OPEN CLOSETS WIDE SHUT

OPEN CLOSETS WIDE SHUT

This is my position when it comes to dealing with family who know about your sexuality and, barring any forceful attempt to make you change, persistently work on your defenses with their homophobia: You block them out. However speedily or slowly you intend to do this should depend on your circumstances, but no matter how much love exists between you and your family members, when they know you are gay and won’t get over it, you should develop a tough skin and seriously consider shutting down some channels of communication.

I said as much to a friend of mine struggling with his mother, and his response was: “Easier said than done.”

But it is not. Now, I must clarify that everything I’m going to say is based on my personal experiences and I make room for the understanding that we’re all in different situations when it concerns sexuality and family.

However, let me reiterate: it is not easier said than done.

When my brother found out about my sexuality through a stumble on something he wasn’t supposed to see on my phone, he reacted by lashing out at me. that was the first time I’d ever been so openly confronted over my sexuality, and even though my heart was pounding and blood was rushing to all my extremities, my output – the only thing I let my brother perceive from me – was an icy detachment. Like I didn’t care that he knew. And when he threatened to tell our parents what he’d learned, I coolly encouraged him to do so. At least, he’d be taking away the burden of telling away from me. of course, he didn’t tell them, but he went on to wage a cold war on me that lasted months, a silent treatment that I willingly returned frost after frost.

I was months past my national youth service at this time, and I was all about one thing: my peace of mind. Note that I didn’t say my happiness, because peace of mind and happiness aren’t necessarily the same thing.

When it comes to my sexuality, I am very selfish. It is an attitude I believe I’ve earned the right to. And I feel no shame about it – and with good reason too.

Let me tell you a story.

I did my service in Abuja, and in the first six months while I was serving in AMAC, I stayed with my aunt, her husband and their 4 children, ranging from ages 10 to 17. In just six months, that family – my aunt and her husband especially – put me through hell over everything, from the little things to the big things. It was as though I couldn’t breathe without them lambasting me over how much oxygen I was taking in. I don’t know how they got to know that I fancied boys, because there were different possible avenues. Before they turned really nasty, I’d used their Wi-Fi controlled desktop computer in the dining room to download a few queer movies. I shared a room with their only son and I often left my laptop on atop the bed with him – with all the iniquities in it – to attend to other things around the house. But I knew they knew something when a guy I was seeing then dropped me off at the gate of their flat one evening around 8, and my aunt was at the verandah as I got in to hassle me about what I was doing coming down from a man’s car in the night. The way she came at me, it felt like she was berating a female for being a hoe.

So I knew they knew. And the consequent unleashing of their nastiness further confirmed what I believed.

They couldn’t stop me from sharing a bed with their son, but they sure did their best to minimize the amount of time I spent with him. They heckled me at every chance they got. I’m insomniac and one night, around 2 am, the husband woke up and stepped out of their bedroom to see the light of my laptop streaming out of my room through the door jamb. He burst into the room and began yelling at me, calling me names that included “demon” and “marine spirit”. This man has a voice that sounds like it is outfitted with a microphone in the vocal chords, and this is when he’s speaking normally. So you can imagine how loud he was at 2 am, that he startled his entire family out of their beds. Why? Because I was up, minding my business at 2 am. Sitting there on the bed, I wanted to cry.

And I did that a lot in that house. I cried a lot. I began to cherish weekdays when I had to be at work and dread the weekends when I had to be at home. And whenever I was at home, I stayed put behind closed doors in the bedroom. One time, I actually peed inside a nylon and stashed it under the bed to be disposed of later, because I was too distraught over the possibility of running into my aunt or her husband if I stepped out of the bedroom to go ease myself in the toilet.

I was that damaged.

I spent so much time in the bedroom that my cousins often had to come call me to take my lunch or dinner. My guardians soon put a stop to that. One night, I was surprised when my cousin came into the bedroom and dropped into bed – to sleep. I looked at the time: 10 pm.

Had they had dinner? I asked.

Yes, he said.

Why didn’t anyone call me? I asked.

Because daddy said they should stop calling me, he answered.

I stood and walked out of the bedroom to meet a house that had retired for the night, the kitchen and dining room wiped clean of whatever they had for dinner. Bitter tears stung my eyes that night as I went to bed hungry.

I lost weight, not because they weren’t feeding me (apart from that one night; I had to learn how to be on the alert for lunch and dinner and step out of the bedroom when I was certain those mealtimes were ready), but because I had no peace of mind. I was consistently homesick, something I hadn’t felt since my JSS1 in boarding school. I cried a lot, often in the gloom of my room and I lived a life with them that had me wanting to disappear or just to stay unseen.

They never talked to me about what they knew. They never threw bible verses at me or dragged me to any pastors. I suppose me not being their child gave me that immunity. But they were very liberal with their taunts and barbs and subliminal scorn. When my office opened a branch in Gwagwalada in January of the following year and needed corpers to relocate there to work in the new office, I jumped at the chance. When I was passing out and that NYSC ending meant that I had to return to Area 11 to enjoy life after service, I had my things packed and spent just one night in their house before I was out like a shot a day after passing out.

I came to a realization after my ordeal in Abuja: that my peace of mind is paramount in everything I do. If whatever situation I’m in is not giving me any peace of mind, if I can, I’d do my best to remove it.

And my sexuality is my peace of mind, as much as everything else about me is.

So when my brother thought he could guilt me into denying my sexuality, he got disabused of that idea very fast. (Now, after living some years abroad, he’s gotten so open minded, he’s become a better person that I love).

And when the female cousin I was staying with in Lagos right after I started working threw at me a thinly-veiled threat of exposure  after observing the constant stream of male visitors I had coming and going from my bedroom, I told her to go fuck herself.

I just started reading Chike Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men, a nonfictional narrative of his life as a gay man. And in it, he touched on the time when all his immediate family knew about his sexuality and supported and loved him – all of them knew, that is, except his father. But then, his father began to hear talk from his friends who knew Frankie in the United States.

And instead of talking to his son about what he’d heard, during a New Year’s Eve prayer, Frankie’s father “prays loudly, in full view of everyone…that God should help and forgive all of those who are living in the closet that they may repent, change their ways and get closer to God…”

Of course, this infuriated Frankie, who waited until the prayers were done, before he asked his father into his bedroom and proceeded to read him. Here’s an extract from the book of what happened:

“Without allowing him to speak, I make it clear that I am in no closet. I am proud of who I am. I don’t need forgiveness. I don’t need to change. And most importantly, that I am simply giving him information so he hears it directly from me, and I am not seeking his approval or anyone else’s. I demand that going forward, he respect me as I am, and insist I have no problem returning to New York and remaining outside of his life or that of anyone else in the family who has issues.

“By this point, I’m not angry. I’m not emotional. I am clinical. I am cold. I don’t let him speak until I am finished. My feelings are clear, and this time, I have no problems expressing them concisely… At this point, even though I’d been raised to never challenge elders or authority figures, particularly him, I am firm in my belief that no one has the right to, in my mind, belittle me.

“And he listens. It’s as if Dad is hearing me for the very first time. In all these years, I’ve never so much as challenged him. This is the first time I am demanding respect. Perhaps on some level, he’s even pleased. I feel no guilt about giving him an ultimatum. And it isn’t a bluff. He can accept the situation or we can go back to not seeing each other, a situation I know he doesn’t want. It’s as if I’ve put a gun to his head and he won’t dare me to pull the trigger because the look in my eyes, the flatness of my voice, tells him I would.”

That right there is the gospel according to Chike Frankie Edozien.

Everything I’ve taken my time to narrate is directed at those who have no closets when it comes to family, but who have family members that won’t quit trying to wield some sort of guilt over them. When you’ve come all that distance out of your closet, do not denigrate your progress by letting your family force you back in simply because it’ll make them feel better about you.

The only person whose peace of mind counts when it comes to you is You. Everyone else should either fall in line or get out of your way.

Written by Pink Panther

 

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13 Comments

  1. Black Dynasty
    March 24, 07:23 Reply

    ????excellently written! I share very similar views, no one will take away my peace of mind and happiness because of my sexuality.

    There is a caveat though…. you have to be financially independent and able to live your own life.

  2. Dunder
    March 24, 11:02 Reply

    I agree with this piece and it is similar to my own stance on my sexuality. I have gone through a lot to get where I am- where I am no longer in search of what was never missing, no longer building castles with alien blueprints in sinking sand. With or without financial independence, you can put yourself first, define and defend boundaries, alter situations and be resolute on your own joy till you leave the nest.

    After the reaction of a close friend to the issue of my sexuality, I realized that my problem was not being gay but that I did not see myself as sacred, something of divinity, worthy of basic respect. I was continually apologizing to the world for my existence. It was a tough road to get here, especially tough when you are fighting alone and bleeding to death but you have to put on a pretty face and be bold until you break down, shattering into a million pieces. One day, I looked in the mirror and did not recognize what I saw. I made a personal vow that if I was ever going to experience such despondency again, it would be of my own volition, because of MY choices and not to appease people and cultures who think so lowly of you, slander,torture and malign you then offer this option of robotic conformity as “love”. I will hurt no one and I pity the fool looking to take me a single step backwards.

    • Hapiey
      March 24, 11:27 Reply

      Preach!!! #gospelaccordingtodunder

  3. Bee
    March 24, 11:14 Reply

    Apt and lovely. But, I still don’t know why I can’t understand the title. Am I seriously this stupid?

    • Yazz soltana
      March 27, 03:21 Reply

      It’s from a Tom Cruise movie eyes wide shut with his Then wife ,Nicole Kidman..
      By Stephen Kubrick.. .
      I’ve not seen the movie tho..

  4. John Adewoye
    March 24, 16:51 Reply

    I used to think economic independence is needed to break free for Nigerian young LGBTI. I still believe that.
    But self-value comes before that. Self-acceptance is the step to any meaningful conversation. Let family know you are not mistaken about your history of development.
    They see height,
    they hear change in voice,
    they see hair grow.
    But do they see the inner growth
    How it begins to bloom externally?
    No!
    You saw it.
    Accept it and tend your garden and
    be ready to let people in or out as need be.

    Don’t forget, I have not downplay economic empowerment. It is part of tending your garden.

    Think bigger in the choice of a profession. Change if you need to. Tap to family resources for self-development before inviting them to your garden. Work on self-respect, self-value, self-esteem, self-worth, before you invite others to hear you.

  5. Ezra
    March 24, 23:08 Reply

    “I lost weight”…Well hello, let’s celebrate that.

  6. Richard Moore
    March 24, 23:57 Reply

    How I’ve missed Pinky and KD. ??? It’s good to be back. Amazing read.

  7. Nele
    March 26, 01:56 Reply

    This is so plaintive I hope some wronged out HT gets to read this

  8. lol
    March 26, 15:30 Reply

    Siblings blackmail is one thing am always surprised to read about, i mean i would take a bullet 4 my siblings, so i dont get it.

    Sorry anyway , it gets easier with time, i attribute the difficulties with late realization or coming out much later in life than early, it gives yhu reasonable amount of time to get comfortable. I know gay individuals who wouldnt take half the crap yhu took from family members not to talk of from anyone,that boldness n strenght comes from certain type of knowledge of self n experience, early experience.
    One kid in question back then once boldly said ” go now, my mommy knows”, n he was saying it to nosey cooper,who threathen him in public, there was no remote flinch or shame in his eyes, small boy bold as fuck.

    Time heals all, i guess.

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