It is an open secret that the laws against same-sex relationships notwithstanding LGBT+ people find ways to love in Nigeria. There is a secret however that is just a secret, it is not open nor closed either, just a festering wound that is out of sight to the general public but remains aching for its bearers and unspoken for fear it will be met with scorn if spoken of publicly – abuse in same-sex relationships.
A tweet casually shared in response to an original tweet asking gay men to recount their experience with hands-free orgasm – a rare and deeply satisfying outcome for some gay men, mentioned how someone had this rare experience albeit marred because their partner basically raped them.
He had asked his partner to stop when it began getting unbearably painful and his partner responded by pinning him down and continuing until he reached his climax. This is a too common story in the queer community.
Tolu* (24, F) had her first intimate partner sexual violence experience 2 years ago. She was in a committed relationship that promised love but was very economical with the loving bit. She knew everything was wrong with her partner’s insistence on sex even after she repeatedly said no, she also knows she could have been more insistent on her no; even raised hell if she had to, but their living arrangement in a student lounge off University of Ibadan campus meant choosing caution over self. She chose betraying her body to minimize the damage the situation could have done the both of them.
“My then-girlfriend was already marked as a potential lesbian because she is masculine-presenting, our ‘friendship’ was a mystery to everyone because I was the ‘it’ girl who had chosen to be friends with the girl no one wanted to be friends with because she is likely a lesbian. When she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer to her advances that night because in her words, “being tired is no excuse to deny our lover love” I just let her have her way. The alternative was to raise hell at minutes to midnight, out her and me in the process and God alone knows where that would have ended for the both of us.”
She chose silence to protect her abuser and herself.
As a community, the LGBT+ face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization, which puts them at greater risk for sexual assault. The LGBT+ also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, which can often take the form of sexual assault. Yet, as a community, the LGBT+ rarely talk about how sexual violence affects them for fear it will be met with, “I told you so,” because many of the people in the lives of LGBT+ people are homophobic.
Ahmad* (27, M) talked about it because he believes silence is the burden our parents bore so we don’t have to. He regrets it to this day.
“I was single when it happened. I attended a house party with a friend and got very drunk because I was mixing alcohols, I didn’t know back then that it is a recipe for drunken disaster. I passed out soon enough, only to wake up to a warm and slimy feeling around my groin, someone was giving me an unsolicited and nonconsensual blow job. Perhaps because I had also been smoking weed before I passed out from the alcohol, it felt divine, but I felt violated afterwards and will become debilitatingly anxious each time I run into the person after that.”
“I didn’t tell anyone this happened until 2 months later when I met someone I really like and he got roped into my circle, which meant he got to meet my abuser who I couldn’t shake off because he was also a colleague. I told my then-lover about this encounter so he wouldn’t read something else into my visceral reaction to seeing this colleague. He read something else into my confession, that I am trying to dictate how he interacts with people in my circle. We didn’t recover from that even though we survived it for a toxic 2 years.”
The ways in which society both hypersexualizes LGBT+ people and stigmatizes LGBT+ relationships can lead to intimate partner violence that stems from internalized homophobia and shame.
A US-specific survey by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence found that among LGB people:
- 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35 % of straight women
- 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of straight men
- 46% of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians
- 22% of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9% of straight women
- 40% of gay men and 47% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21% of straight men.
The number, while unavailable for Nigeria, could be higher. Even for cis-heterosexual relationships that enjoy the privilege of State recognition, many victims don’t get the recourse they deserve from the state because intimate partner violence is dismissed as a lover’s row that can and should be treated privately.
But a state that is okay with violence on anyone, gay or straight, is only opening itself up for unfettered violence. And Nigeria is a case study per excellence.
*Names have been changed for anonymity.