The first time I thought queer lives matter, I am standing at the boarding students’ dining hall with some friends, loitering around the environment. I am wearing baggy school trousers, after a serious extra lesson class in preparation for our West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination. The sun is brimming to its fullest. My bag hangs across my back. I am a day student, but the male hostel is some distance away from the dining hall where both genders gather to eat. It’s a few minutes past 4:00 PM, but slowly, the sun is beginning to die off.
The air is raucous. There are emanating noises from the male hostel. I stand under a shield; a shield that guards me outside of the dining hall. A friend, J., walks toward me. Our eyes meet and he looks away, his gaze quickly moves to people coming toward the Junior classroom. They are a mixture of junior and senior students. They are talking to each other, making one not hear what is happening far ahead.
“What’s happening, J.?” I ask.
When he speaks, his voice comes out hoarse, scratchy even. As though ruined by cheap ogogoro. The way pidgin flows out from his mouth. They are cracky, flowing like a surging ocean being disturbed by current. Like a rickety molue navigating through Lagos road. His voice bristles against the hot sun rays. “Dem don catch S. finally. And e shock me. Dem catch am with other S.” Both of them bear the same names.
The second S. was in Senior Secondary Class two – SS2 – and we were in the same class with the first S. He says, “dem don catch S. finally,” because it’s obvious. We have all assumed his sexuality. Everyone believes the first S. is gay. His effeminacy is pronounced but the second S. is masculine and no one can guess. Sometimes, we teased him about having muscles and being the oldest guy in our set, when he newly joined. We were meant to be in the same class as the second S., but he repeated SS2. Anyway, since students staying in the boarding house lived according to their classes, they allowed the second S. to stay with them instead of him staying with SS2 boys.
After J. says it, he follows with many other revelations on how they were caught sucking each other’s dick in the bathroom. My body shrivels. Why would they be doing something like that? I had already known I was gay, yet my first reaction was to feel disgusted, then cast aspersions at them, telling people how they were disgusting. This is the first instinct for anyone struggling with internalised homophobia to shield themselves. I’d have joined to mob them if there was an opportunity. It is one of those violent stuff meted on queer bodies even by those who are same as them. But this happened long ago, during a boarding students’ lunch break which happened whenever we were on a break. This is how violence affects queer people, even from fellow queer people. It stems from our violent ideologies that should be thrown away.
The second time I thought queer lives matter, was that day in the Eastern part of Nigeria. On arriving at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, to meet my classmates on a pre-degree programme, I was stopped by two young men. In as much as I have stifled my effeminacy, they could still notice some things they think their violence should curtail.
“Shey you be gay? Why you dey walk like that?”
In the East, the school vicinity is always away from the most developed part of the town. Most of the places are quiet and deserted. To my left and right are bushes. I could be killed and thrown into the forest. My heart sinks into my stomach. There is an overwhelming fear that grips my whole body, burning my skin, constricts it and makes hair on my body rise. My body became fatigued at the first instance until they finally let me alone. I walk away, tired, with a rumbling stomach. Of course, I said I am not gay.
The third time I felt queer lives matter, I became a 100l student at the University of Lagos. Prior, I have been hearing about how the University of Lagos was queer-friendly. We get to see a lot of queer people, breaking gender roles, a lot trying to exist in their tiny bubbles.
In my first year, I am standing at the distance learning institute’s compound, where we have most of our classes, three girls and a boy walk past. I am not alone there, but in the midst of some of my coursemates. One of my coursemates begins pointing at the boy.
“Na gay that guy be,” another says.
“I sabi am. E dey always walk in the middle of girls. Fag boy.”
“And na that type of guy girls go dey follow. Just to chop their money.”
“Make hin dey do hin gay there. Make e no near me sha. I go comot hin teeth if he try am. All these smelly gays,” one says. He is buff, looks quiet but his voice is hoarse.
I heave. When did he, the effeminate guy, indicate interest in him? His voice is scary and he can actually carry out his threats on the boy. Even without him getting close to him. Just existing. His threats are heavy. This is much of a projection for a boy that might not find him attractive. Under the sun, I feel overwhelmed, tired. It is stressful being a first-year student. You are wandering here and there, trying to sort out your life. Now, the harmless boy can be harmed anytime by the phobia of someone he doesn’t know.
The fourth time I felt queer lives matter, I am on social media scrolling through Twitter. SARS officials have killed someone, again. Social media is frenzy, heated up and people are talking about the end of this menace affecting youth. I am livid. There are a lot of queer people having these conversations, trying to find out how this menace will be curbed. Same as Nigerians that are bothered about how to end this menace. I made a series of tweets about how EndSARS will not benefit queer people, then went offline quickly.
On returning, there are a lot of quotes and replies to my tweet. It is filled with privileged heterosexual men, replying, and a few women. I also notice some queer people antagonising my tweets. On making the series of tweets, what I perceive is a society where heterosexual people are getting a platter of their oppression, though queer people still get served with this touch of menace. But, it looks like people care about oppression when it’s about them. Heterosexual people, are always excited, throwing fourteen years imprisonment on our faces as if, something is exciting about locking someone in the prison for being queer.
When the EndSARS protest begins and spans for several days, a video pops on my timeline. It is a video by a lesbian who had gone to a protest in Abuja, carrying a protest placard, written “Queer Lives Matter.”
I opened the tweet. It’s generating a lot of replies and quotes. A lot of queer and allies are sympathising with her, but heterosexuals are steep into their privileges.
“They are trying to hijack the movement.”
“This is for EndSARS protest not Queer Lives Matter.”
“Soro soke, let us focus.”
They are tweeting at us.
I keep scrolling. I know it. It’s not surprising. Nobody cares about us. Heterosexual people have the privilege of carrying placards to indicate the actual reason they are harassed, but when we do the same, we are hijacking the movement. If we don’t highlight how we are affected by police brutality, how is it going to be curbed? When SARS is ended, we will still be harassed based on our sexuality. Do queer lives matter or we will continue playing second fiddles?
The fifth time I thought queer lives matter, it’s also on social media, Twitter. It’s during the Edo state governorship election. A queer activist, tweets a video of how the seating party is using anti-queerness to decampaign the opposition party.
“Na man wey dey fuck man. No vote man wey dey love man as our governor.”
I am there wondering, after all, how man wey dey fuck man take be violent act? Shey we matter like this?
Again, on Twitter, a popular Muslim feminist who doubles as an activist tweets that queer bodies need to be eliminated because they are a menace to the society. She is known to be a revolutionary who has fought for oppressed sex workers. She says this, especially in the northern part of Nigeria where pedophilia is rampant. Queer men rape young boys. Same as heterosexual men. There, pedophilia is legal for heterosexual men. Where young girls are married off to predatory old men, but she thinks queer men are the problem not the pedophilia. Even amongst feminists, for whom patriarchal oppression intersects, they believe that queer people are the menace that should be exterminated.
Do queer lives actually matter?