What inspired me to write this piece was an interview I watched on YouTube about a week ago where the gay guy who was being interviewed was asked if he was to come to earth in another life and allowed to choose, would he choose to be gay again. He was also asked if he would want a gay son. He said No to both questions, responding that if society was more accepting and he didn’t need to fight for acceptance, it would have been a Yes. His response got me thinking a lot about myself, my childhood days and how much living in a homophobic environment has affected me.
A lot of times, I look in the mirror and I see a totally different, almost unrecognizable person from who I was as a kid. I usually take my time to look and look again, to see if that child is still there somewhere. I know we are all supposed to change from what we looked like or acted like when we were little, but I think my change was a little too drastic.
My name is Tichi; I’m gay and in my early twenties. As a child, I was very boisterous. I was everywhere, I knew everyone and everyone knew me; these included my teachers, church members, adults, children – everyone in my radius knew who I was. I was always in high spirits, always bouncing around the whole place. At church, in school, I was always put in front; the adults and parents wanted to see me in the front. You all know during dance performances, especially cultural dances, when every kid leaves the stage for the best two dancers to have a sort of dance off; I was always one of them, the ones left to have the dance-off. Some kids hated me then, not because of my boisterous nature but because I was everyone’s favourite. Yes, I was not just known, I was loved. I was the jack-of-all-trades kind of child. I did well in my academics as well as in extracurricular activities. I sang. I danced. I acted. I raced. I did poetry. I represented the school at competitions. Now, it wasn’t that I was the best at these things, but my appealing nature brought an extra to performances. I wasn’t the best singer, but if there was just one microphone available, it would be given to me. This was the more reason the other children hated me. But I didn’t care; as long as everyone else loved me, I was okay. I got to find out later that a few fights had ensued between brides-to-be and their family members because the brides wanted me as the little groom in the face of the relatives’ objection and request for a family member for that spot. Parents and teachers always gave me gifts.
But all this love, all the attention was going to bite me in the ass so hard later in life. I reveled in all this so much that I started seeking for more. I wanted people’s approval so much, I went out of my way to get it. And get it I did, most of the time.
And then puberty happened. My star kid period was between 6 to 9 years of age, and sometime around 10 or 11 years old, I started to have these strange feelings. I watched this movie which had a sex scene where the actors – a hot guy and an equally hot girl – were both really naked. My eyes kept hovering around the guy; I wasn’t even looking at girl, even though she was all over the scene. I started to feel things inside me I couldn’t explain at the time. I knew it was wrong, even though I didn’t know what a homosexual was at the time. Or perhaps I knew but did not understand. I sensed, with the intuition a child has of his environment, that what I was feeling was wrong. But it felt so right. This was the first time I felt anything sexual. For days, I pondered on that sex scene and how I felt from watching it. I kept tuning to that channel to see if the movie would be shown again. Soon however, I shrugged off the episode and carried on with my life.
And then, my family moved to Port Harcourt and it was like the spirit of fifty gay angels came upon me. My feelings quadrupled. I wanted to see more scantily-clad men on TV. It was then I started to understand who I was.
Then the remarks started to come. “See you, woman-man”, “Boy-girl”, “Woman wrapper” (Those who used this will have the hottest room in hell), “Why you dey waka like woman?” At first, I didn’t care. Soon however, the disparagement became too much for me to bear. Before I was aware of what was happening, I’d become a bit reclusive, a little less boisterous and vibrant. About two years after the verbal abuse began, I had completely become withdrawn. I had very few friends, and the ones I had, I tried so hard to fit in, to please them so I wouldn’t lose them too. I tried to walk better, to do more boyish things. One saving grace I had was that I actually, genuinely loved badminton and volleyball, and I was one of the best in my school at the sports. I had a few friends at the games that looked forward to playing with me. However, the love for the sport was all we shared: love for the sport.
And then, the time came when I did something terribly homophobic.
There was this boy in my class; I’ll call him George. George was a QUEEN. He sashayed with reckless abandon. He didn’t care about the ugly comments classmates peppered him with. Sometime during an altercation, he actually snatched his opponent’s crotch, grinding the boy’s penis in his hand until the boy was begging for his mercy. Oh lord! George was fearless. I remember thinking then that maybe he didn’t really understand that the world around us frowned at the image he was portraying. Initially, we’d gravitated toward each other, acquainted ourselves with each other. He was the first and only person like me I knew. The attraction was sort of magnetic, but we never admitted what we felt to each other. He wasn’t steady at school; he had a verbally abusive father, had lived with different relatives, and did poorly at his academics. So our friendship waned with the strain of his baggage and almost died off completely when he had to repeat a class.
So, about the homophobic thing I did. A teacher came into the class one day and found George fiddling with a girl’s hair. The teacher was instantly ticked off and ordered George out to the front of the class and asked him to kneel. He proceeded to flog him while verbally lashing out at him. He was so angry, disproportionately so for an offense of a boy playing with a girl’s hair. (I got to understand why he was so enraged a few years later when I heard that the teacher had a gay brother, and for many years, the two siblings hadn’t had the best relationship).
Anyway, when he was done caning George, the teacher ordered him to shout the words “I AM A BOY” so even the next class would hear him. George yelped the words, a feeble attempt that earned him a lash from the teacher’s cane. With each shaky try, he was whipped by the angry teacher. Finally fed up of trying to get George to shout the words with the desired volume, the teacher turned to instruct the class, asked for a boy to shout the words for George to understand how loud he wanted the words said. A lot of boys hated George, and so many hands shot up, seeking the teacher’s attention. But the teacher wasn’t satisfied with how weak their shouts were.
And then, without being asked, from my seat, I raised my voice and screamed with all my might, “I AM A BOY!” Startled, everyone turned to stare at me for a few moments. It had been one hell of a scream. In that moment, I’d done what I did to save face; I was suffering snide remarks of my own and I wanted to show the boys in my class that I was just like them.
Satisfied with my shout, the teacher eventually released George, who’d been crying bitterly the entire period of his punishment. Then the teacher started to say things like, “Do you know what that kind of behavior can lead to…? Do you know the type of things people like that do…? It leads to this…” And then, he went to the chalkboard and wrote on it the word – S-O-D-O-M-Y.
Then he cleaned it off right after he wrote it and walked out of the classroom like he knew he shouldn’t have exposed our innocent little minds to the existence of the word. However, our young brains were fast and everyone had the spelling memorized before the teacher had finished erasing the word from the board. My classmates however didn’t have any dictionary. I did. I opened my dictionary and the meaning that hit me in the face was like a sting. I quickly slammed the giant book shut with the kind of force that suggested I feared the word would jump right out and eat me up.
Sometimes, when I think back on that day, I regret my actions all over again. I joined hands in throwing stones at someone who was different, even when I knew I was just the same. I can’t say I knew exactly what was going on in George’s mind after the incident, but I know that was when he began to understand who he was. George is now a popular hair stylist/make-up artist and the teacher died a few years after that day. (Way to go, Gay Guardian Angel)
As I carried on with my life, I realized to my dismay that the mannerisms that my peers mocked me with had become reflexive. Knowing that there was nothing I could do about that, I began to withdraw even more from people. I stopped visiting my classmates after school. In fact, I almost never went out. The only things that took me out of the house became church, school and the market. The little boy who wanted to be at the forefront of everything was gone. The child who everyone loved was not appealing anymore. Fortunately, in this dark period of my life, it never crossed my mind to be suicidal. This was fortunate because with the strength of my withdrawal at this time, I’d probably have gone ahead to successfully kill myself. The church kept my sanity during this period. It was the only place I went to where I didn’t have to endure negative comments from the people around me, although I was perceptive enough to know this wasn’t because my fellow parishioners didn’t notice my effeminacy or didn’t think about it, but because they were all too sanctimonious to voice their opinions. No one wanted to be the first to bring it up with me or my parents. No one wanted to be seen as the gossip in church.
I didn’t meet an out gay person till I entered the university at 16. Because of this, there was no one to guide me through the dark period of my secondary school. There was no one there to tell me how to handle my identity crisis, to tell me that I wasn’t the only one and that they understood my pain. Having to deal with my private hell alone affected my self-confidence. I began to calculate every move I made, every step I took. I’d always watch my back, second-guess myself a lot. My dreams as a child started to erode and all I could see was a bleak future. My social life suffered. I didn’t acquaint myself with anyone on my volition. I didn’t speak unless spoken to. I kept away from arguments. I couldn’t make friends. I couldn’t start up a conversation with a stranger, something I saw a lot of people around me found easy to do. Even when the other person would initiate a conversation with me, I usually couldn’t keep up. You’d have to really make a persistent effort to get me really comfortable with you for me to carry on a conversation with you.
When I got into the university, I thought to myself that here, everyone would be too busy to notice me. No one would really have the time to make irrelevant negative comments, I consoled myself. But I was wrong. There were just as much mean fellow students in the university as there’d been in the secondary school. Soon however, I got acquainted with the most amazing set of guys ever. I loved them the moment we became friends. They taught me everything I came to know about being gay, from slangs like “kito” and “shele” to heavier stuff like sex and how to use a douche. They made living in school possible. We were a famous clique and we sailed through a lot of bullying, mostly verbal though. I was noticeably feminine, but my roommates in the hostel simply interpreted my mannerisms to be those of an overly pampered kid. They’d call me “ajebutter” or “butty”, and warn me to stay away from my friends because they had a horrible reputation. But for the first time in my life, I had not just someone but people to guide me through the path I didn’t quite understand. There was no way I could stay away from them? They provided a solace I’d never known.
Soon, the verbal attack moved from reasonably mild name calling like “boy-girl” and “woman-man” to “fag”, “homo” and “ass-burster”. This was especially hard on me. Because of the lavish love I received as a child, I’d gotten used to caring so much about what people said about me. And so when my friends told me to shrug off the comments, I pretended to do so. But deep down, I was always worried and bothered. Whatever self confidence I had existed because of my friends; they helped come to terms with the fact that I was an amazing person just as I was.
In spite of this, I was far more affected by al the negativity than I knew at the time. I developed an anxiety disorder. I began to get easily agitated, always thinking that people around me were pointing at, laughing at or talking about me, always missing my steps and bumping into passersby because my mind kept wandering away. Laughter became a horrible thing to hear; hearing people laugh right after I’d walked past them made me feel uneasy because I’d instantly feel like I was the reason for their amusement. I’d feel as though their eyes were boring holes into my back. I began to get startled by the most mundane things, frightened even. I’d think about this and realize how different I’d grown from the child I used to be. I was the child who was in front of every adventure, the one who the less brave kids begged to abandon the perilous mission and run.
Someone once wrote here on Kito Diaries about African gay men living in a predominantly homophobic environment. The title of his opinion piece was Those Things We Do. The writer said most of us have mental illnesses and don’t know it. He wrote:
“…many of us are a little mentally damaged and don’t even know it. Many suffer from violent mood swings, dual personality, boiling internalised anger, to name a few.”
I suffer from mood sings a lot, not violent though; sometimes, I just get angry with no real cause. It often makes me wonder at the strength of the affliction of my mental illness. Some days, I feel like even if I were to become one of the richest persons on earth, with the world at my beck and call, this feeling of being incomplete would still be there. Sometimes, I feel lost. I feel like a big piece of me is missing, a necessary piece. Maybe I’ll see a psychiatrist or psychologist sometime.
Recently though, I have been trying to push through all this turmoil, come out more, mix more with people, do what I want to do at any time I want, be more vocal, be more social, air my views and opinions about issues without fear, try to reconcile myself with the child I once was.
The truth is I only just noticed what the darkness of my formative years did to my person; it sort of completely stole me, changed who I was. Now, people see me as that quiet reserved boy in a corner who doesn’t like problems, and this characterization pisses me off. Not that being quiet is a bad thing, but that just isn’t who I am. Yes, it’s the vibe what my actions give off, but when I hear people describe me like that – the quiet boy, that one that doesn’t like wahala – it feels to me like they are talking about someone else. Maybe if I wasn’t the kid everyone loved, maybe if I was just like every other child whose biggest problem was what the next meal would be, maybe if I was a little less boisterous and energetic, I would not have gotten the attention I got that made me seek people’s approval, and this would have made me care less about people’s thoughts and opinions about me. Perhaps I would not have become the unrecognizable person I am today. I’ve been morphed into someone I don’t recognize and it doesn’t feel good at all.
But it happened and I can’t change the past. I had a little struggle when I had to accept my sexuality, and now, there is another struggle I’m facing. Honestly sometimes, I don’t know what I’m struggling for. Should I struggle to accept and improve myself the way I am now? Or should I struggle to reconcile with who I was? Or should I just live life, enjoy each day as it comes? (Can I really do that?) As confusing and chaotic as it sounds, I believe there is hope for me. Being able to finally put it together and accept that something is out of place is a step in the right direction. I hope I’m able to find myself someday…if that’s possible. I’m just glad LGBT issues are being discussed a lot these days so the younger generation will have it easier to deal with; plus it helps that there’s an abundance of internet traffic and social network activity to help their growth.
However, in response to the question that inspired this write up: if I was asked what I’d do if I could choose my sexuality upon reincarnation, I wouldn’t know what to say. Being gay has affected me in many ways, as I have mentioned already. Scratch that. Being gay is awesome, but society’s reaction to it has affected me in many ways. But then, I have been exposed to a lot of things, many things I probably would never have known of if I wasn’t gay. I have become more open minded than I ever thought possible, I hesitate to crucify people, instead choosing to first find out why they are the way they are, to endeavour putting myself in their shoes to feel what they feel, give them an opportunity to defend their choices and decisions. I’ve learnt that I cannot always be right and if anyone can make a good case as to why I should change or adjust my beliefs, I definitely would. The list is endless, so to me, being gay is a gift that keeps on giving. But when you offset this with the trials we have to go through, the falsehood we have to craft around ourselves, it makes me indecisive on the subject of choice for the time you reincarnate.
And if I had a gay child, I’d love him or her and do everything I can to keep him as far away from a hateful environment as possible. I’d steadfastly let him know that he is an amazing person, until it’s the only thing he knows about himself.
But would I want to have a gay child? Definitely not. Why? As much as I’ll love my child, I can’t always be there for him or her. What if I have an impulsive child, one who is not strong enough, who attempts suicide the minute he notices society’s hostility towards him based on his difference? What if I’m not always there to guide him and protect him from all the hate?
One piece of advice to anyone susceptible to contrary opinions: Never let negative comments get to you, to your head. Always try to block off negativity however or whenever it comes, because one negative comment on another negative comment slowly turns into one giant, dirty, immovable heap. Try to forget them as quickly as they come. Forget them and forget who said them. Life is difficult enough to deal with, with the shit we have to carry along, without having to take on the shit others try to impose on us.
Written by Tichifierce (RuPaul’s First Daughter)