How can peace be brokered between two parties when one does not even recognise the conflict as a conflict but as love, as loving? Pain is inflicted, violence enacted for the purpose of loving. When my mother tells me my homosexual relationship will go nowhere because of gender incompatibilities, I am told it’s done in my best interests. And so I cage my anger.
I have been angry at my parents for a long time now, for many reasons but their responses to my queerness is a particularly salient one. I keep my anger in check by remembering that homophobia in West Africa is a colonial legacy, a Western import. My love and my desire for their continued loving also tempers my anger. I wish I could scream at them sometime ‘Look what you have done to me!’ but I know they wouldn’t understand. They seem too deeply entrenched in colonial thinking and it is too painful when I try to draw them out of it, and evidently too much for them to handle.
My awareness of my relative privilege as a queer person pacifies my anger somewhat. When I came out to my parents I had been, like many queer people of colour, preparing for the worst. My father had threatened to kick me out and disown me a few times; my parents had both given sermons warning against homosexuality a few times; they told me about older gay men having to wear diapers; told me gay men were paedophiles. I was constantly aware of my parents homophobia
Queer childhood for most of us was violent and continues to be for queer youth today. In the UK, a quarter of homeless youth are LGBT, 69 percent of whom were forced out of home, 62% having experienced aggression and/or physical violence. In Scotland, 61% of LGBT youth report having experienced some form of abuse. 44% of LGBT youth have attempted suicide and 52% have self-harmed.
For QTPOC, especially first or second generation immigrants, the likelihood that we experience some abuse from loved ones is higher than our white counterparts, and so too probably, is the likelihood of self harm.
Coming out for me then, was a comparatively pleasant experience. My mother, the only parent I actually came out to hugged me as I cried and told me she loved me, that I would always be her son but she did not, and could not, accept my homosexuality. My father, a week or so later tried to convince me to marry a woman and do the ‘responsible’ thing. But he did not kick me out or disown me.
I felt, and sometimes still feel that I overreacted by preparing for the worst.
I know my parents love me but I remember the numerous times I wished I’d never been born because then my mother would not have to deal with the mental turmoil of having a gay son. I realise now this turmoil pales in comparison to that of being the ‘gay son’*.
My mother still wonders what she did wrong. 5 years later she’s still quoting Leviticus to me. She does this out of her love for me.
I remember that I came out to my mum hoping it would bring us closer, with the hope that I would not have to drift further away from her. But now we barely speak and when we do it’s brief as I avoid mentioning major parts of my life.
I want to say my parents are not aware of the way their love is violent to me, or at least their way of showing that love, but I have told them explicitly on many occasions. When my mother took me to have the gay prayed away shortly after I came out to her the only thing I said on the way home was how much it hurt and that she should never do it again. A couple of months ago she sent me an interview with an ex-gay Yoruba man who, like me, had been sexually abused as a child. But she is the same woman who dropped everything to help me setup my final show as I panicked and broke down under stress.
It is difficult to disentangle this violent loving from the other, better, ways they show their love to me. It is difficult to engage with my parents when their love for me seems to necessarily entail a desire to eliminate my queerness, my knowing of myself. I know my parents are waiting for my relationship to end, in short for me to be unhappy. I know they desire my unhappiness. I know of their violent hopes of seeing my queerness die. What loving parents.
My parents showing me love in nonviolent ways usually just makes me feel guilty. Though my anger is caged, it is always there.
Coming home, a thing I avoid to my parent’s confusion, is usually my going into hiding. I tone down my queerness at home and at their church. I hide in part because I don’t want to deal with the stress but also because I love them… I still don’t want them to face the drama of having a ‘gay son’. I don’t want to make their life slightly more difficult: having to have tough conversations with their friends and our extended family; or having their positions within the RCCG (Redeemed Christian Church of God, a massive international Nigerian Pentecostal church) possibly compromised. I am still scared that they will reject me, that they’ll choose their comfort over me.
I’ve been trying to agitate in some way recently. Going home this Christmas, I wore two large hoop earrings, which on my body and to my parents is a queer signifier; spoke to my boyfriend loudly on the phone, sat next to my parents, exchanged ‘I love yous’ within earshot of them. I find it strange and sad that small actions like these generate so much anxiety within myself and within my parents.
While my parents did not mention my boyfriend once, my decision to wear my earrings resulted in me being unable to go to a family dinner and lots of anger and tears on my part.
I’ve also started adding family members on my social media, knowing sooner or later they’ll come across my queerness. This tactic has been somewhat successful. I uploaded a picture of my boyfriend and myself onto Facebook on new year’s day and a few days later received a message from my mother. She’d heard about the picture from one of her sisters who had heard about it from another sister who I’d added. My mother told me to delete her. I wonder if that is some progress, that she didn’t ask me to delete the picture instead.
*Later still, I realised that I was not a ‘son’ and so I was not gay. I am a nonbinary child of my parents. My parents don’t know this and probably will not know for a long time being, apparently unwilling to learn about the world and to complicate their worldviews. And at this moment, I do not think I have the strength or patience for a second coming out.