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A diary of 'gays' in Nigeria

in NIGERIA, 20/04/2012

The African society views same-sex relationships as repulsive. Yet in Nigeria, homosexuals live among us. A few hide their status from the world's prying eyes, while the majority however do not care. Some of them take Ruth Olurounbi through their worlds, insisting that they have been unfairly judged and misunderstood. Her report:

TEMITOPE Ali (not real name), became a lesbian at age 15 during her secondary school days at a girls only boarding school. She was sent to the boarding school because 'it was the in thing back then', she said. Besides, a boarding school was an avenue for self discipline and self development in the arts of felinity, among others.

Ali said, looking back, being a lesbian was something she couldn't have imagined herself being, considering that she was from a devoted Muslim home which frowns against same sex relationships. “In fact, having heterosexual sex before marriage is something that is strictly frowned on my religion. So, becoming a lesbian is something that I would never have dreamt of. Strangely, I am happy being a lesbian although a lot of you may not approve,” she said.

Asked if her family knew about her sexual preference, she said no but that her friends knew about it. “You see, my family is one that forbids a lot of things. A woman is expected to cover her hair; it is an abomination to expose your body; it is even more ungodly to have sex outside of marriage. If I come out to tell them that I am a lesbian, it will be very disappointing to them. They may go as far as cutting me out of their lives,” she added.

Now, she is 40 years old and lives in Abuja with a man she doesn't sleep with. She explained that it was an arrangement that was kept a secret from people. The man, she said, was free to do anything he wanted to do.

Narrat-ing how she became a lesbian, Ali said that back then, because she was a bookworm, her classmates picked on her. The seniors, according to her, did not help matters as some of them found a reason to detest her. So, when the senior prefect offered to help shield her from the attacks, a year after her stay on the campus, she was elated.

The excitement was short-lived. “My school mother moved me to her corner and I was sleeping on the top bunk of the bed. Every night, the house captain, who was her friend, was always coming to sleep at her place. I noticed that after sometime, some strange sounds would start to come from the lower bunk and I would be scared. But after a while, one afternoon, I understood what was going on,” she explained.

Ali said she asked a friend about what was going on with her school mother. The friend introduced her to a lesbian classmate for a practical explanation. "Although uncomfortable at the beginning, I was introduced to the world of lesbianism that afternoon at the age of 15 and contrary to what I had heard, it was a pleasant experience. You know, at age 15, you could easily pass me on as an 18-year-old,” she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

Had she remained a lesbian since then? No, she said. She had had relationships with men but said she enjoyed being a lesbian more "because a woman knows how to make love better than a man.”

Although she admitted that being a lesbian was against the norms of the society she lived in, she said that being a lesbian was a part she had chosen for herself, saying there was nothing wrong with her sexual orientation.

She only would “want that the Nigerian society would be a bit more open-minded when it comes to varying sexual orientations.”

In the case of Mrs Patricia Franklin, being a lesbian was a choice she didn’t make lightly, she told the Nigerian Tribune. Sitting in her expansive living room in an Ikoyi mansion in Lagos, Mrs Franklin confessed that she had everything she could dream of, “except for her husband’s attention.” Consequently, a friend introduced her to a system - that is, employing female sex workers to satisfy her sexual needs.

Mrs Franklin didn’t appreciate being judged on her lesbianism but concluded that “those judges don’t understand the fulfilment and satisfaction that comes with making love with a woman. Plus there is a minimal worry of infections.” When asked if she really didn't have any regret being a lesbian, she was silent.

Some other homosexuals who spoke to the Nigerian Tribune said they were engaged in lesbianism for the fun of it. Some said it was initially to spite the men before it eventually became a lifestyle.

If being a lesbian was to spite the men, what about the gays? The Nigerian Tribune learnt of two men who were expelled from an organisation on the account that they were caught having sex on the organisation’s premises (and have been living as live in partners since after that). On getting there, one of the men was openly hostile, while the other was friendly.

One of the men, who would not want their names in print, said he knew that something was different about him as a teenager. He said he was always attracted to men but could not admit it until he met a friend while he was living abroad. The friend he said, “helped me overcome my fears and since then, I have been at peace with myself.”

The men in their own defence said that for them, sex was more easily attainable as against being with “women who often complain that they are not in the mood.” They added that by their peculiar nature, they have the “amazing ability to connect with women on a deeper level. We gays understand women better than the straight ones. We are able to get close to them,” a gay man who gave his name as Adeyemi said.

Lesbians on a social network, 2go gave varied reasons for being lesbians. Their reasons ranged from “because you can't choke on a vagina,” to “because the giggle or laugh of a girl who is in love with you is the most beautiful song in the universe.” Others said they never had to worry about getting pregnant, while a girl who gave her name as Rita said a “girlfriend knows exactly how you feel when you say you have PMS (premenstrual syndrome), there is really no need to explain. And you understand how hard it is to lose weight around the butt and thighs and still have lots and lots of sex, all the time!”

In spite of their varied reasons for being “who they are”, the several homosexuals who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune desired the world to stop looking at them as aliens. “We are constantly being abused and live in constant fear of discrimination and rejection from our immediate environment. Our families regard us as inhuman for those of us who are brave enough to come out to them.

Those who are not are constantly living in fear of persecution and even death, especially those who are living in the North where Sharia law permits that gay people be stoned to death,” a man who gave his name as Toby said.

Dr Obiowu, a self-confessed lesbian, living abroad, spoke to journalists on behalf of Nigerians in diaspora against anti-sex laws she stagged a protest against the Senate’s ban on same-sex marriage in Nigeria. She described the move to outlaw same sex marriage as a gross violation of their fundamental human right, saying lesbians and gays deserved to be allowed to live their lives since Nigeria is a secular state. Dr Obiowu concluded that “fundamental human rights of sexual minorities are violated because of criminalisation of same sex marriage.”

Last year, the Nigerian Senate passed the anti-gay marriage bill which criminalises gay union and presents 10 years imprisonment for offenders. The bill called for five years imprisonment for anyone who undergoes, “performs, witnesses, aids or abets” a same-sex marriage, while prohibiting any display of a “same-sex amorous relationship” and adoption of children by gays or lesbians.

The approved bill made Nigeria the second country in Africa to criminalise such unions, with Uganda being the first to amend its constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2005.

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