Going beneath our differences by sharing our stories

Ade FBA few weeks ago I was with a friend, when I got out my pen to write something. ‘Oh, you’re left-handed he said’, ‘Yes, I replied’; conscious of the fact that it’s something I hardly think about and to an extent assume everyone knows. Curious, I asked whether he was too and he replied ‘yes’. I mentioned that I had never noticed, we both laughed and the conversation moved on to something else.

In my early childhood, when we moved from London to Nigeria, members of my family tried many futile attempts to get me to use my right hand. It was deemed an abomination to be left-handed and many of them were not having it. When none of their efforts worked, they gave up. These day its a subject far from my thoughts, until I am reminded like I was in that conversation. And on those occasions, when asked I don’t go to that place of fear of rejection, being vulnerable, being uncertain, and no old wounds of friends or family members disowning me for being left-handed are triggered.

That’s all very different when it comes to Coming Out as same gender loving, which is also deemed an abomination in Nigeria. As I thought about the effortless conversation with my friend about being left-handed, I reflected on my conversation with the guy I had the interview with last week where we talked about homophobia, being gay and religion. I then remembered an email exchange I had with a friend some years ago. I had lost touch with this High School friend and it was great to finally be in contact. I remember being uncertain as to whether I tell him about my sexuality, after all did it really matter. Yet, at the same time, I felt that he was telling me all about his life and I was holding back on an aspect of mine…..I’ve dug out a couple of the emails and share extracts from them with you……

Dear xxx

Really enjoyed chatting last Friday, was nice reconnecting and getting to find out what’s been happening over the last 20 years or so – funny how time flies! Part of me feels the same and at the same time, part of me feels so grown up; guess that is all part of the paradox of life!

Wanted to follow up on something that came up during the course of our conversation – i.e. your question to me about when am i going to get married? Yes, i am currently single as i said. However, I also feel i should mention that i am gay………….. Part of me feels you might already suspect, but i feel i should put it out there and be as authentic as i possibly can be with you.

I really do hope that my revelation does not come in the way of our newly rediscovered friendship, and the banter that comes along with that. I wanted to mention the whole issue during the course of our exchange on Friday, but i was apprehensive about the response i might get. I know a lot of Nigerians struggle with the whole issue of sexuality – from a cultural and religious stance – and don’t want to have anything to do with ‘people like me’ – (God, makes me sound like some sort of alien!) During the course of my coming out, i have lost contact with a few people who could not handle it. That’s probably been the most difficult part………………

Well, to fill in some blanks, my mum does know including members of the family in UK and some in Nigeria. They all handle it in their own way and some hope that one day i will wake up and see the ‘errors of my way’. Started the whole process of coming out (i.e. being honest with myself) when dad died in 1995, at that point i felt i owed it to myself to live my own life, rather than one of conforming and denying who i was. After his departure, i thought i could drop dead any minute and all i would have done was to live someone else’s life.  It was then i told mum, during the preceding period she had kept on asking about marriage and i continually gave her the sort of response i gave you on Friday. On one day in particular, she asked again and i just said ‘stuff it’ and told her. She really struggled with it and shortly after that we lost contact for a few years. Mainly my fault, as i felt a lot of guilt (and i guess some shame).

Up until that point, i had never even done anything with a man – just in my imagination! Roll on to present day and we have both made our peace and i guess accept the situation – spoke to her this am and as usual we had a good chat. Guess good thing about being out of Nigeria is that there is the freedom to be yourself and i know that had i still been in Nigeria, i would have conformed to fit society norms – not that there is anything bad about that, but i would not have been living my best life. I am happy and living a good life and no longer have any guilt or shame about my lifestyle.

Anyway, its already a long email – longest i think i have written since i broke up with one ex a few years ago…………. so there you have it! Felt i should share this with you as your friendship was something i really treasured ………….. (and no, i did not have those kind of feelings for you – ) and felt that i owed it to both of us to be honest.

Note quite sure how to end this, so i’ll just say….. hope to hear from you.

The next day I got a response…

Hey Wale

How are you? I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to receive your mail below. Truth, i had sort of suspected (and no, i never had that sort of feeling for you too ) but you were too great a friend for me to ever come out right and say it. I remember the fun we had (no double meaning-hope i am not going to have to walk on egg shells around you when i say words like that, as in hope you havent gone thin skinned on me) ………………… So i am glad you were up front though you did not have to be. My final word is that your sexual orientation means nothing to me. I know you (or i think i do) and your heart and i couldnt ask for a better friend (gay or not). I was happy when we reconnected and if you can stand my crazy sense of humour and not take things i say to mean beyond their meaning, then i would be glad to still have you as a friend.

I cant honestly say i understand it (i think sex with a woman is the loviest thing God invented) but hey..each man to his own………….

I am looking forward to many more chats and to seeing you …………… Wale my friend and long lost brother, its an honour knowing you………

your friend xxxx

I sent a follow-up response, after which we went back to our usual banter. Our friendship was alway enriching, and yet this time around if felt much more so. From that point on, no part of me was ever left behind when we chatted, and my friend eased up on the ‘where is the woman?’ questions, to ‘when are you going to find a man?’ and more recently to ‘how is your partner?’.

One of the intentions behind OutTales around the Fire has always been sharing life stores, with a view to seeing that beneath the surface of our differences, lies our human sameness. Yes, it’s a gradual process and I am continually learning that when we take that risk to share our authentic stories, we open to the possibility of connecting with another… and then another….. and another….. I am also learning that not everyone will welcome and celebrate our story, and that’s fine….. all I have control over is whether I decide to share my story or not……

OutTales 2012

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