Nigerian Lives: 5 People Tell Us What It’s Like To Be Queer In This Country

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In various parts of the world, heterosexuality is the only recognized sexual identity. As a result, homosexuality is seen as taboo and people who fall in the category are discriminated against and treated as sinners or with contempt. If the queer community in Nigeria had a bit of freedom in the past, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration took that away in 2014 when same-sex relationships became a crime punishable by 10-14 years imprisonment. By law, any clothing, public space, event or anything related to the community are all deemed crimes. Due to this strict anti-gay law, the queer community in Nigeria barely have any safe places outside their home. In the spirit of the ongoing Pride Month, we reached out to five queer people living in Nigeria to share their experiences.

Tega, 21

The world is not accepting of us, especially in Nigeria. It’s more restricting to be queer in Nigeria. A lot of people find femme queer sexy because of probably fetish. I don’t say I am queer every time but when I do, men say it’s hot. It’s not because they are supportive of us but because they want to get in a threesome and all. I get it a lot of the time and I find it disgusting. There are times you tell people you are queer and they assume you hate men. I don’t hate men, I just think most cishet men are not reasonable. Another thing is telling women you are queer and they tell you not to touch them, meanwhile, they are not even your type. They think queer people are just like everyone and we don’t have a preference. I don’t like it when people see lesbian relationships and still project patriarchal concepts like saying one woman has to be masculine and the other feminine. There’s the part where you can’t come out because you are scared of losing your family and your friends. When you talk about being queer, everyone says we are pushing it in their face but they can’t say the same for religion and heterosexual relationships. It’s funny how religion has played a huge role because I am very religious but for me, it’s a personal relationship between God and I. Religious institutions preach love but people are still hateful towards queer people. I remember when Pope Francis approved of same-sex marriage and he got dragged for it. Whenever people come out to protest, they think we are doing too much and shoving it in their faces. I have a lot of queer friends who are not in a good place because they are in the closet or because someone has threatened to tell their family about them being queer. I am scared of that because I love my family a lot. My cousin is the only one who knows and we are close. I feel like if I was out of Nigeria I would be more open and free.

Zahrah, 22

Being a queer woman and Muslim in Nigeria is a bunch of people coming together to invalidate your experience and telling you it’s a phase. Straight friends would tell me it’s just a phase and that I will change. My parents are in denial. I think someone outed me out to my mum and she has been in denial since. Being a queer person in Nigeria is about living in fear. You can’t be visibly queer because someone will attack you, people will stare at you like you are weird and outrightly insult you. Then, there is the fact that men think it’s an invitation to hit on you because you are not visibly queer. Straight men coming on to me as a man is disgusting and annoying but they still do it. It got to a point that I had to put the pride flag and my pronouns in my bio and they still ignore it. It circles back to people invalidating your identity as a person and it’s not fun at all. I actually want to look queer and not attract straight men but i don’t want to get in a fight with my family or get attacked by homophobic people.

Hazel, 21

I was very active in church and I loved the church. I noticed I had a crush on a guy in primary school and that was the first time I realized I like guys. I didn’t know it was called being gay, I just knew I liked guys. I think because I was active in church and the bible considers it a sin, I told myself it was a phase that I would get over. This realization became a lot of trouble for me because most of my peers were straight. I didn’t have many friends because I was different and I felt different. I had to hide that part of me and it was a big struggle because I was fighting who I was with my faith. I became a loner because I was scared of what people would think or say about me so I was mostly alone. When I got into the university, I met a lot of people who were like me and had similar stories. It was easy for me to mingle with them and become friends. I think that’s the period I started accepting myself for who I am. I feel women and queer people share similar situations. In public when I am being harassed, sometimes I can’t speak out and when I do, I won’t get support because they believe I am wrong or too girly. No matter how you want to defend yourself, harassers will defend their wrongdoings. If I go out with makeup on, I might not go home alive. People will harass you whenever they feel like it. 

Moses, 25

I don’t have major experiences living in Lagos as queer because I don’t relate to people under the queer umbrella. My closest friends know that I am queer. In Lagos, I pretty much float through like a straight man would in terms of going out and having to behave a certain way when I am around people. I don’t have a ton of queer friends which sucks. I value my privacy here in Nigeria. I am still very much pro-LGBTQ online and in real life. Generally, I am not really a part of the conversation because I pass for straight on many occasions and much of that is because I am bi or pan. I have had public relationships with women which is normal but I have not had one with a guy even though I am with a guy now. My experience here is 90% secrecy and the remaining 10% is reserved for those who know. There are times I wish I could express myself more or embrace femininity more but I can’t really do that in this country without people looking at me funny. Naturally, I have traits that are associated with femininity and sometimes I have to suppress that and it sucks. If I am being honest, I am becoming more intentional about finding a safe space so I have been to a queer party which was last year; Queerloween. I had a great time and met cool people. Now, I am more intentional about making friends that are queer just because there is that community I have never been a part of here in Lagos. I am still limiting my intention to find that community because I value my safety. There are many people that get harassed and I feel bad for them. I am proud of those who are out but it’s not a prerequisite for me. I am not interested in being out. I am interested in being myself and having fun.

Shawn, 22

At the age of 3, I started catwalking. I am the first surviving child in my family. I did not have any influence whether masculine or feminine apart from my parents of course. My father was not the most masculine of people and my mother was definitely not the most feminine of people so femininity was something I exuded based on biology. One of my first core memories was my mum crying in our living room and my neighbours coming to comfort her. I thought something bad happened to her. I was eavesdropping by the window and heard them advising her to take me to Pastors and places where they would do deliverance for me because I was possessed with an evil spirit of seduction. They were inherently equating femininity with seduction because I wanted to catwalk when I walked. Throughout middle school, I was always friends with women. I felt more at home with them and it never flowed well for me when they group women and men plus girls were always happy to have me on the team. Based on the patriarchy, when I see a bus and it’s all men, I don’t enter. I don’t feel safe around a group of men. I was never the type of person who gravitated towards groups of men for friendship. I could be going into the bus and people would make comments in Yoruba like “O nse bi Obirin”. At my last job, I thought there was a standard on me because of how feminine and visibly queer I was. I couldn’t do certain things I wanted to do or wear certain outfits because people would call me queer slurs because I  already present in a way that makes people stare at me. 

*This article is based on real-life events. The names used are mere pseudonyms to protect the identities of the individuals mentioned in the article.

Nigerian Lives is a Culture Custodian weekly series where we hear from Nigerians who share tidbits about their experiences. It goes up every Monday.

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