Dear Gay Friend
So Recently Traumatised
By An Insensitive Law
Permit me a couple of indulgences before I proceed. First, I use the term “gay” generically, mindful of the fact that this term is reserved specifically for that classifications of sexuality known as male homosexuality. However, throughout the course of this writing, allow me to use the word “gay” as a placeholder—for the avoidance of circumlocutory language—for that variety of individuals that includes lesbians, the bi-sexual, as well as transgendered persons—and who knows—asexual and such other category unfathomable by the primitive mind. Second, I have also used the word “friends” in the loosest connotation of that familiar word. Prior to this debacle of legislative authority, I have had very minimal contact with members of the gay community—such contact being almost always from afar, observatory and polite. I cannot claim to have experienced the social stigma you confront, or the psyche of being an external member of your own society. I can claim, however, an affinity in this respect: several times in my own life, I have faced the onslaught of majority decision-making, and stood my ground against the suppression of the minority. I therefore claim a kinship with your present plight. More fortunately, I have had cause, in the last few months to develop an informal acquaintance with Bisi Alimi, whom I respect for his moral courage in being able to speak out, virtually alone, in the face of social ostracisation, and whose name will continue to crop up as long as this debate goes on in Nigeria. I have also been privileged, in the last few days, to interact directly with several members of the gay community as a direct consequence of my stance on the anti-gay legislation wantonly passed by Nigeria’s legislature.
Having then spoken out on the subject once, and received corresponding accolades and censure, why do I now write this letter to you? Two reasons—one, because, there can’t be too much discussion on the existence of an injustice, and two, because, I believe that someone, a Nigerian, has to offer apologies to you for the misguided reasoning of this generation. My first response on this issue was, I believe, a rational discussion aimed at the reasonable people in the Nigerian society. However, this issue is not an exercise in theory—it touches your lives, your real, flesh and blood, lives. I’m afraid our internet comments and barstool discussions rarely take cognizance of this fact—as we analyze the pros and cons of whether you deserve to go to jail or not as dispassionately as we examine a central bank monetary policy: should Nigeria have a N5,000 note or not? This writing is not a rational discussion seeking premises and building conclusions—I have done that already—this is an emotive response, acknowledging your anxiety and your uncertainty in the face of social persecution. This is a contrite testament. And now, I confess a selfish reason for writing: this letter is not as important to you as it is for me and my errant generation—a documented testament for latter generations, that in the face of communal disinterest, some of us were able to stand firm against this new face of fascism.
Apologies: The Legislature
The first beneficiary of this vicarious atonement is, of course, the self-glorifying legislature whose major goal in criminalizing homosexual relationships is to deflect social attention away from their own ineptitude and focus it on your variance, your difference, instead. You have to understand the crassness of the legislature for you to accept my apology on their behalf. These are a group of people whose generic motto is “We first, the people later” and who consistently prove that their major interest is in the perpetuation of their own gratifications and the repression of social progress. In a sane society, they will be driven out on the streets and flogged with whips, one after the other. But Nigeria is not a sane society. Even more, these politicians have not fed fat on the flesh of Nigerians by chance alone—they understand, calculatedly, the Nigerian psyche. The Nigerian psyche is easily distracted by inconsequential drama, instantly attracted to grand political gestures lacking in substance or principle. The politicians understand, and manipulate, the Nigerian psyche of forgetfulness—forgetfulness by Nigerians that this same legislature, suddenly inspired to reshape public morality, still consumes a substantial part of the national budget. They know that Nigerians, like the fabled entrapment of monkeys, will not let go of the handful of nuts they can grasp from through the bottleneck, content to sit and wait for death, forfeiting freedom for a desperate taste of the murderous bait.
Apologies: The Religious Ones
Next, let me apologise on behalf of the religious—both the bigots and the seemingly reasonable. The former simply wants your head on a platter and the latter wants to see you “converted”—by jail if necessary. Both of these, however, equally share the mantra that “homosexuality is a sin”, one that must be wiped out, conveniently forgetting the fundamental right of man to sin. But if you must sin, they prefer that you fornicate, instead, like “normal” people on the hilarious theory that God can only comprehend consensual sex between an unmarried man and woman, but not consensual intercourse between members of the same sexes. These morally upright Nigerians are, of course, the modern day adherents of those two imported religions that have laid claim to the African inheritance: Christianity and Islam.
Ironically, the fundamental theses of these religions—Salvation and Submission—are woefully misunderstood by these African adopters; these preachers lack true knowledge of the spiritual philosophies they supposedly imbibe. And thus, the Christians have substituted the doctrine of Salvation of the sinner for that of Persecution of the sinner, and the Muslims, forgetting their claim that Allah wills all, would not submit to the will of Allah regarding the existence of the minority, but would rather rework the will of Allah, fashioning it after the mortal interpretation of what this will is. The death of my son is the will of Allah, they say—but not so the sexual orientation of a fellow human being.
But beyond the spiritual ignorance of our scriptural jingoist, which is pitiful, is their historical forgetfulness, which is annoying. They have forgotten the facts of history: forgotten that their religions, now dominant, were once minorities, victims of persecution and oppression by the pagan majority of the societies they were birthed in. Common sense suggests that the person who has experienced a difficulty is more sympathetic to the travails of a new sufferer—but alas, our society turns common sense on its head and the former lecturer now oppresses ASUU, the former labour leader is now a dictator to labour unions, and the previously oppressed minority—now the majority—gladly suppresses other minorities, supposedly in the name of God. And there is more to be learnt from history: the growth of Christianity through supposed heresies: the papacy, divorce, female preachers, female dressing, abortion, tithing, definition of the Sabbath—an impressing list of issues that have made the church a haven for variant, even opposing, beliefs.
And this forgetfulness showcases the inherent hypocrisy of these sudden enforcers of God’s will on earth—for they have found a new sin, one that, by default, they cannot be guilty of. “Allah be praised, Halleluyah! I might be an adulterer and a cheat, but thank God, I’m not gay!” Secure in their knowledge of immunity from this particular “sin”, they proceed to make it a criminal offence, complete with jail terms and trials, misguidedly securing their admission to heaven by the persecution of a specific “sin” committed by a specific number of their fellow-men. They happily resurrect long-discarded passages of their scriptures and stamp it across their action as a validity of their holiness. Forget about Salvation and Submission, this is Hypocrisy and Persecution.
Apologies: The Activists
And now, let me apologise on behalf of the mute social reformers and activists—those vanguards of truth and justice who have suddenly found some other activity to occupy their attention in the face of the grossest miscarriage of justice since the annulment of the June 12 election in 1993. These activists, neither hampered by political selfishness nor religious fervor, unfortunately, have demonstrated an indifference to the ideals they grandstand—enjoying the present attention of the gallery, afraid to sacrifice their democratic popularity. We are not gay, they reason, it is not our problem, and hence they substitute circumstance for principle. They set aside the fact that the law is in the name of Nigerians, the legislature a seeming representation of Nigerians. They forget—or ignore—that the underlying principle breached by the action of the legislature is the same as that of Amaechi’s stolen election at the governor’s forum. Just as one does not have to be a supporter of the beleaguered governor to voice against the injustice perpetuated against him by the president’s cronies, one does not have to be a gay person to fight against a social injustice perpetuated by the general public. These activists will watch an accused person burn to death in the market rather than rescue him from the mob. You see, it takes a strong person to fight against public opinion. Forgive them, for they don’t have that strength.
The Social Ridicule
And here is the ridicule for the world to see: a society with a police force still struggling to combat dangerous crimes is willing and eager to add more burdens to the travails of the police. This society is now willing to have policemen spend hours and resources hunting down and arresting homosexuals, parade them through the court system, waste hours of judicial time, convicting and sentencing gay people, and then clog the prison system—not with hardened criminals, but with gay doctors, gay writers, gay musicians, gay activists. Nigeria, Gulag Archipelago of Homosexuals!
But what drives the social psyche on this issue? Some sort of international recognition at a dubious first? Nigeria, the “first” African country to treat the gay issue seriously? Fighting against an imaginary social menace, or responding locally to some international crisis? This is the work of a social psychologist and beyond my scope. However, one thing is clear: this offers only some temporary amusement for the country, and the usual pattern of forgetful existence will soon set in. Today’s anti-gay hullabaloo will be forgotten in the daily struggle to place food on their tables.
Your Struggle Begins
And this is where you should begin to gather your own strength and pursue the silver lining in this ridiculous situation. You have not asked for rights before, you have not begged to be adopted into mainstream society, you have always maintained your small but distinct corner. But now, society itself has precipitated a discussion on your rights. Now, we can sit down and sort what belongs to you and what doesn’t. This law, as dismal as it makes your circumstances seem, is a blessing. It forces you to fight—and fight you must. And this is the hardest part of this epistle: this call to protest.
Study the proposed law and ignore its provisions, one after the other. Your right to civil disobedience in the face of persecution is intact. You must come out in the open and force the ostrich head of this society to look you in the face. This will be hard for you and definitely painful—but freedom is rarely handed on a dish. Go to jail, if you must—but never permit yourself to be grounded in your own land. Let those who advocate—in ignorant summation—that homosexuality is the western world’s problem—simply because the homosexuals in the west have been more forthright about their existence—know that your silence is not to be confused with guilt, your invisibility not to be confused with non-existence. And so let them drive you into jail by the thousands, let them enjoy the spectacle of the arrest and trial of gays and their activists—let the Nigerian Gulag get populated, the same has happened in history: from Nero to Hitler.
And that is what history teaches: even if you fail now. History has always proven that oppressors never last, and eventually, all oppressive policy will fail. Nature works towards freedom and equality, it is man that makes cages and wields power over others. You, my gay friend, go on and work on yourself—be as human as you can be, and keep aiming higher within and without this society. Borrow a lesson from the history of Christianity: all it took for that religion to transform from an oppressed and persecuted cult and become the international religion of the Roman Empire was the membership of the Emperor’s mother. Someday, surely, Nigeria’s blind majority would be faced with the inescapable conclusion that the powerful members of their society, who dictate political and economic policy, are, in fact, gay. And therein lies your victory.
Mention or follow @ayosogunro on twitter for direct interaction.