My name is JBoy. The first thing you should know about me is that I can be bold, brazen, really sharp-tongued and borderline insolent. Growing up, I was all that with no restraint. But as an older person, I have learned to curb my wildness. Instead, I have cultivated that attitude into a fortitude that keeps me in control throughout the adversities I have faced so far in my life.
One of those adversities was getting a job after I finished my youth service. Thankfully, I didn’t labour too long in the job market, before I got employed in the finance industry. You know, that industry that glories in its pristine attires of starched shirts tucked into trousers, and topped off with suits and ties. The industry wasn’t new to me; its employment opportunities were what I’d prepared for in school. So I knew I was going to be in my element at work.
I hadn’t reckoned with my workplace, however.
The first day that I became a staff, that I joined the workforce, was the day I knew that Fate had dropped me in the worst psychological environment I could ever be – the homophobic workplace. In the past, I’d always thought that if you’re not for us, then you must be against us. But with growth came the re-education that not everyone who isn’t in favour of homosexuality is necessarily homophobic.
That isn’t the case with the men and women I found myself calling my colleagues.
Now, apparently, the company distributes items of news to its staff members via their company emails, in an effort to keep them updated with current happenings, for those who don’t have time to watch the TV news or read the papers. And so, on that first day, the major headline news was that of the brutal murder of a man, poised to get married, who brought his gay lover to his house to spend the night and lost his life to multiple stab wounds. The morning brought about to the rest of the household the discovery of his mutilated corpse and the disappearance of the young man they saw their brother take into his room the night before. This happened in Bariga, Lagos.
My colleagues would not stop talking about it. Their expressions were twisted with disgust and outrage, their mouths spewed vitriol after vitriol, condemnations on these ‘children of the devil that are contaminating this country.’ Never mind the 419ners who trade in human parts, or the evil housewives who torture their house-helps, or the jealous boyfriend or girlfriend who pummels or throws acid in a fit of rage. These are news that floods the Nigerian blogosphere daily. And yet, the country remains uncontaminated, just until the vileness is carried out by homosexuals. Then the devil is upon us.
Anyway, that day passed. Other days came and passed too. As is expected in a workplace where you have men and women in a cluster, there was always gossip to be bandied about. And whenever the gossip centered on the gay community, the talk was always malignant, loud and vitriolic. These men and women truly despised this minority that they could not understand. Despite my talkative nature, I always remained resolutely removed from their gossip whenever it was about the gays. I would always choose those moments to maintain sharp focus on my work and my computer screen, all the while feeling my blood boil and my heart burn at the ignorance I could hear in everything they said. Every now and then, I would let off a snigger, a scoffing laugh, sounds that would draw their attention momentarily to me, even though none of them bothered to draw me into their conversations. As the newbie and the most junior of them all, I knew they were still trying to figure me out, to peg me, to understand where they could place me. I wasn’t quiet and sulky, I was exuberant and very relatable with them, and my sense of humour was always on point. And yet, during moments like this, when the gossip was vicious, they would observe me withdraw from them. Something about that was disturbing to them, I could tell.
And that is why I suppose what happened some months later happened.
I’d just got a new phone, the Blackberry Z10. And as it is with new acquisitions, everyone wanted to have a look-see of my phone. They would ooh and aah over the phone as they touched it and held it and talked about it. Days passed, and I started settling into my ownership of the phone, still trying to gain mastery of the workings, which included its security settings and all that.
And then, one afternoon, a male colleague (let’s call him Ben) approached me and asked me for my phone. I was swamped and slightly harried by the work I had on my station, so much so that when I handed the phone to him, I neither paid any attention to him or to the fact that in the period he had my phone with him, seated beside me, he never once asked me anything about it. No innocuous questions about how much I bought it, where I bought it and why I hadn’t bought an android phone instead. Several moments passed, and he simply sat there by my side, focused on whatever discoveries he was unearthing from the Blackberry. Finally, after some time, he suddenly dropped the phone on my desk, mumbled something to me and hurried off. I was startled by the abruptness of his departure, stared at his retreating back for a moment before glancing at the screen of my phone. What I saw caused my blood to alternately turn cold and hot with shock and outrage.
My Facebook page was open on my phone screen. Not my News Feed or Timeline or any of my friends’ profile pages – no! I was looking at the conversation thread of one of my Inbox messages. That bastard had not only violated my privacy by visiting my Facebook account, he’d also perused my Inbox. And the particular message I was looking at was the thread of Kito Diaries links I’d been messaging a friend of mine who asked me to help him stay updated. And it wasn’t even the recent thread that I was staring at. The motherfucker had actually scrolled back as far as a couple of months ago.
If he’d been investigating my sexuality, he’d had more than an eyeful of evidence.
My first instinct was fear. But that just lasted some fleeting seconds. And then, I was furious. Seething. Angry. But my rage was chilly. I didn’t flare up. I didn’t rise from my seat, stomp over to his work station and slap him six ways to Sunday before asking him why he’d dared violate my privacy so. No. Instead I took a deep breath and waited. I waited. I was waiting. Of course I knew he would tell someone, who’d probably tell someone who will tell some other person. And I waited them out, silently daring anyone to approach me with any silly questions. I was almost disappointed no one came forward.
And then, the Emmy awards came and passed. And it was another day at the office, and the gossip this time was talk about the awards. The fan favourites which are Game of Thrones, Scandal and Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope) did not win any laurels. That rankled with most of my colleagues. And to add salt to the injury, Modern Family – a show most of them dismiss as a gay series – had the effrontery to pack 3 awards, while Veep – another gay series to them – fetched an award for its lead actress, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The sheer audacity of these gay-friendly shows taking home awards that were meant for shows and thespians they felt deserved them more infuriated them. And so, they spewed lots of poison, damning the American LGBT community to hell.
‘That’s how they’ll be doing, all these faggots in America, looking for cheap publicity, trying to overtake in everything, making it so that if you don’t support their movement, you will not get properly recognized. That is why Hollywood has become so sinful. You can’t even say your mind about gays there; you talk anyhow and your career is over. Rubbish! Nonsense people!’
The hate was strong, the poison ever so thick. The way they were talking, you’d think all the nominated gay-friendly shows in Hollywood had a sweeping victory at the Emmy awards. I actually had to google the award wins to verify that other shows like Breaking Bad, The Good Wife and True Detective actually took home some laurels. But these bigots were blinded by the fact that something with the symbol of homosexuality in it could shine. To them, the gay community shouldn’t even have a voice, let alone worldwide recognition.
I sat in my corner, comforting myself with the many aphorisms that crawled through my mind.
Hating is the sincerest form of flattery.
Don’t hate what you cannot imitate.
Love us or hate us, either way we’re on your mind.
So many assume, so little know.
And then finally, I let out my usual mocking laugh. It burst from my mouth, sharp and loud, and on the heels of it, before I could pull the words back, I said snidely, “Hate much.”
Just those two words. And the room silenced momentarily, with the weight of their stares resting on me.
My heart started pounding and I mentally berated myself: Just great, Jboy, you’ve gone and done it! Surely, after this outburst, you must know you’ve outed yourself, don’t you?
And once again, I braced myself for any questions or confrontation, but none came. And as though my outburst had doused the fires of their indignation, the gossip hour ended right then, and everybody shuffled to their seats to attend to their work. Someone walked out of the office. Someone else walked in. The guy next to me pulled off his suit. I adjusted the knot of my tie. A swivel chair creaked. The air conditioner hummed.
And life went on.
Written by JBoy