Cultural Censorship: My Coming Out Is Not A Threat To Your Closet!


309588_268567446510551_121692274531403_901024_424303210_nI do a double take whenever I hear the words “Your coming out is threatening the safety of closeted gays” and the addendum “Protesting ‘Anti Same Sex’ bills and homophobic behavior is a threat to closeted gays, please stop the protests”.

Really, I mean, really?

Recently on a facebook group, an African who identifies as queer recently called me selfish for daring to come out as bisexual and for protesting against oppression of LGBTs. She suggested that African lesbians and gays should be discrete and not flaunt their love-life. Well, she wasn’t the first African to suggest this ‘do not flaunt your same-sex love life’ bit. It really is sad and that is why I have decided to write a blog post about this issue.

What exactly qualifies as flaunting ones’ love-life?

Is it that goodbye kiss at the train station?

The hand-in-hand walk you take with your lover when the weather permits?

Or the dance you have together at that office party?

I see heterosexuals do all these every day and no one ever accused them of flaunting their love life, in fact it is often referred to as ‘celebrating their love’ but when it is a same sex couple, it suddenly becomes ‘flaunting’.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, no lesbian, gay, bisexual or Trans has ever stoned anyone to death for being heterosexual. However many LGBTs risk this possibility in my beloved country, Nigeria, where it is actually legal in the northern part of the country to stone homosexuals to death.

Why should my having a love life and expressing my love openly like every other normal adult, be considered as ‘flaunting’ simply because my lover and I are of the same sex? Why should my being in love with a same-sex adult and celebrating my love lead to 14 years imprisonment or public stoning?

More importantly, why should closeted gays try to stop me from being OUT and PROUD?

Why the censorship?

I decided to post the exchange I had with a self-identified ‘African queer’ as a blog post because these arguments or “reasoning” seems to be applauded in some closeted African LGBTs forums. The arguments raised are often always the same.

 If you present yourself as a person who has the same basic needs as the next individual you begin to establish bonds of humanity which may compel others to partner with you in this race.

My thought on this is:

Hmm, wait a minute, I am no longer a human being by default? Yuk!

Now, because of my sexual orientation, I have to proof that I am a person?

And to think this argument came from a self identified queer African activist! Double Yuk!

And here is another one-

NO ONE will listen to you if they feel as though you are violating their sensibilities.

 

My thoughts:

Hmm…Now I have to walk on egg shells, deny my orientation, live in the closet, be less than who I am and pretend to be what I am not, just so I wouldn’t violate the sensibilities of homophobes, biphobes and transphobes?

Really? Sorry, but no thanks, I will rather they do not violate my fundamental human rights or is this too much to ask?

And here comes another one-

This fight must be fashioned within the cultural framework. I’m not sure we fully comprehend that every single time we use words like “homophobia, gay, dyke, trans, etc” we conjure images in the minds of our people that just equate FOREIGN and create a discomfiture that is virtually impossible to overcome.

And my take on this is:

We do not have to present ourselves as a person; we are already PERSONS before any TAG. I see many things as foreign, new pixel 2.1including Christianity, but I see a human being before the tags.

Most of the time, as Homosexuals, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, we seek approval from our immediate family. If our family members suddenly stopped seeing us as A PERSON once we identify as GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL or TRANS, the problem is not with us or our IDENTITY (we have a right to self identity), the problem lies with the person who refused to see beyond their perceived culture or understanding of things.

The argument that any sexual act or relationship that deviates from the standard heterosexual norm is against African culture is using “Culture” to sanction the erasure of dialogue about alternative sexualities and to condone homophobia, therefore constituting a form of cultural violence. A society that stifles sexual and gender identities discourages the recognition of human dignity. LGBTI rights are human rights and these rights must be fought for no matter whose Ox or Culture is gored because human rights are worth fighting for everywhere.

And then I was hit with this:

And with all Human rights actions or protests if you persistently transgress the laws of the land you will not get anywhere. All successful movement in history have included the efforts of allies and sympathisers, in order to garner this sort of support there is always sacrifice on either side. Also I think we forget that the same space required for the coming out process should be afforded family and close friends. in my experience they do not fail to see your humanity, it’s that they must mourn a loss first before accepting the new expanded definition of who one is, which should be entirely conceivable.

My response to the above-gay-rights

And my point is EVEN If family members, friends or colleagues must mourn a “LOSS”, they must NOT DENY lesbians, gays, bisexuals or Trans the right to assert that they are LIVING. In most cases, mourning this loss often mean demanding the silence and invisibility of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. Civil Rights movements everywhere had to transgress the existing laws of the lands to win rights, and LGBT rights movement is not excluded. To make progress, we must be ready for the consequences.

An ally would not demand that i live in a closet. Living in the closet is not always a choice, it is FORCED on many.

COMING OUT in some society is not just about losing friends and family members; it could mean the loss of life. However, people must have the right to come out without feeling that they are endangering the lives of those in the closets. I say this from experience because even when fully residing in Nigeria, I was told by some members of the Nigerian LGBT community that MY being openly out as a bisexual is a threat to THEIR own existence. Therefore, they would prefer I remain in the closet! Needless to say that was not, and still not, an acceptable option for me.

Nigerian LGBTI In Diaspora Against Anti-Same Laws. Protest Londo 006 - CopyAlso, the protests organised by the group ‘Nigerian in Diaspora Against Anti Same Sex Laws’ to protest the ‘Anti Same Sex Marriage’ bill were seen by some as a threat to closeted gays in Nigeria and my take on this is, WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO PROTEST OUR OPPRESSION. We are all stakeholders, get over it!

Education is good; unfortunately sex talk is still considered a taboo in many African homes. Sex education that encompasses sexual orientation won’t be making it into Nigerian school curriculum anytime soon, many African schools do not even teach EVOLUTION! In the meantime, we try our best to positively influence policies, change laws and be visible enough, so as not to be ignored or be told we do not exist. Discussions and debates on social networks help take the education into people’s homes. Let us continue to break the silence.

The unbelievable response I got was-

I’m not confident that evolution should be taught in schools

OK, I must confess that at this junction I had serious doubt about the possibility of having a logical debate with someone who does not believe evolution should be taught in schools!

She continues-

My point from my words is that we start to infiltrate people’s thought space by showing them the very humanity they seek to deny others. Yes, these social movements transgressed the written law, but people appealed to the sensibilities of the common man. You annoy alienate the very people you wish to win over. The education must come from many perspectives and in my opinion the militant stance will only continue to cause strife & see blood shed. No one need die over this, we have too many lessons from the past to learn from. Also it’s important that under the guise of being openly ourselves we do not endanger others. No one wins that way. Discretion isn’t such a bad thing, not everyone need know who you take to your bed.

My response:

Evolution just like gravity is a scientific fact. How do you teach science in schools without teaching its basic theory because it contradicts the teachings of some cultures and religion?

Personally, I am not engaged in a war to win people over,  the 1948 declaration on human rights already did that for112-2 me since it asserts unequivocally that ALL HUMAN BEINGS ARE BORN EQUAL IN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY. I do not intend to start another war before I assert this right. People that still do not get this basic fact need to be confronted with this unequivocal truth.

I do not demand discretion from heterosexual couples, why should anyone demand discretion from me because I am gay, lesbian or bisexual? I guess going by this theory, a Trans has no choice on this matter. They should remain true to their birth sex so as not to get anyone annoyed?

Well, I strongly believe that if I chose to kiss my same sex partner in public just like every other heterosexual is allowed to; I should not be stoned for that!

Do unto others what you expect them to do unto you. I refuse to be blamed for the ignorance and intolerance of others. Forcing me to be discreet in my love life because of my sexual orientation is blaming and punishing me for the ignorance of others. This is simply not acceptable. BTW, if people do not wish to know who I take to my bed, they should stop peeping into my bedroom and they should stop legislating on my sex life. SIMPLE!

Her response-

You may not, the society does. Sorry to say but you’re stance sounds a little selfish and doesn’t really account for the reality of the greater good of even this niche in society

Err…I must confess that at this point I realized I should have stopped any debate with someone who does not believe evolution should be taught in schools!

My response:

And forcing Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals into the closet, denying them the right to be themselves is NOT SELFISH? How does the society’s stance of discriminating against LGBTs account for the greater good of “even a niche” in this society?

I really am failing to see your point here. Are you calling me selfish for coming out as a bisexual and/or for organising protests to demand for my human rights? BTW, you said my stance sounds selfish and does not count, sorry to wake you up but my stance counts because ONLY I get to LIVE my life and WE all make up the society, not the other way round.

Her response:

Dude, you know the issues of same-sex/gender relations in Nigeria and I’ll venture to say in other parts of the continent is about more than just coming out. So you make you grand stand, then what?! What options does the average young person outside of major cities have? How does ‘coming out’ translate in local contexts. We mustn’t be short sighted and decide to with people’s lives because of alphabets soup. I knew who I was & who I like way before I heard of these foreign terms. People continue to live even under the pressure of harsh laws. The question becomes how to reframe the discussions privileging a rights based approach & the need for access to basic goods and services. These are the stakes for many Africans, not attaching a label to one.

My response:

Well, for one, I do not identify as “Dude” so I will take it that the comment was not addressed to me.

Coming out is not about “making a grand stand” like you unfortunately put it, it is about BEING OPENLY ME. Labels are labels; it does not matter whether they are foreign labels or African labels. Some of us do not wish to have labels FORCED on us whether by family members, fellow Africans or well meaning foreigners, therefore we CHOOSE to DEFINE ourselves. Identifying as a bisexual is me defining who I am without apology, because I got nothing to apologize for. If my definition of myself inconveniences you, then YOU are the one with the problem, not me.

At that point I followed it up with my classic poem ‘I am coming out’ and I got a terse “congrats” to which I courtly responded, “Thank you”.

Yemisi Ilesanmi speaking at the London 2010  July Pride

There are few points I cannot but stress enough, these are:-

  • Coming Out is as much of a right as staying in the Closet.
  • We all have a right to protest or not protest our oppression. The fact that I choose to speak out against my oppression does not infringe on your right to remain silent. I won’t force you to carry protests placards, please do not assume you can force me to go into the closet.
  • Strategies differ, respect my strategy and I will respect yours but do not force your strategy down my throat.
  • Labels do not cease to be labels simply because they are local labels. Gender and sexual identification is a personal right, it is not the duty of a community whether foreign or local, to force a label on anyone.
  •  LGBTs, especially African LGBTs, need to first convince themselves that LGBT Rights are Human Rights. It is not a rhetoric, it is not a slogan; it is a conviction. Any residue of doubt about the validity of the claim leads to hesitation about standing up for your inalienable human rights.

I do not need the approval of anyone before I stand up and assert my human right not to be discriminated against based on my sexual orientation. My advocacy is about opening other people’s eyes to this self-evident truth. It is my hope that other sexual minorities would come to this self realization and stop apologizing for who they are. Cultural Censorship has no place in a democracy and Culture should never be an excuse for victimisation.

poem butterfly rainbow

 

Comments

  1. Joe G. says

    Beautifully put. I could not agree more. As we reveal ourselves to others, however that might be done, the more the world realizes that we exist. Recent research demonstrates that individuals that personally know a LGBT person typically express more supportive and factual attitudes about LGBT people and issues. Hence being “out”, being open about who we are to others, seems to be pivotal key to creating a more accepting society.

  2. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Joe G. Very well said. Many still think gays live in outer space and not on their street and definitely not in their family tree. Putting a face to our identity shakes those in denial out of their misconception. Also, it puts a face to the rights we are demanding and makes our voice more powerful.

  3. F [is for fluvial] says

    Really, I mean, really?

    Apparently. Somehow. By magic? This mode of thinking, of which I had previously been unaware, completely blows my mind.

    Is it that more people coming out will prompt the more privileged and intolerant types to “crack down” even harder on people they don’t like? “Keep your head down or you’ll get us all in trouble”? As far as I can tell, this never works. If it is something else, I get it even less.

    Great piece of writing there, and a winning title.

  4. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @F [is for fluvial] ,Unfortunately it is all that and more. The LGBT communities in most part of Africa and other places where sexual minorities are criminalized are often afraid of rocking the boat. It is believed that even though the sodomy law makes us criminals, this law is hardly used, so why call attention to LGBTs by demanding for decriminalization or heavens forbids, ask for human rights! With the growing call for strengthening sodomy laws by introducing harsher homophobic laws, some of us are forced to speak out.

    The few who are out of the closet are not warmly welcomed in the closeted LGBT communities. You are seen as a threat even amongst your fellow sexual minorities. If you are out of the closet, same sex people who are friends with you would be suspected of being LGBT, therefore putting them at risk.

    Also bear in mind that the few ‘LGBT’ organizations in places like Nigeria operate under the banner of Health, HIV or Reproductive health organisations, where they manage to raise the issue of MSM as a health issue, as advocates for better health services BUT not as persons concerned, certainly not as LGBTs, even though they are closeted gays.

    And it breaks my heart when the closeted LGBTs try to maintain the status quo by turning against the few brave ones that are out of the closet. I personally face and still face this wrath from closeted LGBT activist back home. Even your motive for coming out and speaking out is questioned.
    But as the title says, my coming out is not a threat to your closet, and I certainly don’t owe anyone an apology for standing up for my rights from any part of the world I reside.

    And yes, I understand how this might seems confusing to those that live outside the affected clime; unfortunately it is an issue some of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>