The closet is a place where you go to hide your demons. Not necessarily to hide from people but to hide from a certain type of people. Essentially, I mean people who don’t matter to you – people who don’t know you, people who are irrelevant to your cause. To these people though, the closet is your silly excuse for non-conformance. But don’t be dismayed. There is a reason why closets are the surest safe houses for individual freedoms. People have a tendency to judge other people with bias.
And so, when Emenike chooses to not participate in tough, rugged, manly activities like football and wrestling, we are quick to call him girlie; for to judge is the basest flaw in our character. We feed off this energy to label others simply because the heteronormative society demands that we fit characters and personalities into boxes. It makes for easier understanding. Things are either black or white, round or square with no shades of gray in-between. To the people around you, I mean those you love and those who are relevant, there will always be the unspoken word to not define the problems they see but to explain the “defects” away as character flaws which socialization would heal with time. But years later, when the same Emenike comes out to them as gay, they shake their heads in love and say they’d hoped for the best. There’s very little surprise or anger when a beloved son unleashes his demons on his loved ones. They simply shake their heads or grind their teeth or beat their chests in that heart-wrenching way that suggests that somehow that they may have failed in their responsibilities to him. Some might even go as far as saying, “We always knew”. And then you begin to wonder, all those years you spent in agony, battling to keep these inner demons at bay, were they really worth it? Why did you have to go through hell just to avoid a simple shake of the head? Couldn’t you have spared yourself all that pain by living from the first day as you intended to live? After all, it was just a shake of the head and disappointment anyway, but they never stopped calling you, “Emenike, our son.”
To these ones however, those who matter, those who are relevant to your cause, there was never really such a thing as the closet because you played your life in full view on the family stage. Long before you came to grips that it’s the testosterone and firm, sculpted abs of Igwe that sends your pulses racing, they had been building excuses why he (Igwe) was such a stabilizing force in your life. They tell themselves there must be something wrong with Ada, the amiable preacher’s daughter they’ve been matching you off with and her family. After all, was it not the other day that John Ezedike’s son lost all his money soon after marrying Ngozika from that family? And thanking God for the fate you avoided. No one, not one, will remember that John was an incorrigible drunkard who gambled his father’s wealth away to pay his debts. And the lies will continue till the day they stumble on Emenike and Igwe n’ime oba (inside the barnyard) n’elu aru (committing abomination)!
Life tends to sort itself out with loved ones. No anger goes unbroken and no ill goes unhealed. We settle back to normalcy hoping that the fates will take away the burden they had laid on the family. But you know, and they know, n’ihe mebiri mmiri si na onu ugboguru (the river got muddied from the source). It is a patient, heartbreaking standoff. You would have been the perfect son if not for this one thing. Slowly, you begin to withdraw from everyone and everything. Yes, you still meet and greet. You still pay the occasional courtesy visit and watch your sibling’s children grow. But in truth, loneliness is your treasured company. It is bliss in that wilderness where you’ve wandered off.
Fast forward years in the future, even decades, the pangs of midlife crisis are beginning to peak. Igwe is no longer Igwe. He’d fit so nicely in the box and moved on. You know because he’s always busy Snapchatting his family vacations with wife and kids from around the world. It looks oh-so-perfect, forcing you to now raise doubts why you were never able to make a similar transition. Endless nights of debauchery hadn’t filled the yawning gaps in your life and sex had descended to a perfunctory routine. Where did the years go?
And it’s not just Igwe that changed; everything else did, except you. Your siblings’ kids that rode on your back on those occasional visits in times past are all grown, bubbling with energy and are off to universities. Your siblings themselves have become increasingly strangers. They regale you with stories of their domestication and how you should explore that option and settle down. Suddenly, it seems that every living day is a harsh reminder of your many failures as a man. After all, age is no longer on your side. They are kind not to say the things that are best left unsaid – that you have come full circle; that you are alone, lonely and depressed; and that you need to find a different solution for your happiness.
The point is there is really no such thing as a closet for people who are known to you. People will know what they know even without your say-so. They will doubt. They will hope. They will curse. And they will pray. But that they have left some things unsaid should not be seen as an act of rage or cowardice or ignorance. It is their own warped way of loving your imperfections away. It is their own way of dealing with the pain of you not fitting in the box they’ve nicely built for you. They know that it is for the unspoken word that you are strangers today.
If you choose therefore to step out of this nonexistent closet to the people you love, you should know that a coming out story is not as much an affirmation as it is a call to embrace; to dialogue and understand, and an opportunity to rebuild bonds that had been broken. If anyone wages a war against you, that person is undeserving of your time and attention. They are not the audience for your story. And you should know, anyone or thing who cannot celebrate your life is irrelevant to your cause. Your loved ones will only embrace you.
Why is all these even relevant?
A friend of mine, Akin Akintayo, recently came out in a beautiful piece penned by none other than my chief witch, Funmi Iyanda. After all the battles he’d known: homelessness, cancer and AIDS that nearly cost his life, he has emerged with uncommon grace to speak his truth in his fifties and define how he wants his legacy to be.
For those of us who are friends of Akin, I want to be the one to say these words to him: “Yes, we’ve always known. Now, serve us some tea!”
Written by Kritzmoritz