There are a lot of things that make living as a gay man in Nigeria difficult: there is the Nigerian brand of homophobia that is hateful and violent and ironically backed by a supposed religion of love; there is the SSMPA, the last ditch desperate effort to save face by a weak and lily-livered former president; and there is the outdated (if it ever existed in the first place) cultural and moral values Nigerians selectively cling to.
Personally, after these, another thing I find grating about living as a gay man in Nigeria is how near impossible it is to meet someone organically. You know, the privilege that straight people have to be able to walk up to someone they find attractive and try to “toast” them and the worst they could get is a rejection. These cis-het folks don’t know how good they’ve got it. This might not seem like a big deal until you see someone that you really want to talk to and the only thing stopping you is not the fear of getting a “No. I’m straight” but the fear that they might be ignorantly homophobic.
We have all been in situations where we have this eye-to-eye contact with a stranger, in public, and wish we had the gumption to do more than an eye stand-off. It could be in a bus, or a restaurant or along the aisles of a supermarket, as you pretend to read the content and nutrient value off a box of cereal that you’ve always eaten. It is today you want to know the percentage of fiber or carbohydrate content compared to protein or vitamin D this box of Frosties has. Anything just to make you spend a few more seconds around him, hoping something would make a conversation happen. You guys would stare intermittently at each other. You, because you’re trying so hard not to turn, look on from the corner of your eye to see if he is still staring at you. And then, you eventually decide to stop torturing your eyeball and dare yourself to turn, only to catch him staring and you both look away immediately. Don’t even get me started on what happens in restaurants where one would put food in his nose instead of his mouth because he is trying not to stare too obviously at the stranger sitting across from him.
This happens to both straight and gay people but, unlike in our case, straight people can decide to brave a rejection and try their luck. We don’t have that luxury. Worse than a rejection, we could get publicly humiliated.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, not too long ago, I was with a colleague at the Access bank branch on Ademola Adetokunbo and, as I stood and waited for him to fill the fund transfer form, I felt someone’s eyes burrowing into my back. You know that burning feeling at the back of your neck that makes you turn around or look up and you catch someone eyes on you? Yes, that one. I did turn around and I caught the eyes of this beautiful, dark skinned man with ample flesh on his bones. He immediately tore his eyes away from me and to his phone. I kept staring until he slowly, cautiously, raised his yes to meet mine. He was seated at the Customer Care waiting area and I decided to go sit there while I waited for my colleague. I very badly wanted to say Hello and start a conversation but I feared that I might be reading too much meaning into the whole looking game. He might not have been checking me out.
So, I sat there, next to him, and I didn’t say anything until he stood up and left. At least, I thought he left.
A few minutes later, my colleague was done and we walked to the security doors. While we waited for the doors to roll open so we could step out of the banking hall, this beautiful dark-skinned man stepped out of the restroom just to the right of the doors. I was mildly surprised to see he was still in the bank. Questions raced through my mind. How long had he been in there?! Had he been stalling for me or was this just a funny coincidence? I couldn’t find out as my colleague was standing right there and the beautiful man was staring straight at the glass doors like he wanted to open them with his eyes.
We both walked out of the bank and went our separate ways and I spent the rest of my morning thinking “what if?” I thought about the possibilities that would exist if I had said Hello and we had talked and something came out of it.
Something similar also happened at a SPAR outlet one Saturday morning. I was perusing the baked goods section, trying to decide on which sugary carb-filled good to buy to replenish all the carbs I had just lost from my jog that morning, when I noticed this dark-skinned, bearded young man with a clean-shaven head staring at me. He was with some friends – another young man and a lady. I walked past him, my gaze directed at the show-glass lined with donuts and burgers and scones, and his eyes followed me. I stared back and smiled, more to myself than to him; I was still wearing my jogging shorts (which is VERY short, by the way) and my sweaty sleeveless vest, so I could understand his thirst. I settled on bread and walked around aimlessly a bit before heading to the check-out counter. He and his friends followed shortly after and it was at this point that the staring contest began. The things I bought were being scanned, so I turned and faced him and his group squarely. I was feeling particularly confident in myself that morning, so I was willing to be a bit more obvious. He kept staring while the lady was rambling away into his ears. Some seconds into the stand-off, he turned and said something to her. She shut up immediately and looked forward, at me. He was handing her the shopping basket, as though attempting to make a move to step away from them, but she refused to take the basket. The bitch!
Anyway, my stuff had been scanned and bagged and I had paid, so I had to leave. I waited outside a bit, but when they didn’t show up, I left.
I am someone that can, and likes to, go for someone I find attractive and, if I do say so myself, I know how to make my advances without coming off as creepy or lewd. I am also equally deathly afraid of public humiliation. So, you can understand the difficulty in approaching a man in this homophobic Nigeria, where the men have not learnt to simply say NO but would rather loudly “cover their nyash with the blood of Jesus” after dragging the attention of the entire Lagos to you.
Tomorrow, someone will ask why queer people (who want to be in relationships) are not in relationships. How would we when we can barely meet people without social media and hook-up apps? Even something as simple as DM sliding would require a lot of mental gymnastics, professional level subtlety and world-class hint dropping, just in case you have read too much meaning into the number of mutual friends you share, so that someone will not use you to make a whole Facebook post/Twitter thread.
At this rate I am tempted to ask Twitter to help me find the beautiful dark-skinned man that was staring at me on the 4th of September in Access bank branch on Adetokunbo Ademola. Who knows if he is looking for me too?
Written by UC