Life & Love
Unfortunately, pride month doesn't take away the fear that queer people have. Especially in a country like Nigeria where homophobia is still being normalized
By Sharon Chidra Jonah
July 30, 2022
It's pride month and for many individuals in the LGBTQ+ community, a show of support is more than just waving your pride flag and showing up on social media. It's about uplifting LGBTQ+ voices, celebrating the culture, and fighting and supporting their rights.
Pride month is celebrated annually all through June and many see it as an opportunity for a community to come together, grow, be free, and most importantly, be themselves without having to worry about the judgment of others.
Unfortunately, pride month doesn't take away the fear that queer people have. Especially in a country like Nigeria where homophobia is still being normalized. In fact, some people have testified to the fact that they feel less safe during pride month, and others can't fully celebrate the month and express themselves as they wish due to cultural and religious factors.
To have a proper understanding of this, we spoke to a Muslim queer woman who shared her story about being Lesbian and Muslim in Nigeria.
Let’s get to know you a bit. What are your pronouns?
Okay. Well, for starters, I am a Muslim and I am lesbian and I live in Nigeria. Weird, I know. Of all places to be a Lesbian, it's Nigeria (laughs) Although lately, I have been having an Identity crisis for now my pronouns are she/her.
Now that you mentioned your identity, would you consider yourself a late or early bloomer in terms of sexual identity?
You know, I've always thought of myself as an early bloomer, but I grew up in a very religious home and growing up, I heard things like, 'Being gay is a sin.' 'If you are gay, God will punish you.' So I always tried to 'stop' myself from being gay, restricting whatever it was that I was feeling. It's not a common thing to be different in Nigeria, to be honest. And when I found out about my sexuality, I was scared. I didn't want my family to disown me or my friends to think I'm weird. I simply didn't want to be different— I was so scared that I forced myself to date boys for almost five years.
That's a pretty long time. Did you ever come to terms with the fact that you didn't want to date boys?
Yes, I did. It is why I forced myself to date boys for the five years of my university life and now I'm about to graduate from the university. I recently came out though and more than ever, I am comfortable with my sexuality because for the past couple of years, I dated only boys and God knows, it has been a pile of regret.
Earlier last year, I tried to explore my sexuality and I was like, 'It is what it is. I can't hide who I am.' Even while I was with my boyfriend, I admired other women with him. I even told him once that if ever he wanted another girlfriend, he shouldn’t bother cheating, just bring her into the relationship. It gave us both the idea that I was bisexual. I wasn’t sure what to identify as so I hid under the “queer” label.
So, do you think you are a lesbian or bisexual?
I mentioned that I am currently having an identity crisis and I'm not sure if I'm fully lesbian or just bisexual. And sometimes, I feel there's this internalized homophobia fighting the gay in me.
You mentioned being from a very religious family, can you tell us about your experience growing up in an Islamic family and hiding your identity?
Okay. Firstly, I am an Edo girl who grew up in the North. The stereotype of being gay in the North is a lot more than in other places. Like in the South, people can adjust, they just kind of mind their business but that's a different case for people in the North.
In the North, if you are different, there's a problem. A very huge one. Growing up, I wasn't a girly girl , still not. I was a Tom boy and it was already a problem, my mom didn't like it. My mom expected me to dress very religiously and culturally, with gowns and skirts but that just wasn't me. I loved my caps and trousers. It caused problems between us. In high school too, people stereotyped and made fun of me. I wasn't a girl and I wasn't a guy either, I was just in the middle. I watched other girls be girly and develop faster in terms of puberty but I was just there being a late bloomer. Basically, growing up queer in a religious and cultural environment was hard.
You mentioned 'internalized homophobia', does it affect how you balance your religion and sexuality? Because a lot of queer people in Nigeria have that internalized homophobia and when asked it's always because of religion. So, have you been able to balance the two?
I'm not going to lie, I haven't at all. Like when Christians go to church and the pastor keeps preaching 'if you are gay, you go to hell' It's the same thing in Islam. Sometimes I think of my sexuality as a test from God, a test I’m supposed to apparently pass. But here's what I want people to understand, being gay is not a sin, acting on it is a sin. At least, that's what I believe. In Islam, actions are judged according to intentions. So if I have a gay thought, it’s not necessarily a sin, but if I plan to act upon it, that’s when it becomes a sin. And no, it’s not an intention if I intend to change my mind later, it’s when I don’t intend to change my mind at all that it becomes an intention.
Now, I'm a lesbian, that's a fact. I am extremely attached to women. But here's another thing I've come to understand. Being lesbian is different, I didn't ask to be this way, I am just this way. I’m certain I won’t choose to be a part of a minority with differences who get harassed and killed. So, how I balance my sexuality and religion is this; I am aware of who I am and what I want but because of religion, I restrict myself from acting on it. It's not necessarily the good or best thing, but that's the only thing I can do. Maybe in the future, I might act on my instinct but for now, I don't want to and I'm trying to make peace with that decision.
I understand that. You should take things one step at a time. Moving on, let's talk about your relationship with women and how that experience was for you?
I had a girlfriend and things didn't work out well. Our major issue was a miscommunication. We didn't understand each other and we didn't speak about it because we didn't want to hurt each other. In the end, she cheated on me and that really got me, I couldn't stay with her anymore. So, we broke up in March, this year.
That's really sad to hear. So sorry about that.
Well, it's fine and I'm over it now.
You mentioned earlier that you dated boys for almost five years and now you dated a girl who you broke up with in March, so as opposed to men, what do you think is so special about women?
Okay, thank you very much for this question! I'm excited for this one (laughs) Well, there's actually a lot. A lot that I can't even explain and I was happier than I was in my relationship with men. We had problems, yes and the woman I broke up with in March wasn't my first girlfriend but she was the first I opened up to. I was so in love with her that I was ready to fight anyone who tried to come between us, including my parents. I even told my mom about us, so my mom was aware of our relationship and it was a mess. She got angry and I told her I didn’t care for her opinion and all I cared about was being with the person who made me feel joy. Sadly, we broke up. It doesn’t change the fact that I was very happy in the relationship, I was finally able to express myself and talk to someone who understood me. I’m short of words to describe how amazing it was and at some point, I was like “If we ever broke up, I’ll dive into a well.” (laughs) and that's something I never felt with a boy.
That's a swoon-worthy romance there! So I believe you are currently not in a relationship?
No, I'm not. Not at the moment
You have had your experiences with women, can you tell us about dating as a queer Muslim woman in Nigeria? Is there a circle where you can meet similar people? How does being in the community work?
So I feel the queer circle in Nigeria is very small. Because people are doing their own thing, focusing on their mental health, and getting over their exes. Let's also add the fact that Nigeria is a homophobic country and if caught, that's 14 years imprisonment, who wants to come out, be in a circle or join a community and risk that? So, a lot of queer Nigerian Muslim women are still in the closet.
Alright, you mentioned you came out to your mom and I'm trying to picture how a Nigerian mother will react to that?
Well, it wasn’t a pretty experience. I told her I'm bisexual, not lesbian and I almost got disowned. I got thrown out of the house though, it was a really rocky path and I was depressed for months. My mom refused to speak to me and she said I wasn't her daughter. She refused to believe that she gave birth to a “devil” like me, and that hurt a lot because I love my mother so much and hearing the words she hurled at me was heartbreaking, also her hurt being so evident caused me heartaches, I try to avoid hurting my mother. But I did manage to sit her down and eventually assure her I'm not acting on my instinct and desires and I'll end up marrying a man and giving her grandchildren. That calmed her down. I know she’s still very worried about it.
But are you really going to marry a man?
I don't know and that's the scary part. If I don't marry someone I love– who will always be a woman– I’d rather not get married at all. That will mean choosing to remain unhappy for the rest of my life and in the process, also making someone else unhappy because I believe that no one can make someone else happy if they have not found their happiness.
You just talked about coming out to your mom and how it ruined your relationship. What do you think about Nigerians coming out in such a homophobic country?
So the first thing I'll tell other queer people is that you don't owe anybody anything. It might be more comfortable coming out to your parents but the kind of country we live in is dangerous for us. I have seen people get locked up by their parents when they came out. In some countries, people are even raped to get rid of the 'gay' in them. It's everywhere on the news. So my advice to anyone is, always put your health and safety first. If your parents are homophobic, you don't owe them anything, don't come out to them. But it's a great thing if you are comfortable with your parents and know they will support your decisions. My mum is a very religious person and I know she acted that way due to her religious beliefs. Before coming out, drop subtle hints, and observe the reactions, before you determine your next line of action.
With how harmful things can be towards queer people in Nigeria, how do you find solace in everything?
Nigeria is a shitty country, I'm sorry to my forefathers. But I am Nigerian, and for me, that means being strong. So, I find solace in being strong and also in the fact that if things continue to be disastrous for us, I will eventually leave the country. Times have changed but Nigeria has not. We are governed by old people so yeah, old people make the rules and we have no choice but to follow them. I just love the fact that I'm GenZ and we are the generation that accepts and embraces differences and we fight against discrimination against minorities. This has brought me solace.