LONG READ: Homophobia is learned behaviour; check yourself

Over the past few years, debates on homosexuality have taken the forefront in mainstream media. As with every new movement or revolution, there will always be a vocal opposition to ideas that might bring about a change in status quo and especially things perceived as social and cultural norms. 

Barack Obama legalising gay marriages in the United States of America effectively sealed his fate as the antichrist and Satan of this world, but why really did he experience as much backlash especially when the activities of two men or women behind closed doors should not affect people?

Homophobia is defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion and hatred based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs about gay people and it encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or the transgendered. While in the USA, according to the 2010 Hate Crimes Statistics released by the FBI National Press Office, 19.3 percent of hate crimes across the United States “were motivated by a sexual orientation bias”, Nigeria decided to criminalise homosexuality and homosexual association by slapping a 14 year prison sentence on homosexuals and prison times of between five and ten years for friends of homosexuals. Times have changed as regards how homosexuals are seen and are regarded. In the past, homosexuality was regarded as a criminal offence in the United Kingdom.

Criminalising homosexuality especially in the United Kingdom meant that the ‘gays’ especially gay men either faced long jail sentences or went for therapy. In the early 1950s, some therapists developed their form of aversion therapy to cure homosexuality. The therapy involved showing patients pictures of naked men sometimes performing sexual acts while giving them electric shocks or chemotherapy to make them vomit usually up unto the point they were close to lifeless and then taking breaks with showing them pictures of naked women or heterosexual sex acts after which they would send them on dates with ‘nurses’. This therapy much like conditioning given to mice and dogs to reinforce good behaviour and to enforce a punishment for ‘bad’ behaviour however did not work on the men. Why? The human brain is complex. In its wiring, instinct can’t be unlearned or taught. Later in the 1980s, new research came out and homosexuality was not seen as a mental issue that it was seen as in earlier times – Homosexuality was just how they were. Just like a cat can’t be taught to be vegan or vegetarian, these men and women that were gay were gay because they were gay. They did not choose it.

In the 1950’s, Dr Evelyn Hooker an American psychologist most notable for her 1957 paper “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual” in which she administered several psychological tests to groups of self-identified male homosexuals and heterosexuals and studied 30 homosexual males and 30 heterosexual males. The two groups were matched for age, IQ, and education. None of the men was in therapy at the time of the study and Dr Hooker administered three projective tests, which measured their thought patterns, attitudes, and emotions and emotional intelligence. She made use of the Rorschach, in which people described what they could perceive in abstract ink blots, the Thematic Apperception Test as well as the Make-A-Picture-Story Test, where people were challenged to tell stories about different pictures. Unaware of each subject’s sexual orientation, two independent Rorschach experts evaluated the men’s overall adjustment using a 5-point scale. They classified two-thirds of the heterosexuals and two-thirds of the homosexuals in the three highest categories of adjustment. When asked to identify which Rorschach protocols were obtained from homosexuals, the experts could not distinguish respondents’ sexual orientation at a level better than chance. A third expert used the TAT and MAPS protocols to evaluate the psychological adjustment of the men. As with the Rorschach responses, the adjustment ratings of the homosexual and heterosexuals did not differ significantly.” Based on these findings, Dr Hooker tentatively suggested that homosexuals were as psychologically normal as heterosexuals. It took over twenty years for the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a mental illness as it had been listed as a sociopathic personality disorder. In 1975, the American Psychological Association publicly supported this move, stating that “homosexuality per se implied no impairment in judgment, reliability or general social and vocational capabilities

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Bisi Alimi as a Creative Arts student at the University of Lagos got ostracised when a campus magazine outed him in the University. Prior to the magazine article, Bisi had experienced much discrimination within the campus, including facing a disciplinary committee on the accusation of his gay status. While he graduated from the University, complications led to an almost denial of his certificate as the university deemed his morals as unacceptable for an alumnus of the University. Eventually in 2004, on Funmi Iyanda’s TV show on NTA’s New Dawn, Bisi Alimi came out to Nigeria as a gay man living in Nigeria – with HIV.

That one moment ended the creative control Funmi Iyanda had over her show, but also the end of sanity and life for Bisi in Nigeria. Ripe with death threats and physical violence, he decided to flee Nigeria. His family and friends disowned him and ejected him from his home. It also generated a new level of admiration from two different types of Nigerians – the humans that decided that a man could do what a man wanted to do and the closet gays. As a pacemaker in his own right, Bisi fled the country and was conferred British citizenship. Bisi is currently the Executive Director of The Bisi Alimi Foundation and a co-founder and director of Rainbow Intersection, as well as co-founder of The Kaleidoscope Trust for which he served as Director for Africa from 2012 to 2013. He has been a visiting lecturer at Freie Universitat Berlin and is also a lecturer at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

The perceived perversion that affects homosexuals doesn’t seem to have affected him.

But what makes homosexuality unnatural? Human nature? Religious institutions?

There is an extensive literature of same-sex intimacies and marriages in Africa. There are constant arguments about the natural order that requires a man be only with a woman as sex was made only for reproduction. All of these ‘theories’ put forward by self-righteous people have been debunked. While making assertions about the lottery chances of hellfire damnation being very high, people forget that religious institutions like other institutions are purely man-made and religion in itself was a political tool – to control the people, to own or get a share of the factors of production. The average attitude to religion, however, is to take the good bits, the bits that make people feel alright or better than the next person.

Northern Nigeria almost always prides itself in ‘modesty’ but in 2016, shipments of sex performance enhancing drugs were found there. This begs an important question – Who is doing the fucking? The average Joe berates the homosexual man that goes about his business and threatens him with a lynching or a thorough beating but will ignore the scripture and Qur’an that is against premarital sex.

Religious sentiments were all fun and games when they were the cause of little jokes and arguments until they became serious. A Senator in Nigeria got married to a little girl below the age of 18. But the same Senate sat down to draft a law banning homosexuality and same-sex marriages.

Bisi Alimi is not an isolated incidence – he is not even an incidence. People are gay and are also humans and also teach in the University while also playing the piano and loving to cook spaghetti and believe in a supreme spiritual being. Humans are multifaceted and sexual orientation should not define a person. With the culture shock that came with access to the internet and satellite TV, more Nigerians are open to the ‘normalcy’ of homosexuality.

Netflix series – Sense8; a science fiction series that is based on the premise that there is a superior race of humans that are all liked together and created by the makers of ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Babylon 5’ – was the tense series in which eight people could telepathically experience each other’s lives. It starred a couple of homosexual relationships and showed acceptance as well as what can be achieved when people can be tolerant and understanding of each other.

Homophobia is learned behaviour. It’s much like tribalism and microaggressions all around us. No little child grows up by himself thinking a particular tribe is of the devil except through external contact and indoctrination. Homosexuals are here to stay. They exist and scientific research has shown us that they are normal. Until we unlearn violence and intolerance for people that are fundamentally different from us, we will not move on as a people.  

We should all know that generalisations and stereotypes are lazy and are dangerous. Gay people are not mentally ill and are not possessed by the spirit of lust. Homosexuality is just a little little bit of what their personality and it’s perfectly fine.

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