Over the past few weeks, I have been receiving anonymous phone calls. A phone number blocked for anonymity is a sign that trouble is coming your way and somebody wants to waste your time benefiting from their lack of identity. I did not pick up. On this particular day, I picked up, realising what I had done too late.
The phone conversation goes as follows:
Him: Akin, I heard you were gay and tried moving one of my boys, you better lay off that gay stuff.
Me: Urm, who is this?
Him: I heard you were gay bruv, is it true?! Lay off that gay stuff.
Me: Who is this???
Him: What do you mean who is this?! I said lay off that gay stuff.
Me: *cuts the call, confused, hurt, and angry*
I could pick up on parts of his identity from that short interaction. It was a he. London type accent, sounded around my age, and even sounded vaguely familiar. He was black. Maybe even someone I once knew. Maybe not, who knows. What is important, though, was the venom in his voice. The anger behind his words. How dare you have a sexual orientation that I do not agree with?! How dare you have an identity that does not align with mine?! How dare you be gay… and exist?!
Some people ask gay people why they make such a big deal of their sexuality. First they ask, why do you even hide it? Then they ask, why do you make such a big deal of ‘coming out’? For some of us, particularly gay people of colour (esp Black) and/or strong religious gay people, being gay and coming out isn’t just *a thing that happens in the fleeting moment*. Coming out can be the difference between whether you get to live or whether you die. Existing as you are, existing with an identity that you did not choose nor one that you can change, is a death wish, a literal crime. I exist as a gay black boy, barely flying under the radar but still heavily “suspected” of being gay and this is my prize. I get phone calls from blocked numbers leaving me odious threats. Essentially telling me that I must remain in my place, I must stay in my lane and be fearful. Telling me that my identity is undesirable and there is a place for me in society – which is on my own. This is me barely flying under the radar – think about those who can’t afford this luxury.
Being gay is not something I chose, but it is something I live with. I am a born-again Christian, I became so at 9 years old. And nobody can tell me I didn’t do the right things. I sought the face of God for myself at a young age. I read my Bible, I prayed, I sang, I led, I tried and I learnt. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I did everything and more. I did Bible Believer’s Class, I did church ushering, I led the choir, I preached, I taught. Currently, I lead my youth Church. I always knew in the back of my head that I had an attraction to those who I shouldn’t. So I tried and I tried and I tried, and yet here I am. You cannot sit there from a place of judgement and tell me I ‘deserve’ this or tell me that I need to ‘be fixed’ because I HAVE TRIED. I have bathed in the anointing oil, I have been to the healing sessions. I spent a large part of my childhood hating myself and trying to fix something that I was scared of. Trying to run away from my own shadow. I had heard of the conversion stories of gay people becoming straight, and I clung onto them with every fibre of my being, hoping I would be the success story one day. Yet here I am, existing, and gay.
I ran because I wanted God to accept me, not realising that nothing in this world can make Him love me less, or anyone for that matter. Grace is not dependent on what I do or who I am, it is dependent on who He is. And He is my comforter, and friend. So, I stopped chasing after a destination that could never be reached. I stopped. Now I currently go through the motions, existing.
Instead, I started running away from my identity, for safety. Because it was too dangerous to be gay and Black British Nigerian and a born-again Christian. Those are intersections of race, sexuality and religion that don’t cross neatly. Stories that we don’t hear about.
Existing is an everyday struggle. It is an internal battle. I cannot explain to you what it’s like having an identity that conflicts with your belief system whilst simultaneously existing in various different cultures as an ethnic minority in Britain. There are too many lenses to wear, too many angles to view from, too much to see. It is an internal conflict, but a conflict nonetheless. Fighting battles within myself just so I could allow myself to exist freely. So much cognitive dissonance, in-fighting. So much turmoil and confusion.
And now, the internal conflict has aligned itself with its brother. I had ‘come out’ to a few people beforehand, and it was comforting. Some prayed with me, gave me advice and told me that there’s hope. Others told me to love myself, to let go and let God, to enjoy the intersections, to exist. To others, I had come out accidentally. Some slip-ups, some slippery slopes. I do not subscribe to conventional binary gender roles, I think they’re restricting and dull. You cannot say that this mannerism belongs to girls and that colour belongs to boys. Yet, some people still see the world this way. Some interests, hobbies, colours, and mannerisms are inherently girly to them, and when seen on a boy it can only mean one thing (GAY)… And so I ‘came out’ accidentally in subtle ways – everyday. In the way I spoke, in the way I walked, in the way I moved my hands, in the lightness of my touch. Or maybe it was the fact that I lead a choir, at Church and maybe because I like to sing, maybe it was my general aura, maybe it was my taste in music, in TV, in fashion. But I resigned myself to it. Let them say what they say or think what they think. We need to deconstruct gender roles one step at a time. I don’t mind compromising my safety and my secret to further this cause. Why should I wear the mask of traditional masculinity whilst it strangles my face and deprives me of oxygen? So, I started to be more open. To be more brazen. To let loose. I tried to exist…
Internal conflict has aligned itself with its brother – external danger. Because now I can no longer keep my most prized possession in its Pandora Box, I tore the lid off that box when I tried to come out in dubious ways to see how my friends would respond – PSA it backfired, I had to flee certain places. Slowly, invisibility chipped off my prized possession. And exposed something I had seen as so disgusting and so filthy underneath. I thought, how bad could this be? Society has moved on. People have learnt how to love (agape). And in terms of my Nigerian heritage and my Nigerian Church, well, I could try and help them understand that I am a victim too. I know my Bible back to front and inside-out. I had a really strong connection with God (not for the past 2 years), I can simply explain to them why they shouldn’t hate me. I can paint myself as the victim – cause ultimately that is what I have always felt that I am. Or I could just flee and re-invent myself somewhere else. Those were my options.
It is the phone call that snapped me back to reality. Akin, this world does not have enough space for you to ~exist~. It has carved out a box for you, plaited with gold and perfumed with lavender; that box is the trash – where you belong. You do not have a right to exist. Nor do you have a right to validate your existence. You do not get to justify why you are gay. You cannot stand in front of me with an identity I abhor and tell me it is not your fault. Stay away from me. Your intersections are messy. To be gay, black, a born again-Christian. How dare you have it all!
It is beneficial that the phone call was anonymous. It is helpful because it means I do not direct my disappointment, my sadness or my fear onto one person. It is beneficial because it is the anonymity that inspired me to sit down and write this at 2am. It is the anonymity which allows me to see things clearly. Which allows me to understand that this is not a micro issue. This is not one-on-one hate for who I am. This is a system, an attitude, a culture. It is anonymous because it takes on no forms, it has no colours, no background. It is anonymous because hate has no face nor features, no religion, no social class. Hate is a fear that hides behind the empty words of those who are too scared to confront what they don’t want to see.
I can never explain to you what it is like to love your culture so much, to love your ethnicity so much, to love your religion so much, to believe in a God so much but then to have a disease that conflicts with what you love. I can also never explain to you how scary it is to come to terms with it, to accept it, to defend your right to exist, to build up a fantasy land in your head that everyone will understand you once you tell them your experience – only for that dream to be cancelled in the space of one phone call.
I have always hidden. In some way, shape or form. No-one has ever seen the real me because I have hidden him away somewhere. Because behind one secret lies another secret that holds the Pandora Box together. I don’t know who he is, where he is, or how to find him. This is because I lost him somewhere along the way. I spent so long trying to please so many people, trying to tuck parts of myself away in order to be easier for societal and peer consumption. I tucked parts away to please a God who thought I was good enough to die for. I tucked parts away because to be gay and Black British is an under-reported existence, to the point that it does not exist. Coupled with being in an African Christian environment most days of the week, I was scared because I didn’t want to be looked at as the boy with all the potential who ‘decided’ to turn gay. The boy who sang for God on our stage but opened his heart to sin. I was scared because I already found it so hard to relate with fellow (straight) (black) men under the pretence that I was one of them. I would always clench up, fearing that they’d ‘suspect’ me, that I wasn’t putting on a convincing performance. I was always nervous, constantly wondering what they were thinking. Perpetual fear. Maybe it was all in my head, maybe I was overthinking.
Unfortunately, there is no more space in the box, so I decided to come out of it.
(For all the effeminate young black boys who don’t fit in, the queer people who are trying to reconcile their faith and their love for God with their identity. And for all Christians who don’t understand what it is like. This video was quite helpful to watch: Criticizing The Feminine Man . The story is far from over, I still constantly dream of one day being ~’normal’~, of having my own child, my own little baby girl. Of having a traditional family. I don’t know where to go or who I am, but I hope my transparency healed you, whoever you are.)