and I had it.
On Christmas Day of 2014, my friends and I had a dinner party and it was lit. We took pictures where it was quite obvious that we were all effeminate. I saved the pictures on my laptop. The next day, I went to my sister’s place. I was surfing through the pictures when she called me to send me on an errand. I left for the errand, forgetting to put my laptop to sleep or to shut it down. By the time I got back, they had gone through the contents of my laptop, seen the dinner party pictures and some other photos of me in makeup and amateur drag. They’d also seen gay porn, videos on LGBT issues, my PDF books – EVERYTHING!
But I wouldn’t know this until the 29th after morning prayers, when my sister and her husband called me to the sitting room. They confronted me with everything they saw in my laptop, and then they asked me if I was still gay. If this query had happened a year back, I would have denied, like I was denying to my parents. But at twenty, after all I’d been experiencing in the past year, after discovering Kito Diaries and the community in it, I had grown in ways I didn’t even know I’d matured until I was faced with that query from my sister and brother-in-law.
And so, I said yes.
They must have thought I was joking, because they asked me again. And I replied again in the affirmative.
And so, they flared up. They began ranting and giving me ultimatums about how I could either choose to be gay or be a part of the family. Staring coolly back at them, I told them that I could not choose family over who I truly am. This very evidently shocked them. They hadn’t expected me to react in any way other than to cower with fear and misery.
My sister demanded for my phone and started reading my WhatsApp chat. She and her husband saw my plans for a New Year hookup and they saw loads of sexually-explicit chats. I wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t going to be intimidated into cowering with fear, I thought to myself.
On New Year’s Day of 2015, my father came in from Lagos. He was armed with a petition to the State Commissioner of Police and to the University, a petition that claimed that the university was harbouring gay people. He also had with him a poster with my photo on it, along with details that accused me of homosexuality. On the poster was written: “He Is Gay.”
I was devastated by this betrayal. All this hostility from my very own flesh and blood. The fact that they had resorted to this kind of low both shocked and saddened me, and I was ready to run away from my family to someplace else, anywhere else where I wouldn’t have to encounter them and their hatefulness.
This was the time I was prompted to write the piece I did for Kito Diaries: a piece titled THE LETTER TO MY FAMILY.
However, as a result of that writeup, in flocked the advice of several well-meaning individuals, and based on what they had to say, I decided not to leave. I endured and stayed on with my family, intending to finish school at least and get a BSc, before setting out.
During all this time, in these few years (before I turned 20) that I was getting outed and finding myself on the receiving end of my family’s persistent resentment, I constantly searched for love wherever I could find it.
I sought for validation in the eyes of others. And I never found it. Certainly not from the guys who promised me love, only to turn out that they professed the things they did because they wanted to have sex with me.
Sex became my coping mechanism, a distraction from my self-hate. I was looking for Mr. Right with the motto: “Try all the fish in the ocean.” With each guy I had sex with, I thought that he would be the one to love me, and perhaps then, I would love me too. But the one thing I yearned for, a relationship, constantly evaded me.
So I started having unprotected sex because I thought that maybe, if they tasted the coochie without a rubber, they’d fall in love with the coochie owner. But still they only wanted the coochie, not the owner.
Then a few months after my 21st birthday, whist I was serving my fatherland, I found out I was HIV positive. But first, my family got to know about it before I did.
I was serving in the South. And during that period, I kept on falling ill in quick succession. By the time I was sick for the fourth time, my mother instructed me to go to my sister and her husband (both medical doctors). I was treated and my blood sample taken. It would seem they already had their suspicion about my status and needed to confirm it.
As I was now feeling better, I went out to the mall to hang out with my friends the next day. Then I received a call instructing me to come to a lab close to my sister’s house. My sister had taken my blood sample to run again in the lab because they felt the result they got at the hospital was a false positive.
When I got there, it was to meet a devastated couple. Without saying anything to me, we all got into the car and headed home. We didn’t make it there, as my brother-in-law had to pull up to a secluded corner to allow my sister get down from the car. She went to a corner of the road and started crying.
When the news was broken to the rest of my family, they reacted predictably. My brother screamed and hurled verbal abuse at me. My father, in his usual stoic manner, said I was headed for perdition. My mother rolled about on the ground, wailing, “Moku ooo!”
Their drama made it easy for me to internalize my pain and not give into the desolation the way I probably should have.
In the following days, my parents’ reaction to my status was typical of people who are ignorant on the issue of HIV. They wanted to get separate items for me, rent a separate apartment where I would live alone. I honestly didn’t mind all this fuss, especially the living alone part. It was my sister who had to educate them about the virus, at least on the basic level, because virology isn’t her field.
My parents were however so stuck on their Islamic beliefs, that they insisted I take “prophetic” medicine as cure for the HIV. This was actually a mixture of powdered black seeds and honey. The combination was repulsive. I took it for four months and when nothing changed, I took matters – and my life – into my own hands and registered at a clinic where I could get access to ARVs.
A month later, I was rejected by the first person I told about my status. He withdrew from me. It was at this time that reality first hit me. That the love I sought was now going to be twice as hard to get.
This was in 2016. I got on ARV medications and soon, my status became undetectable.
Every single guy I told about my status (even while being undetectable) found excuses to withdraw from me. Their excuses ranged from either I looked “unapproachable” or “too guarded” to I was “too skinny” or “not my type”.
This plunged me into depression like I’d never felt it before. And I attempted suicide for the third time in August 2018. I tried overdosing again. I took a bunch of medications I felt was going to do the job and it didn’t work. I landed in the clinic again and was admitted. All I succeeded in doing was worsen my ulcer.
Then in January 2019, I met Mr. X. I call him Mr. X because he kept his identity a secret. I didn’t know what he looked like. He was the one who called me out of the blue, wanting to make my acquaintance, and I didn’t know how he got my number. Initially, I was scared and even thought he was kito, but we got talking and when I told him the name of my secondary school, he started mentioning names of some of my seniors he had been intimate with. He would screenshot his chat with them and send to me. And as time went on, with the ease of his company, I just began to get used to the fact that he was just a voice and a digital friend to me.
And what a friend he was.
Mr. X was always there to listen whenever I was down. He was a trained psychologist. We talked everyday and piece by piece, I told him my story. I wasn’t sure if he was comfortable with my HIV status, but he never brought it up after I told him about it. I’d never met him, didn’t know what he looked like – but there was something about Mr. X that made me begin to fall in love with him. He told me he loved me too.
And just like that, I was on a situationship with Mr. X that lasted ten months. He helped a lot with the insecurities I had about my body. Through his incessant compliments, he gradually made me start loving my body. Where once I avoided mirrors, he made me start taking mirror selfies, as a way for me to validate my appearance by myself.
But he would not give up his anonymity. No matter how much I wanted it, Mr. X would not want us to meet. The only physical contact I had with him was when his sister, who schooled close to my studio, brought me a gift he sent to me through her. In my most insecure moments, I even thought something had to be wrong with me for him to not want to meet me for all this time.
Anytime I brought up the topic of meeting with him or I asked him why he didn’t want to meet with me, he’d say something about how he was going to “fix it”. As he was a really secretive man, he didn’t mention what he was going to fix. And it was really annoying, because from our conversations, it didn’t seem like he lived very far from me; just about a 100-naira bus ride away.
In October, I knew I had to do something to protect my newfound sanity. I couldn’t go on being in love with this man who didn’t want to make what we had realer beyond the phone calls and the texting. Plus, in a weird twist, while getting to know him worked so well with my self esteem, it now seemed as though being with him was starting to wreck me again. The man who helped me love my body started affecting me in a way that made me start developing insecurities about my body again, simply because he didn’t want to meet me. According to him, all his exes were either fair or thick-bodied – none of these attributes which I possessed. This started to mess with my head. The depression which I’d felt less and less of since we started “dating” started rearing its ugly head back up again.
Also, being with him kept hindering me from meeting new people. I loved him so much, I wasn’t even interested in getting to know any other guy romantically. The one time I came close to getting with a guy, and he found out, he got very jealous.
I needed to protect myself and my mental space. So, I called him up and I told him it was over between us. I loved this man, and I knew he had some demons he was battling too. That day, when I ended things with him, I heard him crying over the phone, something he’d never done. He had never portrayed himself as vulnerable and was always so machismo. (I would later learn from his sister – who contacted me a couple of days after to ask if I knew of his whereabouts – that after he left the house, he didn’t come home until after two months.)
The process of falling out of love with Mr. X was a combination of highs and lows. Even though the experience with him was extremely painful, the entire situation taught me things about love that I didn’t know. I had watched a lot of Barbie princess shows growing up (I still watch them. lol), and my idea of love was always this fairytale where a Prince would appear, sweep you off your feet and everything is alright with the world – never mind that the person he’s sweeping off their feet is a princess, and not a fellow prince.
But I realized with Mr. X that love is usually not a fairytale; that you do not need the love of another person to complete you; and that to actually love someone else, you need to love yourself first.
I also learned that love is a union of two better wholes, not of two better halves.
And so, I stepped into the New Year with renewed vigour, a clear mind and head, and a better defined list of what I want in life. I know there’s still a lot to work on in me, but I’m going to be taking it one step after the other.
Written by Adeena Rhodes (formerly known as Arabian Princess)