Picture this: a friendship of 22 years dissolves into, “Just to be safe, I will sleep in the parlour.”
Just minutes prior, Nana had come out as a lesbian to her lifelong best friend. There was some retrospective connecting of dots from over the years. The furtive protection of chats and insistence on privacy makes sense. The evasions when conversation about boys come up. It all adds up.
There is a quiet acceptance, “this doesn’t change anything, you are still my friend your sexual orientation doesn’t change that.” Then the light of day vacates to make room for the shroud of nighttime and phobia – too strong even for the wall of friendship to contain – surfaces.
“Just to be safe, I will sleep in the parlour,” her friend says. To be safe from who? She, the same friend who had shared and shared like any real friend will in the 2 plus decades they have known – withholding only the information about her sexuality. To be safe from what? Her sexuality – the very same one Nana had kept from her in all the time they have known. Her friend is afraid to sleep in the same bed as her like they always have because suddenly she fears she will come on to her now that she has come out of the closet.
This is one person’s story. It is also the story of many LGBT+ people.
Ties – familial or platonic – that have been unaffected for years of acquaintance by one’s sexuality will be suddenly severed when that hitherto inconsequential aspect of your humanity eventually comes to light.
In this article we published in April, we outlaid how social ostracism is weaponised against LGBT+ people for existing in a way that seems divergent – and thus an aberration the majority cannot stand – and must be punished. We also outlaid Toby’s self-tested notion of finding and building one’s chosen family that although not biological will serve the function of one and even soothe the hurt of the former. It is a notion that is entrenched in all outcast human groups.
#PrideMonth: YNaija Non-Binary Chat
We are vulnerable apart, together we are stronger.
As part of YNaija’s special project celebrating LGBT Pride this month we sat in conversation with Toby Alao-Thomas, project manager and human rights activist based in Lagos, to discuss the subject of building one’s chosen family that will nourish you as an LGBT+ person.
Where the data exists – for instance the UK, it’s been shown that LGBT+ people make up almost a quarter of the nation’s homeless population according to the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT.) An article in Global Citizen from 2018 maintains that’s almost 80% of homeless LGBT+ say that coming out to their parents was the main reason they lost their homes. That is on housing alone.
While similar data may elude Nigeria for now, the unique problems of the LGBT+ are almost universal.
For the most part, silence is the price LGBT+ Nigerians pay to hold on to social stability. And when that bubble of silence unintendedly bursts, the bond of family and friends is tested and can be very easily severed.
This hanging fear – of being at every time just one error away from getting outed and losing family and friends – can be a lifelong companion if one is able to employ silence well enough to escape being outed. It can also be temporary where you either of your own accord choose to face it and come out to your family or get outed without your consent and are forced to face it.
A carefully chosen family may not entirely replace a blood family, but having one can fill the space and put a balm on the hurt of losing one.
If you see the merit in having this uncomplicated and wholesome bond that doesn’t demand of you to shrink yourself, Toby shared the key ingredients every queer person needs to build their own supportive family, in an almost one-hour-long conversation – the full version of which you can watch here.
1. Introspect: To know yourself is to know your specific needs. Once you know what you need, the path becomes clear who the people you choose must be. Listen to your heart.
2. Perseverance: As shattering as this realisation may be to you, every family member, friend or acquaintance who chooses every day to stand in your corner in all ramifications is inadvertently an ally. Being an ally – not entirely unlike being a queer person – in Nigeria is not a cake walk.
Nigeria’s perhaps most comprehensive anti-gay legislation, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) has provisions targeting allies – five years imprisonment for anyone who, “performs, witnesses, aids, or abets.” The violent homophobia of Nigeria leaves no one untouched.
This is why you need people who are persevering because they won’t just be catching stray bullets from that rabid irrational hatred, they will also be intercepting sniper bullets!
3. A willingness to share: Unlike with your blood family, anyone you choose to be part of your chosen family has to be someone you have an understanding will willingly share themselves to match your decision to share yourself with them.
It is an imperative of trust. To know that someone you trust with everything about yourself isn’t withholding bits of themselves from you.
4. Loyalty: You need loyalty from your chosen family, same as your blood family, but it is all the more imperative from your chosen family because you, rather than some random computation or divine design, chose them.
5. Love: Because love is fortifying, you need to choose people who love you and are willing to commit to choosing every day to love you as you are. You deserve to know a pure love that doesn’t see you first as an aberration that needs to be fixed and a human being later.
Above all, remain aware that not unlike your blood family or any human being at all, your chosen family may disappoint you. Do the math, cut them off or chart the course of healing till forgiveness happens. There is no one way to do life, seek as many do-overs as you feel you need.