My Mother & her Gay Son

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.Learning to walk

OutTales*  © 2013

* This story originally appeared in the anthology ‘Love Me As I Am: gay men reflect on their lives‘. You can find out more about the book and its journey here.

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aguywithoutboxers
    May 14, 2013 @ 00:19:15

    A very poignant and moving recollection, my blogging brother. Thank you for having the courage to share it with us. I am glad that you are at peace now, with both your Mother and yourself. Much love! 🙂

    Reply

  2. Azeez Mohammed
    May 14, 2013 @ 17:59:15

    What an amazing story! I ve got tears in my eyes. I learnt from ur story the urgency of forgiveness.

    Reply

  3. aguywithoutboxers
    May 19, 2013 @ 22:26:13

    Please visit my site tomorrow, May 20, 2013. I am nominating you for the Liebster Blogger Award. Thanks!

    Reply

  4. Naijaboy
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 07:25:34

    Just wondering, do you ever regret not reconciling with your mother before she passed away? Or wondered if you should have given her a chance to evolve by letting her into your ‘authentic’ life?

    Reply

    • OutTales
      Jun 17, 2013 @ 14:06:12

      Many thanks for the question. It is one i am often asked by those who read the book ‘Love Me As I Am’ and sometimes by those who knew about my journey with my mum.

      The short answer to your question is no…. but i will elaborate a little bit more as a simple ‘no’ seems to oversimplify the matter (and perhaps i will write a blog on the subject at some point).

      My father passed away in 1995, i was still very much in the closet then and we never talked about my sexuality (although as you might have seen from my blog about the matter – he knew!). In fact i remember wanting to come out to him when he became ill and a family friend advising me not to do so, because she felt the news might kill him. Whenever i reflected on my relationship with him, i often felt sad that i never fully showed up in our encounters; by allowing myself to be fully seen – i was just not in that place. I promised myself that with my mother it was going to be different, and in fact came out to her the year after he died.

      What i learnt along that road was that just because we allow someone to fully see us does not mean they will accept and celebrate us…. and i also learnt that life goes on regardless. Yes, it would have been beautiful for my mother and I to have gotten to a place of mutual acceptance, respect and togetherness, but i have also come to learn that life does not unfold like a Hollywood movie, that it is messy and all i can really do is to respond to the stuff that happens consciously – and know that i am worthy of love and belonging, exactly as i am.

      I think when it comes to Nigerian parents accepting their gay/lesbian children it is a very complicated matter – for many of them feel shame about the issue and would rather the matter was not discussed publicly. Its almost like for many of our parents they feel that in order to accept their gay children, they have to ‘reject’ their culture and tradition, which has taught them that being gay is a taboo….. This was the dilemma that my mum faced – i have no doubt that she loved me; but that love did not always translate to loving behaviour, especially when it came to accepting her gay son…… When i went for the funeral last year, her pastor told me that i still needed to get married to a woman and have a child (and keep my gay partner), and that if i don’t do this my mum will not rest in peace – so even though she is no longer around, the saga continues….. this is the backdrop to the road i travelled…..

      The sad fact is, until we who identify as LGBT of Nigerian heritage start showing our parents, pastors, friends and family that we will no longer collude with the silence, nothing will change. My mother never got to meet a gay person like me, the ones she met were all married to women, had kids and had their BF on the side, so for her it was a case of ‘why can you not be like them, why do you have to be different and then put your business all over Facebook and shame me’…….

      So, there is no regret, but there is sadness about what never was and what could have been……

      I came across this quote in the book ‘Daring Greatly’ a few minutes ago..

      “Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damages the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive if these injuries are acknowledged and healed……”

      I am glad that i did get to a place where i was able to acknowledge the wounds and the healing continues to take place…. through being asked questions like yours and me answering them as congruently as i can…..

      (guess my response did become a short blog afterall 🙂

      Ade x

      Reply

  5. Naijaboy
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 04:31:19

    Thank you for your reply. It is never an easy thing to come out to family- even for those in more-accepting cultures, and so I applaud you for doing this way back in the 90’s. I am just recently out to my folks and I see them struggling immensely with some of the issues you mentioned. Right now, it is at a ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ place and I’m fine with letting everyone go through their own process. God knows it took me 20-something years to get to a place of acceptance and self-affirmation!

    I couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to cut off contact like you did partly because I believe candid engagement is the only way to change minds and mostly because there’s too much love for the other on both sides of the equation. Admittedly, your mother was of a different generation than my folks and so I understand how incredibly hard it must have been for her to wrap her head around this issue and to respond in a manner that was in keeping with the love I’m sure she had for you. Nowadays, even the most defiant Naija parent would be hard-pressed to deny that they know one or two LGBT CNN anchors streaming right into their home.

    In any case, you did what you needed to do at that point in your life and I’m sure it was the right decision for you. Many thanks for keeping this blog and for providing a portal for people like us. I have followed your blog for almost 2 years now but this is the first time I am commenting. Keep up the good work in advocacy.

    Reply

    • OutTales
      Jun 18, 2013 @ 10:49:34

      …. and thank you too for the support and reading…… will certainly write more about it in the future…… i am involved in a performance storytelling show later this year featuring tales about my mother and myself, will post some blogs about that…..

      Reply

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