Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
Today’s episode is about Aisha*, a 300 level student of Biological Science at Ahmadu Bello University. She talks about discovering her sexuality in university, after several years of suppressing it.
When did you get into university?
I got into university in 2017, which was also the year I graduated from secondary school. I applied for Medicine and Surgery, but I got Biology. In retrospect, I’m glad that I got Biology — I don’t think I’d have coped as a medical student.
How did medicine get into the mix in the first place?
Ben Carson inspired me. At first, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but the sight of blood frightens me. I thought about Neuroscience, but it wasn’t available in any Nigerian University. My mum convinced me that Medicine and Surgery would do. I should add that Ahmadu Bello University was also my parent’s idea. My plan was to study at University of Ilorin because it was a good distance between me and home in Abuja. But my mum insisted it was too far, and as it turned out, I had no stake in the conversation. She has visited me only once since I started here, by the way.
How did that make you feel?
I felt caged at first. I thought ABU would be like the rest of the north.
What do you mean?
I’ve been visiting my grandmother in Kaduna since I was a kid. She lives in a conservative community, and I don’t dress like the typical Hausa Muslim, so I usually get weird looks and stuff. It got unnerving at some point. I thought ABU would be like that too — it is in a way, but it’s not as bad as what you’d find in other communities
Got it. How excited were you about university?
My heart was still set on Medicine and Surgery even after I got in, so I was excited to make a switch. I planned on writing UTME again or getting a First Class in my first semester, so I could facilitate my switch to the Medicine and Surgery department. That didn’t happen. Lmao.
Generally, I was psyched to be in university. I was on my own for the first time in my life. Before I got into university, I didn’t know what the night sky looked like. I was always inside the house before 7 PM. I was basically grounded at home.
So, university was exciting as hell at first, but the novelty started to wear off after I realised how stressful it is.
How easy was it for you to navigate the new environment?
I was confused for the better part of my first semester. It didn’t help that I was a terrible decision-maker — I still am, by the way — one minute, my parents were making the decisions for me, then the other minute, I was making decisions myself and I often made the wrong ones. Those were dark times. But things started to get more interesting when I started to learn more about myself. I don’t think I knew who I was before I got into school.
Could you talk more about this?
It was the most random thing ever. I was with a friend when she looked at me and she was like, “You’re bi.” I laughed it off because it sounded ridiculous, but deep down, I felt uncomfortable because she had hit too close to home.
Did you ever have a feeling that you might not be heterosexual?
As a child, I didn’t know a lot about sexual orientation, but looking back now, I think I might have had an idea that I wasn’t heterosexual from the first time I had a vivid dream about this Nigerian actress. I knew that I was slightly different from what others would term as ‘normal’, but I suppressed the feelings and refused to accept them.
Why was that?
I didn’t know any better, so I didn’t think I had the option to be more than what the society had decided was normal. There was no space to be anything but heterosexual, even if I wasn’t. It was a “fake it till you know nothing else” situation.
But my friend had opened a door, and no matter how hard I tried to fight it, the realisation wouldn’t go away. I talked to another friend about this and she assured me that I was okay.
Now, I’d accepted that I might not be heterosexual, but I still wasn’t sure what I was. Not until recently when I watched ‘Sex Education’ and I discovered this character, Ola, who was pansexual. I was curious about that, so I googled everything I could and every piece of information I found was the perfect description of me. This was a relief because I always thought I was weird. Prior to this time, I couldn’t relate to what my bi-sexual friends were going on about when they talked about liking girls more than boys or liking boys more than girls. It was such a huge relief to find out that there’s a spectrum where I fit in.
Also, I think it took this long to realise who I am because I wasn’t like the other bi-sexual people I knew in school. I didn’t feel like I belonged with them or that we shared something in common.
What do you mean?
They were in a crew and they knew who they were way before I did. Whenever they described their sexual attraction to other people, I always felt strange. And I was really confused about that, making it easy to stick with heterosexuality until recently when I discovered that I have the option of pansexuality.
What did discovering your sexuality mean for you?
It solved a portion of my identity crisis. I had always felt that something was wrong with me because I didn’t fit in. I discovered and accepted that I was pansexual and I found a missing piece to the puzzle.
What has been the toughest part of this discovery?
Well, I can’t tell most of the people closest to me. I was having a conversation with my mum about Jussie Smollet’s scandal and I mentioned that he was gay. You should have seen her reaction. I don’t remember what she said, but it was something along the lines of “God forbid giving birth to a bad thing.” I knew at that moment that I couldn’t tell her, even though I wanted to so badly. I went into the bathroom and cried.
I’m sorry about that.
I felt unnatural. It’s one thing for everyone to condemn queer people to hell, but it’s another thing for your own mother to react condescendingly to someone who was, in essence, like you. That put a dent in our relationship. In fact, no one in my family knows, not even most of my friends, except it comes up in a conversation.
The loneliness can get overwhelming sometimes, but there are people I’m completely honest with and I’ve found a community in them. Not everyone needs to know me, so not everyone will, and that’s fine because this is my journey to self-discovery. I’m trying out new things and removing all constraints in my way. I’m excited to see how far I can go.
What has changed for you since you had this sexual awakening?
A lot, fam. This might come off as cliche but I’ve become more comfortable in my skin and willing to try out new things. It’s liberating, really.
How has it affected your academics?
My academics fit into this journey of discovery. When everything started, it came with the realisation of the best reading methods and changed how I retained information. So yes, school became more fun.
Would you say you’ve figured it out completely?
Nah, I’ve not. As a matter of fact, I don’t think anyone has. Even the people I look up to still struggle with their sexuality, so I know there’s a lot more to learn about myself. I’ve not explored most of my attraction towards people because these streets aren’t safe. The university is pretty small and word travels fast. I’m waiting to get out into the real world to fully come into myself.
Do you think you won’t have discovered this if you didn’t go to uni, or went to another university?
I don’t know for sure. However, I think it would have come into full glare one way or the other, even if I was in another school. It might take longer for me to realise, but ultimately, there was always going to be the reveal.
What do you expect you will find in the coming years?
I’m excited and open to more discoveries, but low-key, I’m keeping my expectations down a notch. I’ve realised that expectations lead to disappointment. I don’t think I’m equipped to deal with such disappointment, so I’m just going along with the flow. It’s better that way.
*The subject’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
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