The introduction below is written in conversation style between both editors reflecting on the excerpt selected.
Jude Dibia: Social isolation and its effect on queer individuals and communities is an issue that’s swiftly brushed over when addressing the impact of homophobia in societies like ours. Many queer men are forced into a state of loneliness as they learn to quench their identity to protect the feelings of others, the way Abdul does with his mother.
We are all guilty of focusing on the most extreme or most visible examples of abuse queer men suffer but sometimes, it is the little things that make the biggest impact. When I first came across Abdul’s narrative, Navigating Loneliness, it was an excellent example of how homophobia fosters social isolation. “There’s nothing easy about being gay,” Abdul says at one point, and I felt the weight of his words in the lives of countless other queer men. I wonder what your thoughts are, Olumide, about Abdul’s experience?
Olumide Makanjuola: Loneliness is something that I worry about for many queer men, especially in a society like ours where queer men have limited family and social support to be themselves and have to carry the burden of being a man and perform the responsibility of a man. Abdul’s experience reflects for me the struggle that I have seen many queer men go through because of their sexual orientation.
I was touched when Abdul spoke about a friend he was attracted to, who suddenly went cold towards him because Abdul had attended a gay educational seminar. Abdul’s friend acted that way because he feared that being seen with Abdul could out him. Abdul was not only having to deal with his mum, and his immediate local community’s expectations of him, but he also had to deal with other queer men’s expectations as well.
He felt compelled to mute himself just to be with that friend and the fact that he attended a gay seminar and tainted that relationship is a snapshot into the realities of both sides. The loneliness both are having to deal with remains and it is centred around society, and societal expectations as well as the lack of emotional support from people around them. Jude, do you think things might change for Abdul as he gets older?
Jude Dibia: Things are changing, albeit slowly. It starts with documenting and sharing stories like Abdul’s. It allows other gay men to know that they aren’t alone in their feelings of vulnerability and loneliness; it allows more conversations around these issues and with that comes the change.
Excerpt from Love Offers No Safety
Because I am gay, I must contend with loneliness.
The loneliest I have felt was when my family moved from Sokoto to Bauchi. I was aware I was attracted to boys, and I played with the idea of sharing my feelings with my mother. She has sacrificed a lot for me and is the most important person in my life. She is a great mother, a great person but she is also a homophobe. I have heard her express her disdain for homosexuals and homosexuality.
Knowing this about my mother hurts because it shows that a person can be “great, good and kind” and still harbour so much hate for another person simply because he or she loves differently. So, I did not tell my mother about the things I was feeling. I could not come out to her because I could not bear her disappointment or hatred. This left me broken, sad and lonely. I feel like I am a disappointment to my mother even though I did not tell her about my sexuality. I carried this burden for a long time, and it affected my well-being in a way I am unable to explain.
I have few friends and I do not want to lose them. In this community, if people find out that you are gay, or you are openly gay, they will avoid you. I remember once when I attended a gay education seminar and was spotted by a friend from my neighbourhood who was at the same venue for something else.
He was shocked to see me lurking around where the seminar was taking place. When he confronted me, I lied to him about why I was there, and for weeks I worried he might bring up that episode or tell people where he had seen me.
My fear was not unfounded. You see, I had this friend I was really attracted to, someone I thought I would date. One time he came around, we slept on the same bed and played footsie together. I was looking forward to when we would take it to the next step. Days after, he found out that I was at the gay education seminar, and he was very angry.
He avoided me for a while and although we eventually remained just friends, it is obvious that his discovery about the seminar strained our relationship. He was afraid of being outed because of his association with me. I do not blame him; people make all sorts of assumptions. A friend once quizzed me about my sexuality. He asked me if I was gay because he had never seen me talk to a girl or say that I was in love with a girl.
I have only been in one relationship in my entire life. It lasted for five years. Since it ended, it has been difficult for me to find a new partner.
Our relationship ended because he had anger issues. He never hit me or became violent, he just flared up about everything. He also never took responsibility for anything. Sometimes, I would call him, and he would ignore my calls. When we meet and I raise the matter, he would flare up and stop talking to me for weeks for no reason. Then out of the blue, he would call to apologise, and we would make up. We broke up and got back together so many times before the final breakup.
There is nothing easy about being gay. Why would I subject myself to being humiliated, rejected, and condemned? My life has not been easy. As a child and in my teens, I felt like I did not belong anywhere because people constantly made fun of me. I was harassed for not being good at sports and not having a girlfriend. I was called a sissy and harassed mercilessly. This is how I remember my childhood and teen years — the constant bullying. Then, I used to wish I could just be what everyone wanted me to be, so I will be free and will be accepted, but the reality of who I really am never goes away. I constantly tried my best to fit into the box that society has determined for me and do the things a man is expected to do, but my soul just wanted me to be me.
Love Offers No Safety: Nigeria’s Queer Men Speak is an anthology forthcoming in June 2023 from Cassava Republic Press. You can pre-order here.
About the Author/Editors:
Jude Dibia is an author, queer rights advocate, winner of the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize, and shortlisted for the Nigeria Literature Prize, Common Wealth Prize and the Swedish Natur och Kulture Pris. His debut novel ‘Walking with Shadows’ is the first full-length novel devoted to queer issues in Nigeria. Dibia currently lives in Sweden where he works with displaced artists as the administrator of the Malmö City refuge artists’ program (Malmö Fristads Program). He is also working on his next novel.
Olumide F Makanjuola is a Sexual Health and Rights advocate with a specific interest in LGBT rights. Makanjuola’s work focuses on expanding public knowledge and discourse on queer issues through new and alternative narratives. Makanjuola is an alumnus of the International Visitor Leadership Programs, Associate fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and an honoree of Queen Elizabeth II.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.