I was in a recent conversation with a bunch of friends, one where we were talking about guys, relationships and Kito Diaries. Boye’s Coming Out Story had just trended on KD, and we were talking about the issue of coming out. Somebody talked about how he’d just come out to his father over the phone and how hell hadn’t broken loose yet, and there were lots of oohs and aahs from the rest of us.
“I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to just come out to my parents, just like that,” someone remarked.
“Often times, they already know,” I said. “I believe my parents do. In my case, as far as coming out is concerned, I don’t know what else is left to do, except I don rainbow-coloured robes and sashay out to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.”
As my friends laughed, I found myself remembering the past, going back to that period in my growing up years. The year was 1996 and I was in JSS2. That year was the apex of the psychological battle I was engaged in over my sexuality. I was struggling to come to terms with my attraction for boys, and the more I strived to accept myself, the more the make-up instilled in me by my religious upbringing fought against it. This unsettling of my psychological insides made me reserved, secluded, a loner most of the time.
Because I’d rather stay indoors than go out to play with my siblings and the other children in the neighbourhood, I watched a lot of TV. One evening, a religious program was showing on TV. It was called Turning Point. I settled down to watch.
That episode of Turning Point was about a man testifying about his homosexual feelings, and how he’d had sex with men in the past. Then he encountered the man of God and confessed his ‘immorality’, after which came an intense prayer and deliverance session. And now, the man was pleased to testify that he was healed and no longer had any homosexual tendencies.
As a boy fresh into his teenage years and who was caught up in a mine field of doubts and self condemnations, what I was watching touched me. I felt like the show had reached out a lifeline to me, and I was eager to grab hold of it. I believed in the man’s miracle, and I wanted one for myself.
I decided to write a letter to the church that hosted the Turning Point program. I wanted to tell my story so they could help me too. Emails were not prevalent then, so I took out a pen and paper and began pouring my heart out. I noted my age, my identity, where I lived and my place in my family. I revealed my feelings for boys and how I at once enjoyed and felt bad about these feelings; I let on that I felt nothing sexual for girls, and how all this was troubling to me. Then I confessed that after I watched their program about the man who was healed of his homosexuality, I wanted my healing too. I signed off the letter with a desperate ‘Help me please.’
I proof-read the letter, rewrote it, enveloped it and then addressed it with my school as the return address. I would be returning to boarding school for a new term soon, and I wanted any reply from the church to come straight to me. All that was left was to get some stamps and then send off the letter by post.
Before I could get around to doing that however, I fell sick, so sick I was admitted into the hospital for close monitoring by the healthcare professionals. I got better and was eventually discharged on the week I was to return to school. My discharge was on Wednesday, and I would go back to school on Friday. As I left the hospital with my father, who’d come to take me home, I was thinking about my letter and how it was imperative that I post it the next day, Thursday.
When we got home, I went inside the house to meet my mother’s gloomy countenance. She clearly wasn’t happy about something. I didn’t bother asking what about, my mind was too consumed with thoughts of my post office errand. When I got to my bedroom, I was surprised to see that my things had all been properly arranged – my clothes, bags, books, everything I’d be going back to school with. I stepped out momentarily to ask my mother who’d arranged my things. She said she did. I nodded and went back inside to look for my letter. I looked and looked, sifting through my books and later my clothes, all to no avail. There was no letter, not where I’d tucked it away before I left for the hospital, and not anywhere else.
I went back out to meet my mother. With my heart beating a little faster, I addressed her, “Mummy, did you see any letter when you were arranging my things?”
Her expression shuttered as she faced me and her lips compressed into a thin line. “What letter?” she asked in a flat tone.
“I wrote a letter –”
“What is the content of the letter?” she interrupted.
Now, you have to know that I was a very headstrong child growing up. Initially, my parents had reacted to my willfulness with a lot of scolding, beating and caning (the last two especially from my father), but when it became apparent that their precocious, stubborn son was here to stay, they simply let me be. The result of this was that I was very forthright in anything I said to my parents, too forthright sometimes.
And so, my response to my mother’s curt interruption was, “That’s not the point, mummy. The point is did you see any letter in my room.”
Her expression tightened even further and she seemed to struggle with her temper, before she snapped, “I don’t know anything about a letter. You can go and ask your father.”
“Why should I ask him? You arranged my things. Or are you saying the two of you arranged the room?”
“I said go and ask your father!” she flashed at me.
At this moment, it began to dawn on me that something grievous had happened when I was away at the hospital. And it was clear to me that my letter was the heart of whatever had happened. My heart began to beat faster as I realized that my parents had discovered my letter, my confession, the unburdening of my heart. As I left my mother to seek out my father, I braced myself for whatever storm was brewing. I willed myself to accept whatever would happen. I remembered the tortured boy who’d been laid bare on the pages of that letter, and I told myself my parents had to have seen that boy and they’d understand and empathize with my troubled state of mind.
I located my father in his bedroom. “Daddy, there’s a letter I wrote –”
“What letter is that?” he growled his interruption, his countenance already brimming with that wrath that was familiar to me.
I swallowed hard and stood my ground. “I wrote a letter and kept it amongst my things, and mummy said she arranged my room. But I can’t find the letter, and when I asked her, she said I should come and ask you.”
“You did not answer my question! I said what letter is that!”
“I’ve been asked that question severally,” I said impatiently. “And it’s not the point. I just want to know if any one of you saw my letter.”
“Am I the one you’re talking to that way?” my father bristled.
“I’m not talking to you anyway, daddy. You’re the one asking too many questions that are not necessary–”
The rest of what I’d been saying died an instant death when his open palm lashed across my cheek. The slap rocked me backward and I staggered back a few steps. Then I regained my balance and stared at him, frozen in place by a mixture of pain and anger. I wasn’t surprised he hit me. But I was here to get my letter. So I continued, like he hadn’t slapped me, “All I want is my letter, daddy. If you have it, please give it to me.”
He blew his top then. His eyes flashing with anger, he exploded, “You useless son! I never knew this is what you have been doing! Why are you even writing letters? Will a letter solve the problem? A letter won’t solve your problem! Why not just go to Obalende or Ikoyi and stand by the road and be patronized by the nonentities who are like you! No wonder when you were growing up, you had too much attachment to ihe umu nwanyi! What kind of boy would want to be playing with dolls! I should have known then that there was something seriously wrong with you!”
“Daddy, that’s not the point,” I retorted. “I just want my letter.”
“Shut up!” he raged, advancing with his hand upraised. “Shut up that your useless mouth or I’ll shut it up for you! What rubbish letter are you asking for? What do you need the letter for? So you can be seen and heard on TV where you will open your mouth to say rubbish?! Over my dead body! I will kill you first before you disgrace me like that!”
I gave him a long hard stare, one filled with disappointment. My tone was quiet as I replied, “Daddy, I came to the realization that I might be doing something wrong. And I’m trying to seek solution. And instead of supporting and understanding me, I am getting condemned. What does that say about you?”
My father exploded with a fresh batch of vituperation. He slung swearwords at me, calling me names, names I had become used to hearing from him. I simply turned and walked away from his presence.
I never got my letter back. In fact, following what happened, I lost all interest in finding the ‘solution’ to my ‘problem’. It was as though that ugliness finally gave me the will to forge ahead with my self-acceptance. I began to take the time to grow into myself, learning to live my life to the fullest.
As a young man of marriageable age, I have often clashed with my father on the issue of settling down. We had never talked about what happened that day 20 years ago, but every time we argue over his demand for my wife and children, I see the fear in his eyes. With every word I say to him in defiance of his demands, I see the painful realization he must have shunned all those years ago.
During the Mother’s Sunday in February, my mother visited me to check out my new apartment. She was pleased. And then, during her visit, she turned a grave expression to me and said, “Nwa m, amam na iwughi onye nwanyi, mana me’elu me’ala, ihem choro ka iluoram nwanyi, muoram umu.” (Translation: My son, I know you are not into women, but all I want is for you to marry a wife for me and have my grandchildren.)
I smiled sadly as I looked at my mother, choosing not to say anything in response, but understanding now that my reality, the reality of my life which I began to make my peace with 20 years ago, was just now becoming theirs.
Written by JBoy