There were so many ways I wanted to begin this article that would have painted me as unpatriotic. As much as I do not care for that, it is important that my motherland is not dragged in the dirt. My country can do much more for itself and the humans that originate from its bowels. Alas, we have antique bodies with outdated ideologies ruling and confidently telling us what they feel is best—when truly, their mentalities are outdated and in dire need of revamping.
This tired and stubborn mindset cuts across all facets of their leadership, which I find grossly ironic seeing as we try hard sometimes to be like the West. However when it comes to religion? We sure as hell (pun very intended) have refused to drop the religious strongholds that have us bound. I am irreligious so my bias will shine through—I will attempt to tuck the excesses in—so pardon me.
Nigeria is a very religious country, has been and looks like it will always be. Pre-colonial Nigeria was one with multiple individual religions that recognised a higher non-human power. These religions had their individual doctrines and teachings that formed their belief systems. In Northern Nigeria, there were religious practices that predated Islam; Maguzawa is one of such religions that was practised in remote areas. Eastern Nigerians practised Odinani—a religion with a monotheistic belief in Chukwu with Alusi (spirits) to handle different things. And in the West, they practised the Orisa religion which stands till today, more than other indigenous religions from pre-colonial Nigeria. Irrespective of the presence of adherents of these religions today, Christianity and Islam remain the most dominant religions.
These two (Christianity and Islam) have doctrines that guide their believers on their spiritual journey. And these same doctrines played a role in the banishment of the LGBTQIA+ community from places of worship. As a people indoctrinated into the Christian religion to a point of willful ignorance, these believers abide faithfully by the words of the bible and teachings that come from their religious leaders. Across our schools, households, salons, shopping malls, we echo these teachings and they become a compass for living in our society. By being so intricately woven into our society and lives, anything that runs remotely contrary to it is wrong and worthy of eternal damnation (unless sky daddy intervenes, of course!). Critical thought of the application of these teachings and how they affect the lives of other people is neglected.
This includes other religions, way of life, thought processes and opinions that are bold enough to question what the bible and its scholars teach. The average Nigerian now is one who can repeat what they are taught in their religious places of worship without any critical thought of the application of these teachings and how they affect the lives of their fellow people.
Let us consider me, a queer person born and raised in this country. The church teaches that anything outside of heterosexuality is wrong and is a sin which leads to the burning gut of hell’s fires. There is no consideration for the fact that (borrowing from the tale of creation) all beings whether queer or otherwise, were created by the one and only sky daddy. Somehow, when it comes to us queer folk, we either materialised from evil or chose to dabble in sin consciously—absolutely impossible to have been ‘created’ this way.
Now I am here, the child of a pastor with the rest of my nuclear family being very religious, and I attended a university established by a prominent church in Nigeria. In this school, I would attend church almost as much as I did classes. During my time here, I would see no room for forgiveness, inhumane rules and regulations and a Christian administration that protected abusers. I am yet to be pardoned fully by my mother, and my father does not know that I no longer attend church.
If my parents and brother get word of my queerness, I know it will be tagged as the cause of my walking away from the church. That is how the average believing Nigerian treats queerness in the face of religion. I am the only offspring who has stepped away from the church to navigate life with only my internal moral clock as a check on how I live. As a result, my view on life has widened and I have learned to accept new concepts previously rejected or unknown to who i used to be. One of such things is queerness in relation to sexual orientation precisely.
From an early age, I had begun to question sky daddy and all I was taught. This is because I was being taught one thing in church, and doing another at home. In church they said what I did was a taboo. Being a child (read malleable) living in my father’s house (read afraid), I kept the teachings of the church. Why? I simply did not want to go to hell. During the week, I felt and did things I was taught were bad, then I would pray it away on Sundays. I would ask God if I was created wrong and if I would ever get into heaven. Years later after much trauma, I walked away from the church. The pressure to attend Sunday service almost made me give in but it became obvious that I was truly done with the church. Eventually, I would learn that leaving the church is not the same as the church leaving you—the teachings linger. The dissonance is the stuff of anxiety and depression; worse if one is queer and a believer.
In our community, when religion steps into the chat, there are three main groups where we fall in. i) those who have come to terms with their sexuality in relation to spirituality and religion; ii) those who have totally dropped religion iii) those who are struggling and unsure of where to stand. I spoke to a member of the community about where she stands in terms of religion & being a Nigerian lesbian. In her words:
“I have seen how religion is misogynistic, supports abuse and other forms of injustices against women. So I won’t say I have reconciled my religion with my sexuality. I have however focused on spirituality and that works well with my sexuality. Religion is filled with dogma, hate, doctrines and judgement but spirituality has none of those. It is just you communicating with who or what you believe in. I am a Christian but I do not conform to the doctrines.”
One common trait amongst believers in the community is separating spirituality from religion. They focus on building a relationship with the higher powers, without the rules and regulations attached to religious structures. Does this mean that there are no bible-reading church-going queers? There are. My partner is one of such people and she said; “I just focus on God’s love for me which never fails. Not what His foot soldiers are saying. Getting to know Him for me; knowing that He made me how I am and He makes no mistakes also help.”
The presence of trauma that comes from practising christianity makes it hard for others. One of such people is my good friend Bee. They said this about religion in one of our many conversations on being queer in Nigeria.“One of the traumas that I am trying to not carry anymore is due to religious manipulation. The trauma that religion and religious families gives queer people is horrible. I have not come out to my parents. The thought of that day gives me fever and makes me doubt their care for me. For example, when my mom says ‘I love you‘, I don’t receive it with joy neither do I trust it. That is something common to queer people all over the world I am sure. These are people who say Jesus died for you and the second you come out as who you were born as [queer], they just switch up on you. So we are left wondering…what was the love about? I have not stepped foot in a church.”
This is the point where I want to conclude: the glaring contradiction between the message of the church and the behaviours of the people who make up the church. The church prides itself as a people serving a God literally defined in the bible as love. Yet, when faced with different and opposing views, they forget their teachings, following up with hatred, intolerance and discrimination.
As human beings with the same form and biological makeup, it confuses me how being queer disqualifies us as products of the creator. We cannot make ourselves, we cannot determine who we will be before we come into the world. We can only take what we get and make it work as best as we can. Allowing segregation between people based on religious beliefs is unfair and inhumane. Like Bee said, what was the love about? Using the name of religion to hurt, discriminate and sometimes kill queer people for being naturally different?
Where is the love?
Uyoyo is a non-binary queer person from Nigeria who writes as a coping mechanism while navigating life. Their love for writing was borne from years of reading tales woven about lives both real, and fiction. They love art, listening to music, people and bird watching; and large bodies of water calm them. They are a community paralegal in their country and a part of ELLA Nigeria team.