In late September 2010, I visited Nigeria with the purpose of reconnecting with my mother. It was not a journey that I had planned to take, but I had reached a point of where I knew that if I was truly committed to living an integrated and congruent life, then I would need to come out to my mother all over again.
I had come out to her as gay, 15 years prior and in the years that followed, the subject was never discussed again. I knew she was hoping that I would grow out of it. And on my part, I simply did not want to relive the painful events of the night I had come out to her.
As we sat down in the front room of her apartment in Lagos on the night of 29th September, I knew that this conversation would be one of the most significant conversations I would ever have. The effect of the conversation on my mother was far worse than I could have ever imagined. The truth is, if I had thought it would have gone the way it did, I would never have had it; I don’t think I am that courageous. But nonetheless, I am grateful to have had the conversation.
As I looked into my mother’s eyes that night, I realized that the son in me that she so desired to see was long dead. I had tried to keep that son alive, and for a long time he had simply been whispering to me, ‘let me go, it’s time for me to go’.
A few weeks after getting back to Europe, I told my mother that I would not be keeping in touch with her anymore. I mentioned that I did not want people in my life who were going to bring me down emotionally. I said that I only wanted to be with people who were accepting of me. I explained that if she could not be supportive, then I did not want her in my life. She said that being gay was not part of our culture. I said that it was not like I woke up one morning and decided to be gay. As the conversation continued, I realized that she was still trying to cling on to her son, who was long gone. Acknowledging that he was gone seemed too difficult a task. After all, she must have had dreams, hopes and desires for that son of hers.
A few weeks after that conversation, I decided that I wanted to have a ritual to honor the passing of the son my mother wished I were. I knew that I also needed to let him go, for a long time I had also been colluding to keep him alive. I lit a candle, said a prayer. I thanked my younger self for making it through childhood and adolescence. I thanked him for all the wisdom that he was leaving me. I honored my mother for giving her son life and I thanked her for the journey.
In bringing the ritual to a close, I wrote a letter in my journal to my mother, telling her about the passing of her son…..
9th November 2010
Dear Mrs Adeniji
I regret to inform you of the death of your son Adewale Adebola Adeniji. I know this must come as shocking news and I am sorry to be the bearer of such news.
The cause of your sons’ passing was not immediately clear, so we took the liberty of talking to a few people who knew him, as well as going through his personal effects. From what we have been able to put together, we have gathered that your son was a homosexual. We understand from a couple of people we spoke to that you were already aware of this fact.
It appears your son was not in an intimate relationship, although we understand that he had recently decided on exploring being in one. We are not sure how far he got in this quest, but his friends tell us that for the first time every they saw a side of your son they never thought they would see. They tell us that he was truly open to love and was looking forward to meeting and sharing his life with ‘the one’.
We were informed that you did not approve of his lifestyle and that you had said he should consider himself without parents if he was ever to succeed in his quest. We understand that you had informed him that his lifestyle was an abomination and that not getting married to a woman and having a child was a waste of a life. We were truly sorry to learn about this conversation you had with your son. From what we have been able to deduce from your son’s lifestyle, it appears he had made peace with being a homosexual. He was open about it with friends and at the place where he had worked; his colleagues all knew that he was gay.
Some of the entries from an early journal of his that we found indicate that he had struggled with coming to terms with being different, but had come to accept that being different did not mean he was damaged, flawed, unlovable or condemned to eternal damnation.
Mrs Adeniji, during our investigation we came to learn that your son was a truly amazing person who refused to live a life of quiet discontent. His friends tell us that he never wanted to miss his life by not living it fully, authentically and with integrity and compassion.
A few of your sons friends felt that your son never did get to know how amazing a person he was and how much he was loved. This was confirmed by some of his more recent journal entries where he talks about whether he would ever find a man who truly accepted him and loved him. He never let this stop him though. He still went out there and lived and danced, embracing whatever life threw at him.
Yes, Mrs Adeniji, your son was an amazing man and it is with deep sadness that we tell you that he is no longer with us.
A friend of your son’
On 27 July 2012, I received the news that my mother had passed away. We had had only three conversations, since that faithful night. I travelled back to Lagos, for the funeral and the final goodbye. During that whole period, I found myself reflecting on the relationship I had with her – the ups, the downs and everything in between.
My relationship with my mother, like Life, was a complex one. Through her, I came to learn that Life is about navigating those complexities. That heated conversation with her, finally made me realize that she deeply struggled with the fact that her only child was gay. She lived in a society where people have learnt to hide or deny same gender love, as it is considered shameful and a cultural taboo. This was reinforced by most of the people I met in Lagos in the aftermath of my mother’s funeral – ‘we know you are that way, but you can still get married to a woman and have a child’…… ‘we accept you, but we still expect you to conform…’ were the messages most well wishers imparted to me on leaving.
And therefore, many learn to conform and hide, I guess because many feel inauthentic acceptance or conditional acceptance is much better than explicit rejection and abandonment. Sadly, this means that nothing changes, because many are too afraid to heed Shakespeare’s words and ‘to thine own self be true’.
My relationship with my mother, albeit indirectly, taught me the importance of showing up in my own Life and living my own Truth. It was something I had promised myself, after missing that opportunity with my father. She was an amazing teacher and even though we never got round to having that final embrace, I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to show up as myself in our relationship.