As told to Mariam
I met Somto in a queer room in Clubhouse where she said she came out to her mum. Curious about how it happened, I reached out to her and here’s what she told me:
I am the only daughter of my parents. My mum prayed for me after having two sons. She always told me she wanted a princess and that’s where our problems started from.
I grew up wanting to wear my brother’s clothes instead of the dresses my mum got me. I was always on the sports team in primary school. My favorite thing to do after school was take taekwondo classes. I was so good at it that I got a scholarship for secondary school but my mum didn’t allow me to take the scholarship because she didn’t want me to be too active at sports. I was sad to leave taekwondo because it was the only place where being a tomboy wasn’t a bad thing. After primary school, I wanted to go to soccer camp with my brothers but my mum said no — instead took me to cooking classes. With time, she also stopped me from playing football and basketball as well.
She tried to make me have more female friends by introducing me to her friend’s daughters. There was this girl my mum liked to pair me with. Her name was Oby. She was so pretty. I liked spending time with her. One day, we were showering together and she kissed me. After that day, we made out whenever we hung out. I fell in love with her.
One day, I bought her a gift — a notepad and a pen she liked. I gave it to her along with a letter where I confessed my love for her. She said she liked me but I am not a boy and she liked my brother more. My heart was broken. There was a way she said it that felt like punishment. I kept my distance from her and eventually, we stopped being friends.
At home, I liked playing video games with my brothers but my mum would force me to stay in the kitchen with her as often as she could. One day when I was 10, I was having an argument with one of my brothers over whose turn it was to play the PlayStation 1. We got loud and my uncle and my other brother took my brother’s side. When my mum came to the room, I thought she was going to take my side but she turned off the game. In a bid to settle it, she went on a long rant where she said, “You are not a boy.” She said she is not letting me go to an all-girls secondary school even though it was the better school choice for me because she didn’t want me to become a lesbian. She ended it with, “Why are you like this?” I held my breath throughout that rant.
Things changed after that day. I was sure my mum really didn’t like how I looked and developed some sort of shame around it. I was also afraid that my mum knew about me and Oby. I started trying to be more girly. I wore the dresses my mum bought me but the masculinity dey my body.
I went to a mixed school as my mum wanted. In secondary school, I was one of the tallest girls in my set and it brought a lot of attention to me. I wasn’t girly like the other girls so I got teased a lot for slouching my back and having bow legs. My Igbo teacher would either tell me to kneel down or slap my back whenever she saw me slouching. Even when I became the head girl in SS 3. I was scared about being labelled a lesbian so I avoided girls. I had crushes but I wouldn’t even talk to them because I didn’t want anyone to suspect me. I wouldn’t even make eye contact with them. Regardless, I preferred being in school because the efforts to make me less masculine were worse at home.
My dad passed when I was ss2, I tried to be there for my mum by being more girly. I didn’t want her to be sadder when she saw me. One day, just before I graduated from secondary school, I passed the place I used to take taekwondo classes and the instructor saw me. We exchanged pleasantries and he said he was disappointed when I stopped coming. He said my body was strong and it’s a shame to see it go to waste. I was so hurt.
In 2010, I travelled to America for university. I tried to maintain the girliness I was trying out for my mum. I wore more makeup in school. I had more girly friends and I started dating men.
The thing with living away from home is that it allows you to explore yourself. I dated men in university but I became less afraid of admitting that I liked girls. At the end of 2011, someone at a party asked me about my sexuality and I just said, “Bisexual.” I had never thought of it before but after that day, it stuck.
I also started having sex with women. The first time was a drunken night out with one of my friends. We hooked up a couple more times after that. In my third year, I met a girl I liked. We dated for a few months but it wasn’t a great relationship. A few months after we broke, a girl one of my male friends was seeing asking if she could sleep over at my place. She had an early appointment and my house was closer to the place than hers. I agreed and at night, she came close to me. She rubbed her ass on my thighs and I took the bait. We had sex and I enjoyed it but the next day, she told my friend. He was pissed and I understood it but at the same time, they weren’t dating. I stopped talking to both of them and a lot of my other friends because of how close they were to each other. But also, I realised I wasn’t the person I wanted to be when I was with them.
In my final year, I spent a lot of my time alone. After class, I would watch Youtube videos while I studied. One of those days, I was watching Arrows, a queer Youtube personality and something clicked in me. I remember telling myself, “Omo, Somto, you really are a lesbian o.” I replied and said, “That’s okay.” I cried so hard that day. I had finally released my breath since that day my mum told me she was trying everything she could to stop me from being a lesbian.
I moved back to Nigeria in 2018. By then, I had fully accepted myself as a masculine-presenting, sports-loving lesbian. My mum didn’t understand it and she complained whenever she could but I was an adult so she couldn’t police my outfits as much as she used to. I was also trying to mend our relationship by spending more time with her. We often saw movies together or went to the cinema.
One day in 2019, we went shopping. I wanted to get some slippers for myself while she wanted a bag. At the shop, my mum picked out a pair of slippers from the female section and handed them to me. I told her that’s not what I wanted and walked to the men’s section. The people in the store asked me if I was buying shoes for my brother or my boyfriend. I knew it was a trick question because they could see that I was wearing masculine clothes. I ignored it and continued searching for a pair I liked. I noticed my mum didn’t move from where she stood. I became self-conscious and paid for a random pair of slippers just so we could leave. As we were walking out of the mall, my mum walked behind me. It was almost as if she was ashamed of me. The ride home was so quiet I could hear my heart racing.
At home, I confronted her about what happened at the mall. I told her if she didn’t want to be seen around me anymore then she should tell me. I needed to know so we could stop pretending. She became defensive and asked why I would think that. I told her about how she made me feel when I was a child and how it took me a long time for me to heal. The conversation became a back and forth argument. I don’t remember what I said but the next thing I heard was, “Or are you a lesbian?” At that moment, I knew I couldn’t lie to her. I said yes but my voice was low. I told her I didn’t like men like that. I explained to her that though it is possible for me to nurture feelings for men, that wholesome love I feel with women is undebatable. After talking to her, she bent over and started weeping. She wasn’t loud but I could feel the depth of her hurt. She asked me why so many times. She started trying to pinpoint different points in my childhood, trying to find out where she went wrong with me. It broke my heart. At some point, I had to leave the room. In my room, I cried my eyes red.
Later that night, she came to my room and we talked. She asked me if it was a phase. I told her it wasn’t. She told me about how much she wanted a daughter after having two sons. I told her I knew how much she wanted me to be her little princess but I wasn’t. She was quiet for a while and then she said she wanted grandkids. We didn’t say much to each other after that and things were weird in the house for a while. It took months before she started asking me about the woman I was dating. Soon enough, I started volunteering information about my relationship and she seemed eager to listen. Eventually, I introduced her to my girlfriend. She welcomed her with a hug and they got along fine. It’s been a process and I could see her trying.
In July 2021, my girlfriend and I broke up. My mum tried to be there for me. She made me food and asked if I was okay from time to time. She too had grown to enjoy spending time with her. She hugged me and told me it was going to be okay. It was so sweet I cried.
I am a big advocate for coming out to your loved ones. I don’t think that a bad reaction means that they will reject you forever. I believe that loved ones come around and it just requires patience. I am not where I want to be with my mum but I see her meeting there in the future.
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