When people talk about conversion therapy, the most predominant form where I come from is religious conversion. If you’re a young, queer person who is no more in the closet in Nigeria, chances are that at some point, your family must have put you through the torturous process of going through several prayer and deliverance sessions.
Our untold stories lie in the mental struggle and the abuse from those designated to protect and save us. When we tell these stories, maybe, our loved ones will understand that sexuality is more than faith and beliefs, and they need to stop exposing their young children to further sexual, mental and emotional abuse through conversion therapies.
Growing up, my sexuality has never been in question for me, as I didn’t ‘discover’ myself, but rather, grew into the knowledge that I am gay. As I grew older, my family always had speculations but nobody outrightly asked me any questions. The way it works, what you do not know for sure cannot exist.
After Secondary School, I got into Delta State University, where my older brother schooled, and we became roommates. We’d sometimes have rows when my friends would come over. He would drop degrading remarks about the kind of crowd I roll with, how they were obvious homosexuals whose lives would be cut short and how they would rot in hell for their demonic acts.
I should’ve recognized fear for what it was, but to me at that point, he was just being a typical Nigerian who had been indoctrinated with homophobia. Not until I was invited to a private gay party on campus one evening, and the moment I stepped into the venue, there was my brother, sitting down with others, living.
This was a defining moment in my life because as much as it broke me, it gave me the courage to consider coming out. It was devastating to realize that being a closet gay man who couldn’t accept who he was, fuelled his anger towards others like him.
In retrospect, I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for him, but the next day, he insisted that he was not gay and we rowed some more. I had cried so many times and hinged on the edge of depression, wondering why he could not love me despite my sexuality. Brothers should stand by each other, and understand when no one else does.
Months later, my father got back from London and I figured he would be the soft landing I needed to come out to the rest of the family. Surely, he was exposed and liberal enough to view diversity from a different lens. If my brother was also gay, the family would have find a way to be more empathic towards me.
Timid and overcome with fear, I stuttered and told them who I was. Unfortunately, my brother denied being gay or ever getting entangled with any queer person, and in retrospect, I realize it was not my place to put him to the family.
My father was compassionate enough to only worry about my safety in Nigeria, and not the nature of my sexuality, but my mother was devastated. She cried, called me names, shouted at my father for being lenient and immediately sought out our Pastor and a deliverance session for me.
On getting to the church, the pastor took me to the deliverance room alone with him and instructed me to take off my clothing. I had to be totally naked for him to lay hands and anoint my body to rid me of the evil spirits pushing me to be gay.
I obliged and even though I began to sense how weird this was, I had to endure it for my mother’s sake.
He poured out some olive oil unto his hands, pushed me down and started rubbing it onto my genitalia to rid me of the evil within. Dipping his hands, he sexually abused me to his fill until his erection was satisfied.
There was no way I could tell my mother that the man of God she looked up to as the conversion option for my sexuality equally knew that even his God could not change my authentic self. This was who I am, and who I’d be for life.
Leaving the church premises, I went over to my boyfriend’s house and my mother and I never got to repair our damaged relationship. My other siblings would rather not talk about it, while my brother got married to a woman, so, no one can question his sexuality anymore.
It’s been a difficult journey, trying to win back the love of the woman who means more to me than anyone else, trying to live above expectations and carving a path for myself, but when I graduated in 2017, I realized that as difficult as it is, validation is not what I need and love shouldn’t be lobbied for.
Rather, being visible, gay and proud is the most definitive dignity I can accord myself.