THROUGH THE DARKNESS

THROUGH THE DARKNESS

The latter half of 2020 was as exciting for me as an argument with seven dimwits would be for an intellectual. Time became so meaningless that I needed significant events to distinguish one day from the other. I would know it was Sunday if I woke up to my parents shouting at my sisters at 4am to hurry up so they could all be out of the house by 6:30am. And if I strolled into the sitting room to find the girls glued to a particular Zee World series, which I’d come to like, I’d know it was a Thursday. Against the backdrop of immense insignificance that the year held, the day I was interviewed on my experience as a queer man living in Nigeria stands out. Sitting through that interview had me walking down paths in my memory that, up to that moment, had been cordoned off and overgrown with weeds.

It left me with a haunting question: In the 25 years of my life spent being gay, have I ever actually been happy?

As a precocious child, whose curiosity trumped that of the proverbial cat, it didn’t take much to figure out that I was different from other boys. Not only did I not understand them, I did not like a number of things about them. In retrospect, I think that the only thing I might have found interesting about them was their small, brown, hyperactive bodies. As a boy child, that apparent difference wasn’t a problem. In fact, it was often appreciated by most adults. I remember hearing things said to my mother like, “Mama Chime, your own better o. Your pikin no dey worry you, just see as him uniform clean eh, and him no dey run up and down. Na so Goodluck no dey gree me rest, like say na only me born boy.”

But the shock that early adolescence brought with it had me wishing that I’d never grown up. There was the molestation from a number of “Uncles” and seniors at school to deal with. There was the merciless bullying from other boys – bullying so intense that it had me thinking of suicide, even before I knew the meaning of the word. There were the leers and name-calling from strangers, which made me feel unsafe just walking down any street. My mannerisms, which were considered cute as a child, had now become unacceptable, a cause for worry. There was the inhumane judgment from the church passed on boys who thought about other boys the way I did, in the name of a god they claimed created and loved me.

The rejection and animosity directed at me from all angles was very confusing and embittering. A cross I bore alone, as I had no one to talk to about the hell I was going through.

Not my father; our military relationship would not have allowed that.

Not my mother; she cared but she just wouldn’t understand.

Not Jesus; they’d told me I was an abomination to him – and besides, He sees and knows everything from Heaven, right?

Not my peers; I was invisible to them, and when I wasn’t, I was a joke.

Not the seniors who made me lie with them at night, but never so much as asked how I was doing.

And especially not the teachers; they would somehow blame me for my misfortunes, and probably want me to leave their school.

“Why don’t you smile, Chime? You’re always so serious,” I remember a classmate saying to me one time. I’d looked at him, yearning for the warmth of his concern, but not trusting it. And instead, I fired back, “Do people just go around smiling without reason?” How could I, in my right mind, talk about how I was feeling when I knew that the gist of it would get around the class, and only as more ammunition in their arsenal against me? I had only one friend that I trusted, one I could rely on: Me.

Even as a teenager, I knew that my existence was somewhat inconsequential. I lived and thrived in my head, having the chance to come alive only in the pages of my books. If I had ceased to be, who would notice that the light-skinned, effeminate boy, who was always in the corner, was gone?

I kept going through that hell for all of my adolescence, because of course, when you’re going through hell, you keep going. Then I was sixteen, happy to be leaving secondary school and all of its craziness behind.

Or so I thought.

At that age, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the big, bad Nigerian queer community, and in quite an unforgettable fashion.

It was the year 2012. I had just concluded my Senior School Certificate Examinations and was back home from boarding school, awaiting the results, which would determine if I went on to university the next year. As a nod to my attained adulthood, my parents gifted me a phone, and I was trying to keep up with the rave of that time: 2go. In the course of my exploration of the app, I stumbled into a chatroom called “Men’s Room” – or maybe it was “Gay Room”. I’d rather not remember. In that chatroom, I made a shocking discovery that there were people like me all over Nigeria, and that these people had active social and sex lives. It was thrilling and frightening at the same time. I was learning slangs like “shele”, what it meant to have a “role”, and also that I could meet people from the chatroom. So after weeks of deliberation, I decided to meet someone.

I wasn’t sure of how these meetings worked exactly and I had no one to run my plans by. I was just excited at the prospect of meeting a boy from the chatroom, and the idea of a Hollywood first date made me even more enthusiastic.

On the day of the meeting, I left home, headed to the meeting spot at Garrison Junction, Port Harcourt. I got there and was sucked into what I would eventually find out years later was the styling of a classic kito operation: make you take winding and confusing roads to a place that is different from the agreed location. After about three stops away from the junction, I was met by a boy who looked to be in his mid-twenties. We’ll call him Nice Guy (you’ll see why).

He introduced himself as my escort to the boy I was supposed to meet, and asked that I follow him. As we walked, he made a quick phone call, speaking a language that was Pidgin but not quite. I was going to ask him what kind of Pidgin that was, when five other boys who looked to be the same age as he appeared out of nowhere, forming a circle around us. I looked at Nice Guy, hoping to get an explanation, but he was looking at everywhere but at me, and as if my thoughts were being heard, a skinny boy said, “You don enter one chance today.”

The realization that hit me was hard enough to slacken my footsteps. I wasn’t meeting anyone and these guys were going to hurt me. My eyes were darting around the street, when a firm hand grabbed my shirt.

“You wan run?” the owner of the hand asked with an evil chuckle.

And so, I was hustled past pedestrians – who surprisingly didn’t even do a double take at the group clearly manhandling a small boy – to an abandoned building. When we got there, I was briefed on the situation: these guys had figured out that I was very naïve, and Nice Guy took some time to explain what they were doing and why they were doing it, showing me videos of their former victims, naked and receiving brutal beating. This was too much to take in all at once, and as I watched them pass around a cigarette, I wondered if they needed the high to enact the kind of evil that I’d seen in the videos.

The temporary loss of sight and hearing that accompanied the first slap made the second and third hurt less than they should have. Shock manifests in different ways with different people, and mine was an inability to speak or move. In that moment, my mind felt alien to my body. In my head, I was very agitated, but I just stood there, looking at them, without seeing or really hearing them.

“Why you dey do homo? You no know say na abomination?” the question came with yet another slap from the person who asked it. “Fine boy like you, you wan make prick dey enter your nyash, abi na you wan dey fuck nyash?”

When I didn’t respond, my legs were kicked out from under me by another one, sending me crashing to the ground with a hard thud that sent a splitting pain up my spine.

“Why him no dey talk? Oh boy, your ear don block? Come on, get up! See as you small, you dey do homo.”

I struggled back to my feet, willing myself to speak but not knowing what to say.

“How many people you don meet from 2go?”

“Him never meet anybody before. Na now him wan start homo runs,” Nice Guy said. I could hear the pity in his voice.

“Oya comot your trousers, make we see that preeq wey you wan take fuck,” the shortest one in the group said with a puff of smoke.

Oh my God! They were going to make me strip too?

The “NO” that shot out of my mouth surprised me as much as it did them.

“Wetin you talk?” he snarled. “You think say I dey play?” He lashed out with his fist at my tummy.

I doubled over in pain, gasping and clutching at my midriff.

“Come on, comot that trouser now. Idiot!”

I unbuckled my belt slowly and slid my trousers and boxer shorts down to my knee in utter shame. I didn’t expect the laughter that erupted at the sight of my penis, and this humiliation hurt even more than the slaps and kicks. In defiance, I pulled my trousers back up, trying to buckle my belt as fast as I could. So I didn’t see him coming. I only saw his angry, red eyes a second before he punched me again. I fell backwards, my head colliding hard with the wall behind me. And then everything went black.

I came to seconds after, much to the apparent relief of the group.

“You go do homo again?” the guy whose blow made me faint asked, grinning wickedly.

“Abeg, I…I no go do homo again,” I stuttered, on the verge of tears, as I struggled to get up.

Nice Guy pleaded that I not be touched anymore, and they obliged. But not before they found a piece of glass on the floor and ordered me to cut myself, and with the blood from the wound, swear to the words: “I no go do homo again, and if I do homo again, I go die.”

I took the glass with shaky hands, scared of how much it would hurt, but unwilling to disobey, and after three unsuccessful tries, I drew blood from my left thumb. In a daze, I did as was instructed, smearing some of the blood on my tongue, raising the hand with the cut over my head, and mouthing the words.

I no go do homo again, and if I do homo again, I go die.

I immediately felt a wave of dizziness hit me, and I stumbled backwards. Was I going to faint again, or was the blood vow already working? I wondered, as I wrestled with the gravity of what I’d just done.

Nice Guy helped me to a sitting position on the floor and demanded for the antics to end, since I looked like I would pass out again. They went on to strip me of my phone, wristwatch, leather palm slippers, and the money in my pockets, and then sent me on my way with a charge to desist from my homosexual ways.

As I hurried out of the building, Nice Guy called me back, asked where I lived and then gave me enough money to cover the transport fare (from the money they stole from me of course) and directions on how to get back to Garrison Junction. I thanked him and left the building running. When I’d gotten far enough, I stopped and walked, then I ran again, my bare feet hurting like hell, but moving of their own accord. I could sense the stares from people, but it didn’t matter. My workaholic mind, happy to have survived that ordeal, was already laden with worry over the loss of my phone: what was I going to tell my parents?

I do not remember much of the trip home, but I remember thinking that I was done with homosexuality in all its forms. The writing on the wall was clear; nothing good could come from being a homo. I somehow got home, grateful that no one who mattered had seen me in that wretched state.

But with the events that followed that night, the sixteen-year-old me would have preferred to die in that abandoned building.

Immediately I got home, I put on my finest thinking cap, trying to spin a good yarn about why I no longer had my phone. But that was going to be a waste of time, as this group of criminals was not done with me. They’d apparently gone through my contact list and called first my father with my phone and told him of his son’s homosexuality, how they’d gotten to meet him, what they’d already done to him, and offered to visit to show evidence of chats and porn to clear his doubts, if he had any. Then they called my mother next and divulged the same things. She, who was at her sister’s house at the time, took the call in the presence of the extended family, and in her shock and confusion, had to explain to them what she’d just heard. And because no gist is as juicy as a relative’s scandal, just about the whole clan soon had things to talk about over their meals of eba and okazi soup.

Silence: that was all that could be heard all through the house following my outing; silence so loud that it was deafening, and a stillness so enclosing that I struggled to breathe. It was as if someone important had died and I was the killer. I’d look through the window of the room I shared with my sisters, and our neighborhood would feel like a desolate battleground. Was it just my imagination, or did all our neighbors somehow already know? Why wasn’t there something going on – anything to distract me? My mind was playing a tape of what life would henceforth be for me, and the images were paralyzing. I was on the floor, intentionally disregarding the throbbing in my head and the pain from the violations my body had suffered. And then the tears came, silent streams that gave way to violent sobs. I had taken my eternal misfortune and made it my family’s problem, and I was so, so sorry.

My sisters knew that something bad had happened, but they were too young to understand, and when they asked me, I said that I had done something to make our daddy angry. My father was the first to get home, but my mother had called him and told him not to take any action that would make our neighbors aware. From what he later told me, I don’t think he would’ve had the energy to do anything. The news knocked the wind out of him; he said I’d almost killed him, that he’d been on the verge of having a heart attack. I felt sorry for him because I’d never seen him that subdued, but I felt angry at him because I’d hoped that he would make me feel something other than guilt; I’d thought that he would kill me for sure, and I wanted death, even if it was by his hands.

My mother came home the next day to join the activities in the funeral home that our house had become: the hushed tones, languid movements and a brooding silence. No one asked how I was doing, and I didn’t tell. Even I didn’t care about my feelings anymore. I had brought great shame to the family, and I was beside myself with grief.

My father’s silence was broken with the announcement that he had disowned me. I could still stay in the house, he said. Could still feed, but there was no longer the option of a tertiary education. My mother, on the other hand, busied herself in the following days with dragging me to church on every other day for prayers and deliverances, whilst pastoring me at home too, for more effectiveness. The weeks turned into months, and it was torture. I wanted to simply die, but I was too cowardly to end my existence, too dazed to feel, broken in every way possible, and I wore my suffering like a robe, one that would not be taken off for years after.

The results of my SSCE exams came out, and I passed. I was also offered admission into a state university. My mother pleaded and pleaded, and my father rescinded his disownment and resumed his role of guardian. But he never forgave me. You see, in most Nigerian homes, the transgressions of the children are never forgiven; they’re just swept under the rug to be dragged out occasionally and used as weapons.

I had begun to think about boys again, much to my horror – and then I realized, even then, that there really was nothing anyone could do to stop a person from being who they were. This was as natural as breathing. I had channeled so much energy, through all of my teenage years, into hating and fighting what and who I was, and I had no fight left in me. It was a war lost before the battles even began.

So I set out on a journey of acceptance, in hopes that someday I would be whole enough to love everything that I was, and could be. My departure to university in 2013 began an estrangement from my family. There are some things you just can’t come back from.

In the years that followed, I would go on to get a university degree, travel, meet queer people from around and outside Nigeria, have a somewhat active social and sex life, survive a second kito experience in Port Harcourt, work with a community center for queer people, try a little too much to be quasi-straight, make life-altering mistakes, learn from them, get hurt, fall in love, and climb back out of it, get STDs, get kidnapped and robbed by SARS, and, you know, generally survive as a Nigerian living in Nigeria.

One of the questions I was asked in the course of that interview was: if there was a pill you could take to be heterosexual, would you take it?

I wanted to say No, because the man that I am, who has gone on the journey to find self-love and acceptance believes so. But as I walked down those rarely visited paths in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder how differently my life would’ve turned out if I was heterosexual. Maybe my experience of growing up would be something that I can write about without feeling emotionally drained. Maybe I wouldn’t be the guy who sees a hetero couple in a public show of affection and hiss in jealousy. Maybe I would be able to look back on my life, point to a time, and say, “There, I was happy.”

And if you’re wondering what I’d do with that damn pill, your guess is as good as mine.

I hold on tight to the knowledge that there is still a chance for me to live happily, and not merely exist as a gay man, either in Nigeria or someplace else. But my greatest fear always looms: what if it never happens?

Written by Lucent Britex

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  1. ChristianGayBoy
    February 23, 08:30 Reply

    Lucent, I am deeply sorry for all the nasty things you have had to put up with. Life is short and your misfortune is enough to last a lifetime and another but if happiness exists, you can definitely have it.

    Life is a system without entitlements. We don’t always choose our grief and not necessarily do we choose our happy moments, I guess it’s one of those reasons that makes the rotating earth a practical metaphor that simply says “good will find you.” Because truly good will find you. Like how a good SSCE result came in that battle ground. How in the ordeal you found bits and pieces of yourself and how you have even become aware that something like “happiness” exists even amidst your sufferings shows that good happens one way or the other because as little as these things are, they have become the good that counted at one point of your life or the other.

    I wish you a dream come true and a life beyond what you even imagined for yourself. May your heart embrace love when you see it, your lips impact benevolence and your life lead oblivious of blackness and fulfilled in joy and happiness.

    • Pink Panther
      February 23, 08:48 Reply

      This… Oh wow. This are such powerfully inspiring words.

      “Because truly, Good will find you.” Yes, please!

      • ChristianGayBoy
        February 23, 10:36 Reply

        Not me blushing at some P.P validation. 😅😋😍❤️🥵😁😁😁😁😁😁

        • Denzy
          February 23, 15:52 Reply

          Its beautiful – this; just beautiful….. Thanks for being a Brother’s keeper.

  2. Mitch
    February 23, 08:51 Reply

    I hate what I’m about to say to you, Lucent.
    Mostly because I hate when people say stuff like this to me. However, I think it’s time for you to hear it.

    Your pain, your questions, your inability to find answers to your dilemma: all of these are valid.

    However, more important than these are the existential questions you need to ask yourself.

    1. Do you believe that, if you were heterosexual, you would have the understanding of the human nature that you have now?

    2. Do you believe that ease equates happiness?

    3. Do you believe that you’d have the ability (that I assume you have) to empathise, advise and guide younger queer people on their own journies?

    Most importantly,

    4. Do you believe that the absence of happiness means an absence of purpose?

    I believe that if you answer these questions, your burden would become lighter, if only just a little.

    Plus, you have a very large community here; a community of people with different talents and knowledges and experiences. You may want to find one you can talk to, one you can share your burden and journey with. Psychologist, psychiatrist or not, it doesn’t matter.

    What matters is that they have the ability to defuse your pains and help you heal.

    I wosh you all the best, man.
    I’m rooting for you. Big time.

  3. Lopez
    February 23, 08:58 Reply

    Lucent, let me begin with you’re a brilliant writer, really brilliant. I’ll read your book when you write one. You’ll find that happiness, I promise you, you will. You’re too good of a person not to find the happiness you want and deserve. You’ve survived all these and come this far and you’ll not find that happiness, No way. Stay strong.

  4. Eric
    February 23, 10:18 Reply

    Reading through this I took a minute to shed a little tears. I’m sincerely sorry you went through such horrific experience. I hope you heal completely and forgive your past. I wish you all the best in your journey. ❤

  5. Denzy
    February 23, 15:41 Reply

    It still astounds me how humans become so inhumane to fellow humans; how fragile and conditional human emotions really are, not least by those who disguise care to supposed loved ones.

    I’m so sorry you went through such vile and horrendous experiences but I’m glad you more than survived and turned out better than nadir life threw at you.

    Thank you for leading us through this dark phase of your life, Lucent, I hope you truly heal. I READ EVERY WORD!

    Know this, happiness – WILL COME TO YOU, you’ll see.

  6. Delle
    February 23, 17:13 Reply

    In a long time I haven’t cried while reading a story on here but today I did and it wasn’t just while reading, the tears didn’t stop flowing even after I was done. The honesty in this was scalding and I could taste your pain, Britex.

    I really have no flowery words to give because, let’s face it, there’s only so much these words do. So, if you want to talk, vent, lament, you just ask for my details on how to get through to me and I will make sure they’re provided.

    In the mean time. keep loving the bits of you that still are. That part of you courageous enough to pen such a beautiful piece down.

    XO.

  7. Mickey
    February 23, 21:43 Reply

    Your bravery is one of the best thing I have ever seen or should I say read about. I’m glad you were able survive all that has happened to you. You are stronger than you think. And yes you will find happiness where ever you are.
    God bless your mom for at least making sure you furthered your studies. I’m so glad I got read this
    Love and light.

  8. Reuben
    February 25, 06:22 Reply

    Let me say this again, you’re beautiful, loving, awesome and smart. No one can take that away from you. See through the eyes of your mind, build on the strength of your thought and believe in yourself. You don’t become happy by someone else’s validation, you become happy by YOURS.

    Find your happiness and own it. Queer or not, the most important thing is your happiness and fulfilment in life… Sleep on that

  9. Bloom
    February 25, 13:50 Reply

    I haven’t cried this much in a really long time.
    Britax, your courageous, strong and it’s because of these facts that you’ve made it this far.
    Happiness isn’t a constant phase in this life. You’d stumple on it as time goes on, you’d find the goodness of precious moments and you will briefly forget the tragedy that’s the past. Because you don’t forget things like that completely. you only learn to face them with kindness. Kindness for yourself and courage to keep being.
    It’s okay to wonder what your life would have been otherwise.

    I love you.

  10. McDuke
    February 27, 21:10 Reply

    When you think you had/have it tough and read stories like this, it totally breaks you. You’re one strong person and I’m sending you all the love and strength you need.

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