Some days it feels just like yesterday when I boarded a late night Nigerian Airways flight from Lagos to London. It was January 1988. I was 19 and all I thought about, as I stared out of the airplane window, was: “At last, I can finally start being me. I can finally start living my own life”.
What I did not anticipate back then, was that I carried a huge amount of shame about being gay. Leaving home had not taken away my pain; it had simply travelled with me. It would take me another eight years, before I experienced my first sexual encounter with a man. Until then, I simply denied the ‘gay part’ of me by taking refuge in daydreams and in a church, where on most Sundays, the pastor condemned gay people. When I finally left the church, I embarked on searching for ‘the one’, which sadly only led to one-night stands and ‘short-term’ encounters. I excelled in my career, travelled continuously and found many other outlets to help numb my pain.
In 2009, I realized that I was living on the surface of my life. I was wearing a series of masks and felt disconnected from my core being. I was compromising myself and over-compensating on so many levels and was deeply dissatisfied with everything. The time had come for me to fully step into my life and to be the best version of myself — to be more congruent and authentic in my day-to-day living.
As part of embracing my true self, I visited Nigeria the following year. It was my third trip back, since I left in 1988. During this trip, I came out to mother all over again. I had done this once before in 1996, and we had never spoken about it again. It was as if the conversation had never happened.
Coming out for the second time, was much more dramatic than the first time. As the pain from the past resurfaced, my mother expressed her disappointment, sadness and shame for having a gay son. In that moment, I had a breakthrough: I had come such a long way in my own emotional journey. I was finally comfortable with being gay, regardless of whether my mother accepted me or not. I realized that ‘I fully accepted myself, exactly as I am.’ This realization meant that I chose to no longer put myself in situations where I was emotionally or mentally abused — a pattern I had replicated many times since I left Nigeria.
Shortly after that conversation with my mother, I stopped communicating with her. I told her of my intention, explaining that I had reached a place in my life where I had decided that I wanted to be around people who nurtured and encouraged me. I wanted to be around people who accepted me, exactly as I am. It was the toughest decision I have had to make. Through the years, my mother and I had been through so much together and yet somehow we had reached a place where I deeply felt that in order to step into my authentic self, I needed to let go of our relationship. I had come to realise that it was not fair on her for me to want her to change and be the person that I longed her to be, and it was not fair on me that she wanted me to be someone other than myself.
We spoke a few months after my decision to cease communication with her, she apologised for what she had said and asked for forgiveness. I accepted the apology and explained that I still stood by my decision. I felt bruised from the pain of my past and had reached a place where I did not feel emotionally safe in her presence. I had often left our encounters feeling that I had let her down for being gay, for bringing shame on her and the family. Her words and behaviour would often confirm my feelings, and each time I would hope that it be different, but it never was. I had no doubt that she loved me in her own way, but all too often this had not translated into healthy and nurturing behaviour. In June 2012, a year and half since our last contact, my mother sent me a text message. Once again, she asked for forgiveness for what she had said. She said that she missed me. I never responded…. She passed away the following month.
My relationship with my mother, like Life, was a complex one. Through her, I learnt that Life is about navigating those complexities. That heated conversation with her finally taught me that she deeply struggled with the fact that her only child was gay, and felt that my sexuality was something I should hide and that she felt ashamed. Whilst I understood that her opinion and beliefs were largely influenced by culture, I also knew that this was her ‘story’ and ‘truth’, and not mine. I finally know that I am okay, and that there is nothing wrong with me being gay.
My mother, albeit indirectly, taught me the importance of showing up in my own Life and living my own Truth. 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.