I SEE MONSTERS

I SEE MONSTERS

1

“I do not know how monsters are made, but I know that they are.” – Wole Soyinka, A Play of Giants (Paraphrased).

It must have been in Primary five that I first observed bullying. We were at that age when we came into an awareness of our individualities and drifted into cliques that arose as a consequence of this awareness. These cliques were meant to be benign groups: girls who went to the talk-shop to buy chewing gum and made the same hairstyles over the weekend; sweaty boys that played football at break-time and at closing time; boys and girls that read books together in the library, often sitting side by side, and gisted about them afterwards.

But by the end of first term, Tunde Oladipo and his friends had come to occupy a cruel space in the socio-sphere: they “yabbed” the girls about their hair, about their weight and their breasts or the lack of them thereof; they taunted the boys who did not play football like them and sometimes, they waited after school to drag such boys into the middle of a semi-circle and laugh at their attempts to break away from them. They were bigger. They were world-wise, unlike the rest of us whose parents kept a tight leash on us after school and monitored us closely. They were particularly vicious towards certain groups: the boy-girls of the school, the book-book people, and the children with any noteworthy physical traits, a lisp perhaps or an unusually big head. They progressed from insults to the physical very quickly; many a boy was surrounded and roughed up for talking back to the Boss and his goons. By Primary Six, they were the lords of the school.

Looking at it now, it is clear that what was happening beneath the noses of my primary school teachers was merely a microcosm of the experiences of the larger society. Take this scenario, add a decade or two, replace the taunting and aggression with more advanced sadist behaviour, and you have the present day socio-sphere.

Back then, I often wondered about the senseless cruelty of it all. I wondered, but I never did anything to intervene because to do so was to “buy market” and the bullies would have turned to me as their new victim.

 

                                                                                                2

Bullying, no matter where it occurs is defined by certain characteristics: an imbalance in the dynamics of power which places on individual or group above another; the intent to harm, intimidate or provoke the less powerful group; and a tendency to repeat this action over and over to cause distress to this individual. This means that in any social situation, once there is a perceived hierarchy, bullying can and most times often arises.

 

                                                                                                3

“We must remember that victimhood is not virtue.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I was a boarding student in my secondary school days, and there, I witnessed some of the most wicked things that people can do to one another just because they have the power to. Bullying in boarding school is normalized. It is integrated into the class system. Seniors terrorize junior students. I do not need to elaborate on some of my experiences there because I know anyone who went to a boarding secondary school in Nigeria probably had similar experiences, but I must point out a trend that I found remarkably upsetting and till this day is one of my biggest lessons about human nature.

While I was not particularly picked on by senior students, some of my classmates were not as lucky. Many times after lights-out when I was in bed, I could hear them groaning from their rooms as they were punished and belted night after night. They suffered and I felt for them. By the time we were in SS3, when I was Head Boy, I tried everything within my power to reduce the bullying problem and protect the junior students from my mates. And who were the most brutal and vicious of my classmates? The boys who had suffered the most as junior students. You would think that being bullied would make them kinder or teach them empathy. Instead, they morphed into monsters even worse than their abusers. And so, the cycle continued.

 

                                                                                                4

Nobody knows bullying more than the effeminate Nigerian man. It is a systemized bullying that is founded on the blocks of toxic masculinity and patriarchy.

How can you be behaving like a woman when you are a man?

Effeminate men face variations of this question everywhere: at home, in classrooms, on the street while walking and minding their business, in churches, and if they are gay, in the very gay circles that should understand the most. And they come from everyone: parents, neighbors who call names like “woman-wrapper”, teachers, pastors, employers, well meaning friends who want you to “try and behave like a man sef”, area boys who comment to each other loudly “see as e dey waka like woman” and boldly walk up to femme men to confront them. God forbid you decide to openly express this femininity through clothes and other lifestyle choices.

The real problem is that words often morph into actions quickly in Nigeria and violence against anyone perceived as different is often explained away by society. Many effeminate Nigerian men know this firsthand. So, who do you turn to when your protectors are your abusers (policemen anyone)? How do you fight people who have been empowered by society? How do you even fight for yourself when you have been taught not to like yourself?

 

                                                                                                5

In child psychiatry class, something I knew already was confirmed: some individuals are more likely to be bullied than others based on their personality type. I have long sensed that something about me repels bullies. I see beyond the bravado and flexing into the weakness that actually underlies bullying. I have never sought the validation of my contemporaries. I have always aligned myself with institutional power in a way that means any bully who comes for me will have to face the wrath of people far more powerful. I am unlikeable and it is clear that I do not aspire to be liked by my peers. So, bullies sense these traits and stay away from me when they can because they are unsure of what the outcome of an actual confrontation with me would be like. I understand that this, in a way, is a privilege.

I must point this out because there are others like me who (unlike me) cannot understand the thought of bullied people being weak in the face of their oppressors; people who question the victims instead of the crime. There are some people who will never understand the struggle of being bullied (especially what it feels like to be bullied as a femme man), who champion stupid hashtags like #DontBeAGirlyMan amongst others. Even here on Kito Diaries, when we read kito stories, there are people who try to rationalize the actions of the kitoers, explain it away – he should not have gone looking for dick, why did he go there too, and he just stood there while they were slapping him – instead of interrogating the senselessness of the crime. Some other people try to trivialize the reactions of others to bullying – you mean he killed himself? Why is he crying sef? – and downplay the seriousness of bullying.

Bullies thrive on this too, this knowledge that their actions will be excused.

In child psychiatry class, I also learnt something I have found hard to accept: bullies need as much care and attention as do their victims. Maybe a child bully, yes. But a full-grown adult who knows right and wrong and chooses to bully others? I find it hard to dredge up empathy for such people.

 

                                                                                                6

I struggled with writing this piece (thank you Pinky for being so patient!). And I did because I believe that if you identify a problem, you should also propose a solution. What solution can I propose to bullying in Nigeria really? I feel like my words would be simply cliché and empty: “be strong”, “one day you’ll look over this and laugh”, “it gets better”.

I feel like these words are empty because I have seen firsthand the effects that bullying can have on people. I have transferred the bodies of bullied teenagers who committed suicide to the morgue. I have assisted in stitching up faces and limbs, some torn by bullies, some torn by people who wanted to express from their bodies their own tainted blood. (Is it not sad how some people actually do not believe that things like this happen in Nigeria? How they assume that such extreme reactions can only be found amongst white people?)

But, overtime, I have come to realize that while we cannot change the world, we can always change our spaces. I do not condone bullying in any form in any of my personal spaces. The moment I sense it, I snuff it out. I do this because I know that, just like in my primary school, for a bully to operate, others have to look away from his actions. I do not look away. I speak up when I can, and where the bully is someone I cannot confront because of rank, I take out my time to seek the bullied person and reassure them (diplomatically) that they are not at fault in any way for being bullied and help them where I can to avoid the bully. Diplomatically, because a bullied person can take your words and tell the bully because they want to gain favour in the bully’s sight.

And we can all do that, because, at the end of the day, flowery essays will not change the world. Actions will. So in our spaces, whether virtual or physical, with our words and actions, we must stand against bullying of any kind. We should check our privileges before we speak and learn to first be empathetic before we attempt to correct anyone. We must resist the urge to say to bullied people things like, “strive for academic excellence” or “aspire to be successful” because it actually does more harm than good to teach them that for them to demand humanity from others, they have to “earn” it. We need to learn to hold bullies and not their victims accountable. We need to create safe spaces.

To everyone here who has been bullied, regardless of how you have explained it to yourself in the past, know this: You had no business being bullied. You did not cause it in any way. Your worth will never be determined by those who tried to oppress you. You are perfect, just the way you are. We live in an imperfect society, never forget this.

To those who might still be experiencing bullying, you should speak up about it. It is not your fault. You don’t have to “grow tougher”. Please seek help where you can from people who care about you, and where possible, access professional help from psychologists that are affiliated with NGOs for that purpose. Where you can (because our society is fucked up), avoid your bullies, especially virtual bullies: unfriend them, block them and surround yourself with positivity. It will take a while, but you must also learn to discern that not every attack and criticism is actually bullying (this is not your fault, because if you have had to fight everyone off, it becomes hard to know when to even accept constructive criticism) and you will learn eventually to tell the difference, and when that time comes you must be ready.

But heal first.

Written by TJ

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  1. Delle
    May 04, 08:02 Reply

    Woah! I’m speechless!

    This is a profound piece! ?????

    And how right you are about bullies not coming after those who do not care about being liked. I know this because I have a firsthand experience.

    Thank you TJ for this wonderful entry to begin the week. ❤❤❤

  2. Queen of Queens
    May 04, 10:01 Reply

    Bullying is everywhere in Nigeria and the world, and happens to all types and kinds of people. Bullies, whether they realise it or not, are the greatest losers. A lot of them who truly abandon their bullying ways look at that past with disgust, shame and regret. Those who remain bullies are to be pitied. It takes a certain amount of insecurity, selfhate, unhappiness, misery, twistedness and/or mental imbalance to be a bully.

    • Higwe
      May 04, 19:36 Reply

      ? Percent agree.
      Most of them are miserable and bitter and the only way they can survive is spreading their negativity.

      I remember reading a certain novel by Stephen King – Dolores Claiborne .
      Vera the woman she worked for was in her element and dishing out abuses and firing innocent people.
      It got to a point where Dolores had to stand up to her and confront her and this was her reply

      ” Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to ”

      Most of these bullies are miserable and empty.
      The only way they can make up for everything life has supposedly denied them is dishing it out to others and trying to make them feel as miserable as they are.

      All of them are cowards too …once you give it back to them in the only way they know how , they run to their daddies and report you .?????

      I have never been bullied and I never will .
      Even though I started out my life a bit feminine , my tongue was always laced with acid ?
      At some point , I knew my tongue couldn’t hold it off any longer and I stated training, building up mass and learning martial arts .

      Dem never born who go bully me for this life, I’ll send you running to daddy.
      The language of a bully is misery and after poverty, misery is the second thing I dislike the most.

      Áláyémáṣ’ànfàní*

      Èèyàn lásán-làsàn*

      Alainironu ara Galatia *

      Who born your father ? ?? ?‍♂️

    • Mariposa
      May 05, 01:02 Reply

      So true… My Secondary School days, I attended an only boys school, 3weeks into the school I was accused of being an agent of darkness, that I brought the practice of homosexuality into the School, I was Effeminate and those words were destroying me… No day passes that I don’t get Verbal abuse or Hit at Night. I wanted to tell my parents but what would I tell them, even when I finally made a Best Friend, they said I wanted to Turn Him Gay, I started Hating anyone that wanted to Love me cos I didn’t want them to be insulted cos of me…
      I hear Lovely stories, adventures about Secondary School but Mine was a Complete Nightmare and just reading TJ’s Post, its like a weight was just lifted…

  3. Kingb
    May 04, 10:07 Reply

    Finally! A piece on this silent killer in our country. Funnily enough, it exists everywhere.Work places, compounds, schools, churches, banks just name it. I also lived in the boarding house and it was terrific. what amazes me is how it is silently normalized because our vice principals and teachers were well aware of this demon but did nothing.Personally, i have been fortunate not to be a victim because i am very protective of people i allow into my personal space, an overwhelming doze of self love and not giving a damn if you like me or not. i have experienced this at two companies i worked and am currently working with simply because of my self confidence, age and intelligence. i hate bullies and have and will never cower to their vicious acts. NEVER!

  4. Kelvin
    May 04, 10:25 Reply

    Wow! Thanks TJ for this wonderful piece. I am looking forward to writing issues and possible solutions on life as a gay man in Nigeria. I hope to come up with the right words for it without being biased. Pink panther I will keep you updated soon

  5. bamidele
    May 04, 11:17 Reply

    Wow! What an article. Bullying (discrimination in some context) continue to pose deadlier than any even terrorism. One can imagine the number of people wha have committed suicide, or who have been murdered through this. The case of Nigeria seems even worse. There are two categories, US and OTHER. You get easily bullied not because you did something wrong or hurt other but because you’re (perceived as) the different other. It’s thus no surprise that many Nigeria live a hypocritically fake life, simply to get accepted!

  6. Tobee
    May 04, 12:51 Reply

    Thank you for this. And well done.

  7. Higwe
    May 04, 13:03 Reply

    ….And even here on KD , check the users that are always quick to attack other users with vile and provocative words …..90 percent of them are effeminate men.

    Why ?

    Because they’re so used to being victimized that they see attack everywhere .

    To them forming “savage ” online makes them look like they’re aren’t pushovers while in actuality they’re nothing but clowns , because they’re bending to a system that sculpted them – the suppuration of toxicity .

    We all need to to do better .
    Both the bullies and their enablers .?

    • Black Dynasty
      May 04, 18:58 Reply

      On a post about bullying, you proceed to write comments that victimise and belittle others….sighs*

      It’s unfortunate that you can’t seem to see how self-reflective your comments are.

    • Tristan
      May 05, 01:46 Reply

      Lol Higwe.

      As I read this comment, I was thinking you were really writing about yourself.

    • Persimmon
      May 05, 14:38 Reply

      Higwe, the same way you bully them by dragging their effeminate demeanor into quarrells on this blog or how you have used someone’s HIV status to troll them because that user wrote about it here… SMH

  8. Joseph Black
    May 04, 17:46 Reply

    I haven’t really been bullied for being a little effeminate,but I’ve seen my fair share of bully or bullied victims…. but I have been self bullied,and I feel the urge to bully or prove your strength to someone comes from that place… where you’re not enough. Never the less,I will speak and act against bullying. Thank you so much for this ??

  9. Black Dynasty
    May 04, 18:52 Reply

    Excellently written, empathy is key especially.

    Went to boarding school in naij but was fortunate to have the personality that enabled me stand up for myself. A few bully attempts were made by seniors and heck even my mates (i was 2 yrs younger on average and thus smaller) but they were dealt with swiftly and it wasn’t repeated. Much like you, i didn’t bully and made it a point to protect juniors from my mates in SS3 and carried on with uni and the workplace.

    Well done on this piece.

  10. Dunder
    May 04, 19:10 Reply

    This was well written and profound. Thank you TJ. I have always detested bullying and there were times I stood up for others who were going through it.

    I’m glad my own experiences as a victim of bullies did not make a monster of me but rather, fanned the passion to fight for myself and stand up for others. This is a call to more action and we should all rise to it.

  11. chubbylover
    May 05, 08:43 Reply

    Like I always tell myself, rather than fight online trolls, people full of negative energy, online “Mr Perfect”…etc, channel the energy towards something meaningful.
    If a bully is bold enough to engage you physically, do the needful. If you can’t for any reason plot a revenge and always remember to serve the dish cold!

  12. Arnold
    June 01, 12:36 Reply

    Great write up,I really appreciate this

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