Allow me to tell you a story today; a story about Kathrine Switzer, who was the first woman to compete in the Boston marathon. In that period, the 60s, women were not allowed to participate in marathons; organizers said they were too weak and frail to run for over four hours. Some even went ahead to say that a woman’s uterus would fall out if her body is forced to withstand such pressure, this amongst other silly excuses for excluding women. Kathrine however trained for the event and registered with her initials, therefore officials did not realize the registration was from a woman. She showed up to the event in baggy clothing in an attempt to evade detection and competed in the race. When officials figured out she was a woman, they tried to physically remove her from the race, but she and her then boyfriend fought them off, and she went ahead to complete the marathon in 4 hours 20 minutes (which is pretty decent, if you ask me). Her participation was a strong political statement and eventually pressure started mounting on the athletics body, and the ban on women was lifted in 1972. Kathrine Switzer was instrumental in breaking this glass ceiling.
I know you’re wondering where I’m going with this. But have a little patience please.
I started watching the TV show, House of Cards recently (yes I am a LASTMA) and Claire Underwood is my spirit animal. There was a part of Season One (I think) where she fired an employee, who went on to lie that Claire had fired her because she was pregnant. When Claire confronted her, she said (I am paraphrasing now): “I want a better world for my kid and if I have to tell a few lies along the way to get it, I think I am justified.”
This entire interlude is because I want to share a perspective on the issue of married gay men/married bisexual men – yes, that issue has been thrashed and re-thrashed severally here, but as my darling Sensei always says, it’s like a corpse that was hurriedly buried with some body parts sticking out. Please just try to be open-minded a bit as I share a little perspective on this issue.
I remember when President Goodluck Jonathan signed that draconian bill into law and Ayo Sogunro penned that article which gained quite some traction on the internet and started a discourse on the subject. And then came Chimamanda Adichie’s rebuke in the New York Times, I think. People listened, Nigerians read and a few Nigerians were won over by the arguments these people advanced. I remember telling my friend that their message was stronger because they were heterosexual people; if an out gay man had written that same article, very few people would have bothered to read it. It’s the same for feminism; the message is stronger from a man. More people (women included) will be inclined to listen to a male feminist, than pay any attention when the same message is coming from a woman. I believe I have made this argument here before several entries ago.
A friend of mine recently got married and my inner circle made a collective decision not to attend. I was a groom’s man (of course) and I attended. Eventually after the event, I was treated like I was a traitor who leaked my country’s secret to the enemy. We fought hard about the issue and they accused the married guy of “betraying the cause”; essentially they said he still bent to pressure and conformed and that the message he is sending remains that something is wrong with being gay, and that this is a dangerous message to send to the younger generation of gay men.
Now just yesterday, this formed the crux of the argument on a social media group that I belong to and tempers rose with majority of the participants toeing the ‘Burn the gay men who get married at the stake’ line. During this heated argument in this online group occupied by a bunch of KDians, I posed a question: “You say gay men who get married take us steps backward and all. Okay. How about you who is a single gay man, what have you done to advance the cause of the LGBT in Nigeria, besides writing strong words on an anonymous gay blog and using an anonymous moniker to do this?” My response was silence.
You see, it’s very easy to talk the talk and point fingers, but walking the walk becomes a different kettle of fish. I am indifferent to gay men who decide to get married. They don’t owe me anything and I don’t owe them anything. Everybody has their lives to live, and if that’s the path they have chosen for themselves, well so be it. The only time I have a problem with them is when they turn around and become very condescending and patronizing about their marital statuses. Other than that, we are good. However I feel that the married gay men who are conscientious about the LGBT cause have a critical role to play in the fight against homophobia.
Let me illustrate my point with another story. Recently, I was away on a work thing when I received a call at about 11 pm from my friend, only it wasn’t him who called. It was a policeman on his phone. It appeared he had run into some sort of kito situation with the police (if you live in Port Harcourt, check and double check before visiting anybody around Mgbuoba / Ozuoba / Alakahia / Aluu axis), and they were asking for some money to bail him. My friend has money but he didn’t want to take them to the ATM because they would check his account balance and ask for far more than they were already asking. So he reached out to me for help. The only problem was that I was in Lagos and I couldn’t come to his rescue. So I proceeded to call nearly every gay person I knew in Port Harcourt to go the place and rescue him. All of them declined, every single one I called, including three gay lawyers. In fact, as soon as I mentioned it was a kito case with the police, they all backed away saying they did not want any trouble. At this point, the policemen were calling me and threatening to take my friend to the police station, threatening also that the bribe they were asking would triple if we let the case get to the station.
Out of desperation, I contacted a female lawyer (she’s straight, as far as I knew) whom I knew from my gym and briefed her on the situation; I am sure I outed myself in the process, but what I cared about at that time was getting my friend out of that situation. She went ahead and secured his release in a short time, and was even able to negotiate the bribe to a lower amount. Now do I judge the other people for refusing to go? Well not necessarily. I do think that many of them (especially the lawyers) were just being paranoid, but ultimately they just felt vulnerable, persecuted with the guilt that should they get involved, the policemen could think they are gay too. Do you see where I am going with this now?
Homophobia is a hydra-headed monster and to confront it, we require a multi-faceted approach. We need people who can speak up in defense of homosexuality without feeling vulnerable that their sexuality will be called into question. This is where our married brothers can come in and help us win. I am not saying that every gay man should get married and conform in other for them to fight this battle. What I am saying is that we don’t have to see the married ones amongst us as betrayers. Rather we can see them as allies who have a very important role to play in this campaign, should they be conscientious enough for it. I have been in situations where I have spoken very strongly in support of homosexuality and people began to ask me if I was sure I was not one of them. Their inquisition made me feel vulnerable. However if I had a wedding band on, they would most likely lean towards the understanding that I’m just being passionate about something that doesn’t primarily concern me.
Some people will read this article and say that DM is just doing ground work for his marriage to a woman so that when it comes out that he got married, people will not be shocked. To the people who say this (and who have said it in the past), I will just say what I have said repeatedly. I do not intend to go down the route of marriage to a female. However if I do get married, it’s my kettle of fish to boil. The worst that would happen is that (some) people will skip my wedding and call me a hypocrite.
The truth is that we are like one giant puzzle and every part of this puzzle has a role to play. We have to stop acting like crabs in a bucket, fighting and pulling each other down, when we should be working to advance a course of action, one that will involve every piece of this puzzle.
The examples I gave at the beginning of this piece are that of trailblazers, people who told a few lies along the way for the greater good. As the English people would say: The end justifies the means. It’s easy to perch on a high horse and vilify those who get married as dragging us back, but always ask yourself: What have I done personally to help this cause? How have I covered this gap that the married people have created?
There are people here I have reached out to while trying to raise funds to help stranded LGBT youth and they couldn’t be bothered to spare as little as two thousand naira to help. It’s easy to speak English and cast aspersions, not so easy to practice what you preach. I asked a friend – another vilifier of married gay men who maintains that he lives in his truth – why he hadn’t come out to everybody around him since he was all about staying true to himself and the cause, and again I got crickets.
There is work to be done, my people. Let us not expend our energies on petty issues. Each and every one of us has a role to play in this matter and the question should be whether you are willing to do something, whether you are willing to walk the walk. No matter the choices you have made, no matter whether you are married or single, out of the closet of safely tucked inside (*double checks closet doors and installs new AC*), be prepared to do something, no matter how small, to help. Get off your bloody high horse and stop judging people. Superheroes don’t always wear capes, and always remember that sometimes, the end can justify the means.
PS: I will be taking a break from this journal for a few weeks. I am drowning in work and personal projects, but I will be back in due course.