I have quite a few straight friends who know about my sexuality and we remain very good friends. Some of my best moments are spent with them either running, drinking and talking (even if it’s over the phone), or sometimes listening while I rant about my boyfriend and his many wahala. I have been fortunate with my friendships. I always say that I cannot be close friends with someone whom I cannot show my true self. I can hide from colleagues and family members because I don’t get to pick them but I have a choice in who becomes my friend and life is too short to befriend close-minded bigots.
So anyway, I was chatting with one of them recently and he sent me a link to a podcast which he asked me to listen to and share my thoughts. The podcast was a studio conversation some people had about gender, feminism and themes along those lines. The podcast was 90 minutes long and my initial response was: Ain’t nobody got time for that. But then the ride home from work takes almost that amount of time if you factor in Port Harcourt traffic, so I figured I might as well listen to the podcast on the way home. I started listening to it and it went well for the most part, until I started to hear sexist comments; in fact, at a point, one of the guests said “Amber Rose is a whore who doesn’t want to be called a whore.” At that point, I simply closed the podcast and exited the page. I cannot use my data to annoy myself, especially after the kind of crazy day I’d had. Issues such as gender and patriarchy (especially as constructed in Nigeria) bring out the worst in me. The entitlement of the average Nigerian male disgusts me, so I typically try to avoid some of them because I will most likely attack very viciously.
After about two hours, my friend messaged to ask what I thought about the podcast and I told him I didn’t listen past 15 minutes of it. He asked me why and I said that I don’t tolerate sexism and misogyny of any kind, therefore I won’t subject myself to what is essentially 90 minutes of torture; the most painful part being that I won’t be able to clap back, so I’d essentially be sitting in the car, seething for nothing.
His response startled me in a way I couldn’t have predicted. He said, “You cannot work in conflict resolution.” (To which I replied saying that I have never sent my CV to the UN or the AU). He continued: “There are many places where your temperament will be a disadvantage to you, and I’d like to see you in a situation where the coin is flipped. Looking at it from that perspective, I am trying to imagine you being a homophobe; you’d have been a bloody and dangerous one. Yes, you are on the right side of very many issues, but sometimes I worry that you don’t tolerate any form of dissent. You have drawn a line in the sand and you take on anyone who dares to cross to the other side from you. I love you very much just as you are, but I will plead with you to sometimes try to understand the other arguments in an issue. Doing this will even help you tackle it better rather than moving in with a Mack truck at the first sign of dissent.”
This comment blindsided me and completely knocked me off my rhythm. I mean, a few friends have said I am forceful in advancing my opinions. On my birthday, some guys made a scrap book; ‘trailer driver’ was a phrase most of them used. However I have never imagined myself as a heterosexual homophobic man; would I be different from the people that I have made it my life mission to hate? Would I be one of those guys who’d set up gay men and beat them to pulp? Perhaps I would be one of those guys who camp out on Bisi Alimi’s Instagram page everyday just to spew vitriol at him? I think of myself as informed and intellectually superior to the vast majority of Nigerians, but would I really be any different from them were I not gay?
I thought about this and I didn’t know the answer immediately.
I always typically laugh in the face of people who say that being gay is a choice; I am always like: Are you kidding me? Who chooses such a difficult life to live? However one thing being gay has done for me is that it has allowed me to be more tolerant of difference and has forced me to consciously unlearn all of my biases. Whenever I feel myself judging someone or even starting to judge someone, that little voice speaks in my head reminding me that I quarrel against being judged myself and therefore I don’t have any moral justification for judging another person. This has helped me get rid of a lot of my prejudice and has made me a better person.
However after sometime and thought, I decided that I would not be like the stereotypical homophobic Nigerian. The difference being that I have a lot of information chiefly because my mind is open to learn and unlearn. Some of you know me personally and you know that I am a voracious reader, and embracing the world of books from an early age has opened my mind as I travel the world through the things I read, meet people and immerse myself in the very many nuances that writers are able to capture and share. I talk a lot of one of the best books I read this year, Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta; this book opened my eyes to the struggles of Nigerian lesbians. Prior to reading this book, I typically thought that lesbians had it somewhat easier in Nigeria, that people are less likely to stone two women holding hands for example, and that the kind of marriage pressure they are under is a bit different from mine (as a gay man, that is). However upon reading this book, I realized that our struggles are basically the same and it opened my eyes to some of their issues that I previously wasn’t aware of.
So premised upon this, I would say that were I not gay, I would not be like the retarded Nigerians (pardon me please) who are choking on opium fumes and cannot think for themselves; more proof of this lies in the fact that the literary scene (which I am pretty much immersed in) is filled with people are less likely to be bigots.
I would say though that the things my friend said to me are not lost on me. Going forward, I will try to be one who listens to dissenting voices (this is going to be hard) and one who tries to make sense of the other side of an argument. I pledge never to assume any form of intellectually superiority, after all, everything I think I know, I picked up from other people. I will end by saying that like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (one of the gods that I worship) said:
“The aim is not to be neutral in all matters, rather you should have opinions on everything, strong opinions at that, but they should be humane, informed and from a broad minded place.”
I hope this made some sense to you. Anyway that’s why it’s called a rant.
See you guys next week