By Damilola Aremo
A few months ago, someone had asked a question on Twitter. It was one of those question-type tweets that eventually go viral because their intention is to garner engagements by triggering responses from the readers, many of whom are eager to share about those experiences. I had seen it the first time because someone on my TL had quoted it with a response.
“How did you meet your partner?” the tweet read.
I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. In fact, I was resentful about love and dating because much of my dating life up until that time had been coloured by a good number of ‘situationships’ — dating experiences that cannot be fully qualified as dating, but are also way higher than friendships on the scale of relationships, if relationships could be measured in that way. They are the kind of relationships where no one can fully lay a claim on the other person as a partner, but who are somehow entitled to your time, your energy, and, in some cases, your body.
So I ignored the tweet.
Then it appeared on my timeline a second time, and I read a few responses. Mushy tweets, all of them. And, like the first time, I ignored again. But as many of those kinds of tweets do, it got on my timeline again, and again, and again.
One of those times, the last time before I finally responded, it reminded me of R. And although, at the time, we weren’t talking as much as we used to — I had, in fear of what we both had (what I sensed was brewing in between us, afraid of where the relationship was heading and my role in it), chickened out, requested for some time to get myself together — I thought of him.
I met R in the unlikeliest of places, I eventually tweeted in response to that pesky tweet. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, and two books, gifts from the publisher to me — an online book reviewer — had arrived Nigeria. I had just finished the first one, the one I was most interested in — “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell.
As is my usual practice after reading a book, I scrolled through the review section on Goodreads to read what other book readers and reviewers thought about it, to enjoy the pushback, the questions, the critique. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about Rob Bell knows that you don’t get those from a book review. You get one of two things: overly negative reviews and comments about how he’s a heretic who will burn in hell, obviously from people who don’t appreciate most of his doctrinal persuasions; and ecstatic fans in whose sight Bell and his book can do no wrong. As expected, they were there. Then…R.W.
I don’t know if it was the name or the incredibly thoughtful review or the alignment of sentences, or the language, or mere curiosity, but I clicked on the profile. I wanted to know more, to read more from this person, to see who this person was.
What I saw fascinated me — the books we had in common, the amount of books he had read and reviewed on his page. In a few days, I had gotten his email address and from there we moved to texting (barring the enormous international text rates), to WhatsApp text and, eventually, to WhatsApp calls.
It didn’t take long before the ‘L’ word — Love — came up, and with it the inevitable discussion about long distance…love?
Before R, however, and barely a few months after coming out to myself and a few friends, there was B, S, M, and thereafter, O. It didn’t stop at R. After him there has been D, and K. The one thread that connects almost all these men, asides what I felt for them — how I felt for them — was the distance between us. M and B live in the United States. R lives in Canada. K lives in South Africa. O was in Ghana during our friendship/talking stage, and I can go on and on and on.
Two of my all-time favourite writers, thinkers, and authors, Garth Greenwell and Brandon Taylor, introduced me to the concept of Queer Aesthetics. Taylor describes it as the expressions of Queerness that are not academic or theoretical in nature, but which come out of the easy mess of everyday [queer] life. It’s a thread that runs through not just queer life, but queer stories — queer movies, queer fiction, queer art. It’s what makes queer art so relatable — that someone who has never stepped foot on your continent, who doesn’t know who you are, who doesn’t know that lives and experiences similar to yours exist, can make art — a definitive look at an aspect of queer life — and that it will speak to you wherever you are.
To anyone who might have seen this — getting involved with R in Canada and M in US, for example — and the struggle of having to navigate the meaning of that for us, having to build our lives around the hopes of meeting one day, they all seem random. I too never connected much of these experiences with these men, the uniformity of how all of them seemed to occur, until much later, after deepening my thinking about queerness and the queer experience, but mostly after being actively involved in queer life.
The nature of queerness, of queer life, predisposes us — queer people — to a certain kind of solidarity, cultural affinity, shared experience that is often missing in straight life.
“This is a queer beatitude,” Taylor says in a podcast. “Those moments in our lives — those constructions of thought, or expressions or feeling which are a direct result of and which seem entirely predicated on our queerness. Those are our beatitudes.” That was when it started to make sense to me, all of it. More than that, however, it was also the time I began to look out for those elements — many of them subtle — that define, undergird, describe, and clarify the scope of queer life — especially queer life in the 21st century. When, for instance, in Pamela Adie’s movie, Ife, Adaora (acted by Cindy Amadi) asks Ife (acted by Uzoamaka Anuinoh), “Is it too soon to say I might be in love with you?”, and Ife responds “We’re lesbians. This is the perfect time”. That’s an aesthetic, a beatitude, of queer love.
I remember, and very vividly too, trying so hard to stay awake to talk to M because we had fixed a call for 2AM Nigerian time — 6pm his time. That morning, he took me on a virtual tour of his house — showed me the comfortable apartment he calls home. “I wish you were here,” he had said.
These moments, whenever I run into them these days — an American ranting (or joking) about falling in love with someone in a state that’s a long drive (or flight) away, or a Lagosian tweeting about falling in love with someone who lives in Kano — remind me of the aesthetic that seems to undergird how many of us encounter queer love these days regardless of whether or not our city or state or country legally allows for expressions of queerness.
This is not to say that long-distance relationships are exclusively a feature of the queer life — that it is something that is only accessible to queer people. Not that – just last month my cis-heterosexual friend travelled over 700km from Lagos to see his girlfriend who lives in the South-South region of Nigeria. It’s that queerness, queer loving, the queer life, especially in the 21st century creates a space that allows long-distance relationships to not only happen but thrive as well.
So queer love is not less love because it happens over Twitter, over Skype, or over Facetime. It is that queer life and love, a different kind of living and loving offers an expansive way of loving.
R was polyamorous when we met and is now in a monogamous relationship. M got into a relationship with someone who lives in Mexico, but is making plans to migrate; they visit each other regularly. I hear O is in a long-distance relationship too.
My phone beeps. It’s R. “I don’t have a number for delivery, man I love you,” the text reads. R wants to send me a hand-written letter. I love the idea of it. I smile.
Queer people can and should re-imagine love in our own context. Queer people have never been restricted by law, by homophobia, by expectations, by stereotypes, or by society. We cannot also be bound by location.
LOVE — in Canada, the UK, or on Lagos mainland — is LOVE.