In order not to mar the celebration of LGBT Pride – which we did with a series of multimedia content written for and by queer Nigerians and allies some of which you can find here – with the tragedy trope that is often in every queer story I held off publishing this piece.
This piece was born from a musing that wouldn’t leave my mind after I was forced to come clean to my mother about my sexuality following a tweet I made celebrating my queerness that somehow found its way to her. Her response to my coming out to her was simple, yet it left me wondering how many other mothers respond to their children’s open declaration of their homosexuality with, “This doesn’t really need airing. Keep your private matters private.” As it turns out, quite a lot.
I asked 3 Nigerian mothers of queer children – acquaintances all of them – what their reaction was to their children coming out and why.
Damola’s mother, Mrs Dora Rasheed* reacted first with annoyance, then anger followed. She was annoyed he thought coming out to her was needed, she had always known. She was even more annoyed he chose to come out to her and his father at the same time.
“I would have advised against it if he had told me first,” she said, still bitterly revisiting the memory of the chaos that followed.
“His father is a contentious person even on much less complicated matters.”
She became angry when she realised her son roped the whole family into the conversation because he wasn’t sure which of his family members will accept him for who he is, he was playing a game of numbers and chances. Hoping in the long run to pit whoever of his beloved parents is accepting of him against the other that isn’t, and if both of them aren’t then so be it. It worked.
“I don’t care about his sexuality, I care for his safety,” said Mrs. Rasheed, “and playing that dumb game of coming out to both of us at once was a dangerous gambit. His father could at least injure him if he doesn’t kill him.” He tried to.
Held off by her, the father couldn’t get physically violent. He threw Damola out instead, and his mother defiantly left the house too in solidarity with her gay son.
Four years later, the rift from that day still remains, albeit a bit papered over by time. Damola and his mother alternatingly stay in his dad’s house after the dad received a good talking to for risking his child’s life over his sexuality. His mother on the other hand has steadily grown to become a strong ally.
Ahmed* did not have two parents to navigate. His father passed a year before he was outed and the wrath of an insulted extended family descended full force on him and his mother.
“I was still grieving his dad so it was all a bit too much,” his mother revealed, “It was like a new underlayer of pain was ripped open specifically because of how his uncles got involved.”
His uncles blamed his queerness on some kind of personal failing of his mother’s and wanted to punish both the gay son and the mother that brought him into their life.
“I was briefly in agreement with his uncles about getting him help – I wanted to believe therapy could change him, but then their words kept darkening, their hatred began manifesting in the darkness their words conveyed,” she said, “That was when I realised him and his queerness aren’t the enemies, his uncles are, and if I let them they will destroy him and me both.”
She switched her allegiance and returned to his corner. With that fight won now, however, she still hopes to convince him to at least marry and give her a child.
“I still struggle with the knowledge that my only male child may not give me a grandchild, at least not while he is in Nigeria,” she said, “but my priority remains his safety and I continue to pray for him to have a change of heart somehow. He has explained how this is wishful thinking, but I am allowed to wish.”
Nina* is perhaps the luckiest of this trio of acquaintances. Her mother – a bisexual woman who found enduring love with her deceased father – was almost elated to discover her daughter is queer.
“I wont call it a triumph, but knowing the data I was almost elated to find out she is queer,” Nina’s mother said.
The data she speaks of is the one on the prevalence of STI among queer women – the lowest of any sexually active adult human group.
“I didn’t have to worry about her getting pregnant, and honestly, the sexual satisfaction is far better for queer women than straight women, so I was happy for her.”
Nina and her mother however both live in Nigeria where laws and social attitudes are largely negative.
“I shared what tips I could about safety, reminded her to always seek the safety of home with her lovers and to keep her sexuality private unless she is divulging it for the benefit of someone she loves that she knows loves her.”
One thing that is common among these mothers is their deep worry for the safety of their children in the face of unjust laws and wicked human beings that are hell-bent on punishing difference.
On whether they will openly protest for the repeal of the SSMPA and other anti-gay laws, they are all in tandem with their “No.”
Their reason here too is simple and the same; the safety of their queer children.
“I will rather not put a target on the back of my daughter,” Nina’s mother insisted.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of contributors