Part 1 — The Skin
We must talk first of my skin because it is the biggest part of my body. It is so visible and so exposed, and because of this, all the fights I have waged and won (or lost) are documented so clearly on it in elegant fonts. Book antiqua. Brock Scripts. Winterlady. Amadeus. Starlight. Incosolata. Forelle. The visible and invisible. There is a clear spot, right here see, where I know a wound once lived after a boy forced me down to the ground and put me in a headlock, for walking too much like royalty. There is an actual scar on my right shin and on my right side. There are gullies on my cheeks, ran through by congregations of tears, though not everyone can see them.
It is thick, my skin, from years and years of kneading and tanning. From the brutal stretch of prayers and admonitions, of prophecies and condemnations. It is seared by the Sulphur and brimstones that landscape the path to heaven. We have to talk about my skin because it is what they first see, what they beat, what they tear, what they try to push into darkness. Pretend this is a lecture so I can tell you a story. Let’s talk of evil men with Tiki torches that go door to door purging queer bodies while perfectly normal and perfectly balanced people occupy themselves with fantasies about the nonexistence — of both queer bodies and the fires that seek to quench us.
As of 2019, 75% of Nigerians said they supported the SSMPA. 60% said they won’t accept queer people even if the queer people in question were their own family members. Something about that is so abrasive, the vehemence of this rejection, all from these cisgender heterosexuals whose bigotries are built so sturdily on ignorance. I have all the responses to their arguments crushed into small swallowable totems I can give as many people as I want. But there is so much indignity in having to argue with someone else about the validity of my own existence. So much violence in being saddled with a burden of proof as heavy as justifying a life. Here it is, on my skin.
I am. Therefore, I am.
On these same scrolls were once written whole excepts from Evelyn Hooker and Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach. On this parchment was outlined all the logical reasons why I deserved to live free, and these reasons I had to relitigate again and again, as often as I was denied.
Homosexuality as a clinical entity does not exist. Its forms are as varied as are those of heterosexuality. Homosexuality [is] a deviation in sexual pattern which is within the normal range, psychologically. (E. Hooker 1957).
I am after all a biologist, in real life. Nothing fancy, just a Bachelor’s. But my skin grows tired. Like skin. Because it is skin. Did you get it? The skin is a large organ, I feel like this bears repeating. It is the largest organ of the human body. The skeleton does what it can to hold it up, to give it shape and structure, but still. It is weighed down by so many things already, in a world so unequal and unjust. It is burdened by patriarchal oppression, by racism and ethnic chauvinism and wage slavery, economic exploitation and alienation, and all other ills and contradictions of capitalist society. So you must understand me when I say my skin is stretched and enraged. Look closely, it is drawn too taut to breathe.
Everyday, I shed it like clothing and hang it so I can have the freedom of my tears. And when I put it back on, I find that these letterings are branded on, as with fire on metal. I cannot hide and the truth is I do not want to hide. This skin must be seen, the way it is. It must be free to be, and where it wants. It demands attention, it demands acknowledgment of existence.
I am. Therefore, I fucking am.
I want only to be. To not be blotted with fire. To not live under the shadow of those who kill me and then insist that I was never there. I want to tower. I am tall enough and even if I were not, I know I can learn to walk in stilts.
There is a constant battle in Nigeria. We — and by that I mean queer people — are constantly under siege. Just pretend we’re back to the lecture, this is an important story.
First, there are multiple laws in place to bolt my skin down, to cage queer bodies to trees that keep us from public view. Then there is a man who wants a third tenure and he is a very very powerful man but he doesn’t get his third tenure because people like the idea of a military imposed constitution more than they like his privatization sprees and his genocidal atrocities in Odi and Zaki Ibiam, and other such places where communities die and are alienated from their lands so that oil companies can continue to plunder and kill. And so, this man who only 2 years prior said that queer people did not exist in Nigeria prepares a law to criminalize us. This is met with furor. Even his political opponents don’t want him to have that ‘win’ so the law is abandoned. Seven years later, another powerful man is battling an approval rating in freefall because people don’t like being poor and don’t appreciate him cutting subsidies that marginally benefited the poor while the rich sat on literal oil wells. So he too, resurrects this law. This time it passes. Like the other evil man before him, he too says its no big deal because queer people do not exist in Nigeria.
I wonder who the laws are for then. If we do not exist why are we being erased? Whose children were rounded up from birthday parties and whose lovers were killed by mobs? Why are there so many fucking dead names on my skin?
Part 2 — Broken Bones
Now let’s talk of death. Let’s talk of the lives of all those who they swear don’t exist but who we have to mourn, those whose bones we have to pick and give rest so that they do not litter the street. Let’s talk of the brutalization of queer bodies. Let’s talk of how they hunt us like sport on social media platforms, of how they catfish us, extort us, beat us, sexually abuse us. Let’s talk of the police raids on queer gatherings. Let’s talk of cash bail and the violence of incarceration. In those cells, they break these bones. In those dark cells they cage our bodies just like everyday the closet doors cage our souls. Let’s talk about the police and how they take our phones and our laptops and steal information to help them track us down like game. Let’s talk of how they desecrate the memories of our dead trans sisters. Dead naming them and doing nothing to bring justice to their murderers. Let’s talk about how they are harassed, beaten, killed for walking in the clothes they prefer to wear.
I’m sorry. This is a long lecture. The bone is 12-15% of the human body weight. Normally it isn’t exposed. Normally. I am siting at the bank of a river thinking, thinking of how much of 12-15% you can expose to open air before you get to teenagers drinking bleach and rat poison and other such things that promise them an end. How much does a police officer scrape bare before he stops to wipe the blood from his murderous hands? But talking about these lives is in itself a revolutionary act. It usurps the narrative and comfort of homophobic society. It rudely disrupts its violent silence and pours blood everywhere. And rightfully so because everywhere we turn, there is blood, death, hatred, perpetual fear. Remember, we are not supposed to exist. These desecrated bones belonged to no one. These fractures are eyesores, yes, but to whom do the nonexistent sing?
I get so much hostility for this. How dare I? I am accused of playing a victim because I am after all here, openly gay, and no one has killed me. Otherwise, I would not be here. It is enraging to be told this for three very simple reasons.
One, because it is a continuation of the denial of the violence we face.
Two, because I am alive not because homophobes haven’t tried to kill me, but because they have failed.
And three because I do not have to play victim when every single day this homophobic country victimizes me.
There is so much pressure to not interrupt the natural flow of things. Because heterosexuals do not want to hear about the death of queer people. Life is hard enough already. If there’s anything they hate, it is to be confronted with the implications of the violence of their institutions. They are entangled, all of them, in a competition to shirk culpability.
I love queer people. Go and hold those that don’t love queer people to account.
I don’t love queer people but I don’t hate them either. Go and hold those who hate queer people to account.
I hate queer people but that doesn’t mean I support violence against them. Go and hold those who support violence against queer people to account.
I support violence against queer people, yes, but that doesn’t mean I attack them so I’m actually not your primary problem. And so on.
And so it becomes a radical act to talk about homophobic violence outside queer spaces. It becomes a reeducative and political act. A militant refute of queer erasure. In Nigeria, being openly queer is worse than being queer because it pours rainbow confetti into the well oiled machinery of state violence and erasure. It brandishes a dangerous nonconformity that negates all the myths on which the demonization and pathologization of queer identities is built. Now in place of a dangerous obscure novelty, you have a human being. Now when they say abomination, I can tell them to spell it so I can laugh in their face as they try to understand why I am not ashamed, why I am not plagued by internal anguish, why I do not want a cure. Bones, broken bones, are the stories of my fallen brothers and sisters I carry with me into sanctified spaces. I breathe life into their pasts, even those I never met. Hopefully they can live once more in the dreams of those who stayed silent while they died.
Part 3 — Fingers That Heal
They ask how we can find pride in all this. It’s an interesting question now that I think of it. I am looking at my fingers. I tell this boy I love that my fingers are actually very beautiful, that they are the most beautiful things ever. They are long, elegant, strong, full of anti-imperialist communist rage, full of resolve and resoluteness. He takes them in his hands and looks at them. He knows they’re beautiful but he won’t say that. He smiles instead. These fingers have reached into the deepest bowels of this hateful earth to find me hope, to save me from despair. With them, I have covered my face from blunt force. With them I have repudiated every last stroke of negation. With them I have loved my self.
They are rich depositories of revolutionary commitment to my freedom. So many pages have they turned and so many words have they calligraphed on paper and signed with my name. Look at them. Resistance. Queerness. Unabashed unashamed queerness. Pride, pride like a mouth full of song.
So many times they have tried to break it, those who do not understand how a man like me like me can love himself in the midst of a sea of voices telling him he is unworthy of love. They have tried to break them as they have tried to break me. This is the third part of this theory.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is such beauty in that strain of revolt that refuses to go quietly, that refuses to acquiesce to helplessness, that refuses to disappear from existence like the people at the helm of this neofascist police state wants. There is so much strength in refusing despair. So much courage in shouldering on under the brunt of the state and the church and heterosexist society, and refusing to fade into darkness. This resistance comes from the hope of imminent queer liberation. It comes from dreaming because another way they break us is by telling us we can’t dream.
When will the SSMPA be repealed? When will sections 214, 215 and 217 of the criminal code be repealed? When will sections 284, 405, 407 and 408 of the penal code be repealed? When will sharia stop being used to adjudicate criminal law?
At the beginning of the year, I wrote, This is the decade homosexuality gets decriminalized but I never sent the tweet. I left it in my draft because I was afraid to tweet it, afraid that it was a laughable thing to tweet. So much has been stolen from us that to hope, openly not just in the comfort of your heart, constitutes a revolutionary act. It not only commits to fighting what appears to be insurmountable circumstances, but it insists on its eventual victory.
Will homosexuality be decriminalized in Nigeria this decade? Frankly, no one can say for certain but actually Yes, it will.
So much we are dampened by talks about being realistic, as though being killed isn’t what we have to live with as reality. As though there is anything more realistic than keeping in sight, a future where you are free. The truth is that the lack of hope is hurting us. We are so afraid of saying what we want to see, so afraid of giving voice to our dreams that we argue ourselves down. To overcome homophobia, we must first expel the doubt and despair it has planted in us. We must first overcome our fear of putting our voices to freedom because of what naysayers will say. Who cares what they think? Who cares what is feasible? We want to live. We want to live free. And we have to be willing to have faith that it can indeed happen.
There is so much pride in doing that. This pride comes from the refusal to be demonized, the refusal to accept the pathologization of queer identities. Everyday, we navigate a hostile terrain whose aim it is to erase our stories, to break our bones and deep our marked skins in bleach and say, See? Nothing. There was never anything here.
I guess what I’m saying is that these are the things that some times go through my mind as I take full cognizance of all the markings of my body, full acknowledgement that this body is an old road, travelling, head high, towering. I can see queer liberation, I can imagine it in concrete thoughts. I don’t know how long I have to walk to get there, but I know that the point of living is not to merely exist, but to thrive. And I refuse — refuse — to be satisfied with anything less.