First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to the readership of Suits & Ties, y’all whose feedback have made me better and more self aware, whose remarks contribute in making life more bearable in a way I know wouldn’t be possible without this series, where I’m able to tell my stories and use the recommendations of the readership to make my world a better place, one moment at a time.
The drive to write this episode was birthed by a dinner I had with a friend a few Friday evenings ago. The dinner was at The Place in Ikeja, the food was delicious, and the company was charming. There was lots of gist and laughter, and the camaraderie was so easy and gay that we couldn’t help drawing the attention of some of the other diners and servers as well. The ease of our company was something I found curious, considering the friend I was out with. He is this kind of gay man who is extremely discrete and likes to play it very safe in public; that evening however, he seemed very comfortable with me and his laugh came very freely, his repartee rising and falling very freely.
We were having a good time. And part of that was because of the gist I had to share with him over a recent shenanigan at my workplace – gist I’m now about to share with you guys.
So yes, the story is about me and my office people again. Here’s a quick reminder: I work in quite the homophobic office, and while before this used to bother me, causing me to flare up or get too agitated in my dealings with my colleagues whenever the topic of sexuality came up, I’d grown to let a lot of things go and be actively passive whenever the prejudice of my co-workers took centre stage.
On this particular day, a colleague – let’s call him Johnson – from another department sauntered into my department and called out a greeting.
“Hello, everybody,” he said in a loud, merry voice, “and a special shout out to JBoy!”
I was startled by that and had just turned to look at Johnson, when I caught the speculative look another colleague had just turned to me. This colleague is Rosemary (You may remember her from Episode 7 where she had an issue with Ricky Martin and his Grammy-winning, homosexual self). She had instantly turned to assess my reaction to Johnson’s “special greeting” and so, had caught my bewildered expression. Then she turned back to her work as I looked at Johnson above the heads in the office and said, “Um, why the special shout out, Johnson? What’s the prize?”
“Can’t someone wish you a special shout out again?” Johnson replied with a chuckle.
“No. No special shout out o, not just like that.”
“Well, let’s just say the reason is that I like you.”
“Oh.” My brows shot up in mild surprise as the devil took possession of me. “Oh so you’re beginning to like me.”
Someone chuckled somewhere. Johnson’s brow furrowed as though he didn’t like the direction this was now going.
“How do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean, so you like me, like, like me like me?” I said with a wicked smile.
The man recoiled physically from my unsubtle meaning. “No! No, no, no!” he protested while gesturing with his hands as though pushing off an invisible weight from him. “It’s not like that o, before you push words into my mouth.”
“Okay please, how is it like then?”
“Excuse me, hope you know I’m a married man?” Johnson said with some affront. “How can you be telling a married man that he likes you?”
My retort was on the tip of my tongue, waiting to drop. The fact that you’re a married man does not mean you cannot like me like me. I was going to say that. I’d opened my mouth to say that.
But Rosemary beat me to it. She’s Ms. Know-it-all, Ms. First to Google every celebrity for gossip and life history – and from her position of omnipotence, she interjected, “Johnson please, shush it there!” Her eyes were flashing as she sat up and directed her ire at the unfortunate man. “Just shush and let us hear word please. The fact that you’re a married man, married to a woman, does not determine who you’ll love to fuck.”
My mouth dropped open as I tried to determine what shocked me more, her vulgarity or the fact that this kind of realistic opinion was coming from her.
She wasn’t finished yet. “Let me tell you, these days, there are things called arranged marriages, marriages of convenience where men who like to fuck men marry women who know nothing about their homosexual desires. Then there are those marriages where the wife actually knows but chooses to look the other way in the name of bearing the title of Mrs. Then there are yet others were both the wife and the gay husband marry because they both have secrets to protect. So the fact that you have a wife or children doesn’t mean jack! You don’t make a case about being straight by simply saying you’re married. That doesn’t mean anything these days.”
She was speaking the truth, but she was doing it so openly, so starkly, slashing at Johnson, the man himself who had begun to look like he was cursing the fates that brought him to our office. I had to come to his rescue; after all, he had wished me a special shout out. So I decided to take on the mantle of devil’s advocate.
I cut in, cutting off Rosemary’s flow. “Wait first, Rosemary, how do you know all these things?”
This was the perfect diversionary tactic I could ever employ, especially in my office. These people love nothing more than to salivate over people’s possible homosexuality. And it worked. The second the question left my mouth, Missy (another colleague who, you’ll remember from Episode 6, went head to head with me over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) snapped it up.
“JBoy, that’s true,” she spoke up. “Rose, answer him. How do you know this much?”
Rosemary did a double take as she sensed the tides turning against her. She raised her hands in that back-it-up gesture as she said, “Wait, hold on, wait, wait, I don’t get what you people are trying to insinuate.”
“We are not insinuating anything o,” I said, relishing her discomfort. “And I’ll wait, if you want me to wait. I’ll wait for you to explain how you became this knowledgeable about the different marriage scenarios involving gay men and women. I really want to understand how you were able to intelligently categorize these scenarios. I’m waiting, I’m just waiting for your answer.” My words were dripping with unasked questions and proffered answers.
“It’s not like that,” Rosemary snapped, catching on. “These are the things that happen.”
“Well, where did you hear of them happening? Tell us please, Rosemary, because I’m sure there’s a story.” Finally, I’d had enough of being subtle and simply gave it to her directly. “It’s either you swing both ways or you’re a lesbian – which one?”
Rosemary flinched, and her expression immediately grew stormy as she bristled. “How dare you?” she spat at me. “What gives you the right to arrive at that conclusion?”
“Several situations gave rise to my conclusion,” I said, unperturbed by her annoyance. “You want to hear them?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She wheeled around to face her work station. “And I’ve left this discussion.”
“But you must listen to me o.” I wasn’t quite done with her. It wasn’t often I got to put her on the defensive whenever it came to sexuality talks in the office. “One of those situations is how you’re quick to know which celebrity is gay or not, how you’re always gushing about the ones you suspect of being gay, and how you like to go on and on about their sexuality. My dear, no straight woman gives that kind of attention to that kind of gossip. Either’s there’s a story with you or at the very least, you’re bicurious.”
Missy is one co-worker who is always on Rosemary’s side whenever they’re attacking me, just as fierily homophobic as the other woman. But today, she wasn’t so much on her side. She stood from her work station, now ready to be part of the conversation.
“Rosemary,” she said, her expression a little sour, “JBoy has a point. Please clarify us because I’m beginning to get worried.” And she did look worried. “Ah! Is that why you kept telling me when I was pregnant that my boobs were getting bigger. Hay God! I’m worried o! In fact, whenever I’m entering the ladies and you’re coming up behind me, I will run from you, because now I’m worried.” She said that last bit with some jocularity, but behind the tone, I could tell she was serious about being wary of her friend.
Rosemary, who had plugged her ears with ear phones, looked focused on her work and determined to ignore us. Her wooden expression betrayed the fact that she could still hear us.
And Missy saw this, before saying, “Rosemary, talk o! Talk! We know there’s no music playing in that ear phone! Better answer me now.”
Rosemary ignored her.
Missy now turned to me. “But jokes apart, JBoy, those things she said could be true – that men actually marry women to distract the society from their true desires. And to think they even go ahead to make babies…” She shuddered at the absurdity of her thinking.
“Being gay doesn’t mean one can’t make babies,” I said, “in case that’s what you’re thinking. But I’m still interested in how Rosemary knows all of these things she was saying.”
“No, no, let’s forgive Rose,” Missy said. “She has over-talked. The main issue now is that I’ worried, not only about Rose, but about me, a wife to a man. So it’s a possibility that my husband has me as a wife just to appear good before the society and to his family, and then we make babies, and all this time, he desires a man. Ah” – she clapped her hands theatrically – “there is problem o! So it has come to the level where we don’t even know who is gay.”
Was there ever a time you knew who was gay? I thought. Aloud, I said cajolingly, in silent commiseration of this man who was about to be subjected to the fierce suspicion of his wife, Missy, “Missy, don’t get it wrong or twisted. People will always be people. But I will not encourage you to be thinking these things about your husband. He is your husband, that’s all that should matter. Don’t be tempted to go scrutinizing him or damaging the trust you’ve had in him all this time. With all these things Rosemary said, she has planted a seed in your heart that’s making you have doubts about the man you married. Don’t let that seed germinate otherwise the question of your husband’s sexuality will quickly be the least of your problems. Don’t go looking for a truth that’s not there to find.”
By this time, as I rounded up my speech feeling like Dr. Phil, I noticed that Johnson, the architect of this episode had already snuck out of the office. Missy went back to her seat, still looking unsettled. And I spared a fleeting feeling of sympathy for her husband before refocusing on Rosemary and the window she’d unwittingly opened for me into her life as a sexual human being. For the longest time, I’d had her pegged as a prejudicial straight woman because of her relentless homophobia, but now, I wondered if perhaps all that was just her overcompensating for her self-rejecting sexuality as a not-so-straight woman. Or was her knowledge rooted in a flirtation with bicuriosity? Or was she actually a straight woman who knows this much and all this is an indication that with each passing day, Nigeria’s consciousness on LGBT issues keeps growing?
Written by JBoy