There is a marked increase of people coming out globally. This is not a surprise considering the rise in awareness of queer existence and lives around the world. Across social media platforms, there is a tale about someone coming out to their family. Some of these coming out stories are not favourable as they end in a need for financial aid. Despite the growth in this awareness, some people have it better than others when it comes to leaving the closet.
I am 32, working in a sensitive sector, out to some and hidden to the majority; this is a necessity for survival. In my case, although my life is currently not directly at risk, every other thing that makes my life is. I have contemplated coming out to my family so many times, but after weighing what I stand to gain versus lose? The latter is more than I can bear so I remain in my closet, with the door open at least. This is the case for a lot of us in Nigeria who have to depend on an abusive system for sustenance as adults. Our closets not only come in handy, but they also become a necessity.
Being in the community and living authentically is never a competition; however, we must acknowledge that some groups have it easier than others. For those whose gender expression does not match their assigned sex, there is more work to do in navigating the society here. Some places end up being more dangerous than others, forcing them to lead double lives. Who they are outside is very different from who they are inside—away from prying and judgmental eyes. Their closet is the thin line between life and death.
Here, being queer is taboo; no surprise going by how traditional and religious a people we are. Added to that is the law that criminalises our existence called the SSMPA (Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act). This law has only increased the hostility and violence towards queer bodies in the country. People who may not be queer also fall victim to the violence. Stereotypes pop up daily and as people get cast with those views, they get treated in accordance with that perception. The SSMPA has led to deaths, as well as countless and ongoing discriminations that occur across the board. To live in Nigeria as a queer person is really living dangerously; who wouldn’t cling to their closet for as long as possible.
Bearing that in mind, you know that to be queer and out is literally living life on the edge. To be queer and out is a level of boldness so many of us can only aspire to. The few (and they are few) who live openly queer can testify to feeling like walking targets. Amara, the lesbian recently had to take a break from her YouTube page because of threats to her, her partners, and friends by association. She saw a marked increase during the #EndSARS protests which she participated in as a queer woman.
She painfully learned that despite uniting against a common enemy, we were still an enemy to the common man. People boldly told her and other queer people to stop waving their flags (the rainbow flag). They were asked to put down their placards that read QUEER LIVES MATTER. I watched queer people be accused of distracting the protest from the main issue—Police Brutality. These people said that queer folks fighting against this same brutality meted out on us, was an attempt to steal the show and fight for gay rights. Even in the face of a bigger problem, being queer is somehow made a villain. Staying in the closet in Nigeria can literally mean choosing to stay alive.
Like every other society, there are those who are protected by varying levels of privilege. These privileges allow them to be out or gay or queer in one way or another. Although I do not profess that I am queer at work, a few people know and others deduce from my expression. Thankfully my work output and proximity to authority help me get away with being tagged a ‘tomboy’.
For others, it would mean constant harassment and discrimination disguised as innocent questions. For others, the option of wearing whatever does not exist. Privilege also exists in the form of being financially stable enough to move to a more favourable location. In Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja currently house the largest numbers of queer people making it somewhat ‘safe’. For so many people, this is not an option; leaving their immediate vicinity will remain a dream until they have enough money to secure accommodation elsewhere. And it carries on like that in any way you know privilege exists.
For so many people, their closet will remain tightly closed. This is because they cannot see any other way to live outside that. For others, like me, our closets remain handy for a quick step in. Why? Because we cannot adequately predict if staying outside is better for us. Whichever way used, for some of us, the closet is here to stay.
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; large bodies of water calm them. They are a community paralegal in their country, and a part of ELLA Nigeria team.