|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
|Apinda Mpako, Pan Africa ILGA|
Bisi Alimi considers how his mom and dad, and his friends’ families, reacted to the news that their children are gay
The word ‘homophobia’ has become synonymous with both ‘bigotry’ and ‘hate’. But homophobia is a complex beast and it takes a different turn when the person inflicting its pain is someone very close and even more complicated when that homophobia is expressed in the name of love. Yes you heard me right.
I came to this realization on 26 December when I had some friends over to my house for a post-Christmas party. While I was in the kitchen with one of them, we got talking about the challenges of being gay and coming out to our families.
My friend told me that he questions the whole notion of homophobia in the context of family. He argues that it’s possible a father or mother may be homophobic because of their love for their child.
Prior to this conversation, I had the opportunity of meeting one of Nigeria most prolific gay bloggers who told me how his mom reacted when he came out as gay. He told me his coming out destroyed the relationship he had with her. They never made up till she died.
To him, this was a painful experience but at the same time, it helped him to move on, knowing he can never be the child his mother wanted. I remembered him saying: ‘The day I came out was the day the son of my mother died, it was also the day I found myself.’
Many of us have argued that coming out should be a component of our lives as LGBT people. We believe this provides the succor we need from self-hating and deceit. However I have listened to others saying coming out to families will be the last thing they would do, as it would destroy the joy and happiness they share with their families and most importantly, they share with their mother.
So when my other friend took me on the journey of discovering ‘love-based homophobia’ I found it interesting and challenging at the same time.
Personally for me, when I got a call from my dad four years ago asking if I have finally decided to get married and have children, I was outraged. This is my father that saw my coming out video. He knew very well that I am gay.
Before he dropped the phone that day he told me never to call him again unless I have agreed to find myself a wife or agree to marry the lady he found for me. That was the last time I spoke with him, as I am sure nothing will change.
However, my friend questioned the intention behind my father’s wish for me to be married and have kids, and wonder if I have ever looked at it from the point of view of love instead of hate. He wanted to know if my father had accepted me and demanded that I marry a man, would I have considered it hate?
Parents want what they think is best for their children and in most cases they over-protect those children by lovingly forcing their views on them.
Parents giving their children away in forced marriages will argue they are doing it in love. The same argument will go for parents promoting child marriage.
When we talk about ‘family homophobia’, it is important to examine the issue in the context of society. In many parts of the world, homosexuality is still seen as a disgrace, evil and even a crime, it would be frightful to have a child who is gay.
In this case the confrontation from parents could be seen in the context of worry and concern instead of hate or homophobia. I remember the first my mother’s first thought when I came out was ‘what will our neighbors say?’. The desire to protect and hide at the same time can give room to anger and hate.
The conflict of ‘love-homophobia’ creates has led many LGBT people to totally disconnect from their families and loved ones. I vaguely remembered a friend who told me he could never come out to his mother because that will kill her.
The fact we think that our coming out will have such adverse effect on someone shows the amount of love that person has for us. But I do understand how hard it could be being rejected because of something we can’t help. I can still remember the pain and I suffered from this and bear my own emotional scar from that experience.
When my friend left, I took the time to think about my relationship with my family. I realized that in as much as I want to see their reaction to my coming out in such a positive light I just wanted to justifiable.
But I also remembered that, as a gay man myself, it took me a long time to accept myself. So it’s unfair to expect my loved ones to call a party at my coming out.
Despite that, we can all expect that, with the love they have, your family should be able to go on that journey with you and transform their anger and disappointment to love.
As we start the New Year, some people will be going through very difficult times. They will have used the period to do their coming out and perhaps lost that wonderful love and connection they have with their families. However to many others, coming out would have turned out to be a fairytale.
Whatever turn your coming out took during the holiday season, I will ask that you take time and think ‘was there love in that homophobia’? Possibly you might find the reason why your family loves you so much that it can feel as if they hate who you are.
Bisi Alimi is a human rights campaigner who started his work in Nigeria in the late 90s before fleeing to the UK where he was granted asylum in 2008. He is a co-founder of the LGBT Kaleidoscope Trust where he serves as the director for Africa. He is also the convener of the Migrant African MSM Sexual Health Project, and project seeking to work with the African MSM community in the UK and Europe.