I Am Done Living In Shame

June 25, 2021

As told to Mariam

Oyin* reached out to me when I put a call out for women to tell me about the worst thing a friend has done to them. In her message, she said her best friend and girlfriend at the time outed her. I was curious about how that played out and I asked more questions. Here’s what she told me:

I knew I liked girls since I was a child but I didn’t have an opportunity to explore it until I joined a new school in  SSS 1. On my first day, I recognised Ese*, a classmate from primary school. She remembered me too. We spent the rest of the day together. After that day, we did everything together. We were seatmates in class and we ate together during break time. On the weekends, she came over to my house, and we watched TV. 

I had come across the word ‘lesbian’ before I met Ese. I knew I liked her more than a friend but I was too scared to say anything to her. One Saturday, we were together at my house watching TV. We were waiting for the commercials to end when she asked if I liked her. I told her I liked her as a friend and she said, “I mean, do you like me as a girlfriend?” I was too shocked to say anything. Then, she kissed me. It was unspoken, but we started dating that day. 

We dated for about a year, stealing kisses in between classes. Midway through SSS 2, she stopped coming over to my house as often as she used to. One day during break time, I got our food and headed to the spot we always ate. Ten minutes after I arrived at our spot, one of our classmates walked in. He asked why I was sitting there alone, “Are you waiting for Ese?” I was annoyed that he was asking because I knew he liked her but I didn’t want to be rude. I ignored him, and on his way out, he said, “I just hope you have not infected Ese with your lesbianism.” I said it was too late. He rushed to my seat and slapped me, followed by blows to my face. He beat me until I passed out. I woke up in the sickbay where the principal told me I was being expelled for fighting in school. 

After the incident, Ese stopped talking to me. My classmates pretty much avoided me till we graduated. I thought there was something wrong with me, so I tried to stop liking girls. I got on Facebook and flirted with the boys. In my first year at University, I tried dating a guy. He was dark-skinned, tall with an afro —  the kind of boy the girls in my hostel liked. I knew I wasn’t attracted to him but I indulged him whenever he made moves on me. It dragged on until my second year at the university. Then I came home for the holiday, and I met Tosin*. 

I was running an errand for my mum in our estate when Tosin passed me on a bike. She stopped after she saw me and came to talk to me. She asked if I lived in the estate and I pointed at my house. We exchanged numbers and she left. The next day, she came over to see me. We talked and walked to her house. We held hands as we walked through the route without street lights. She told me her age, and I told her we were agemates. We talked about school. It was a nice conversation and I didn’t want it to end. 

We continued to take night strolls from my house to hers. We would take a route that was often deserted. One day, she pulled me to her and kissed me. I felt so good but I was also worried about the few houses around there.  What if someone saw us? She didn’t mind though. 

Her parents were pretty cool. Tosin told me that they both schooled abroad, so they didn’t mind a lot of things Nigerian parents did. They were excited that she had a friend in the estate and encouraged me to come over often. My mum was also excited that I had made a new friend. Tosin and spent a lot of time together. Sometimes, we just watched TV. Other times, we had hot make-out sessions. 

One day, we were kissing when her mum walked in. I pulled away immediately but I wasn’t sure if her mum saw us. He asked Tosin to get her something like nothing happened. After Tosin left the room, her mum turned to me and said, “There’s no need to hide. I am a bisexual woman and I used to date women before I got married to Tosin’s father.” When Tosin returned, she told me her mum knew we were dating. It’s still one of my favourite memories to date. I realized that even her dad knew and none of them ever made me uncomfortable. We started to hang out more at her house because I was scared of my mum and my sisters finding out about us. 

Tosin and I got closer. I went to school and while I was there, we stayed in touch. I couldn’t wait to come home to her. In August 2018, I came home for the holiday. That night, we took a walk around our estate. We held hands and talked about how much we missed each other. When we got to the route we often took, she stopped to kiss my cheeks. Suddenly a man walked past us. I hadn’t realized that he was following us. I became scared but she didn’t seem to care. We fought about it and our walk ended abruptly. She went home, and so did I. 

Two weeks later, my mum sent me to the house behind ours to buy pap. The compound was empty when I walked in. As I was figuring out what to do, the man from that night walked in through the gate and locked it. He walked past me into the building and locked the door behind him. I was afraid and I wanted to leave immediately. I knocked on the door of his apartment but he didn’t answer. I could hear him shuffling inside the house. I kept knocking for a few minutes before he opened the door and pulled me inside.

I screamed as loud as I could when he started hitting me but we both knew no one would hear me over the sound of generators blaring. At some point, I stopped trying to fight back. When he realised I was too weak to move, he raped me. I don’t know how long I was out for but I know when I woke up, he was out of sight. Outside, I could hear someone moving around. My crying must have been loud because the woman I came to see opened the door. She rushed to my side and took me to her apartment where she cleaned me up before taking me home. 

She didn’t ask any questions and I was grateful to see that my mum was not at home when we got there. I was glad she didn’t tell my mum what happened either. I couldn’t have been able to deal with the reactions that would have come out of it at the time. Tosin came over later that day to check on me as usual but I couldn’t talk to her. She kept pushing, asking me what was wrong and I snapped at her. I told her I didn’t want to be with her anymore and I hated what we were doing. I could see the confusion on her face as she walked out of my room. I was so scared that man would rape her too. In my head, the only way to prevent that was to stop doing what we were doing.  

I blocked her everywhere and deleted everything that would remind me of her. I didn’t even pick her mother’s calls. I knew they were planning to move back to the UK later that year, so I convinced myself that I was doing the best thing for everyone. 

Back in school, I returned to dating guys. I went back to my ex-boyfriend. This time, I was determined to feel something for him so I had sex with him. It was such an underwhelming experience for me but I kept trying. A few months later, Tosin’s mum called me. After deliberating for a few seconds, I picked up. She asked how I was doing and I said I was fine. She asked after my mum and siblings as well. Towards the end of the call, she told me that Tosin had died. I screamed. She said Tosin had been sick for a while —  something about her heart. I cried so much that day. I thought of all the times she complained about her chest and I wished I urged her to take it seriously. I became even more depressed in the months that followed. 

The idea that something wrong with me seeped into everything I did. I felt like if I could correct myself, everything would be fine. Every trail left me feeling worse. I had decided to take a break when I met Emily*. It was a new semester and she was my roommate in the room I was assigned to. She laughed at my jokes and liked to sit on my bed. 

One day, she asked me if I liked girls. I was too tired to lie, so I said yes. She hugged me and invited me to hang out the following day. I went with her to a lounge where other girls who liked girls gathered. She introduced me to the group and they cooed a welcome. We spent the rest of the day, eating fries and chicken and gisting. On my way home, I remember telling myself, the jig is up, you are a lesbian. In that moment, I wished Tosin was alive so I could call her and apologize — tell her I know I love women and I love her. I cried all the way home. 

Now I won’t say that accepting my sexuality has cured my depression but I know it’s made me a little lighter. I am even happier knowing there’s a lot of people like me who are done living in shame. 

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Mariam Sule

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