As told to Mariam
I put a call out for women to tell me the things that affect their mental health most. In Ada’s* message, she said her parents found out she is queer. I was curious about how that played out and I asked more questions. Here’s what she told me:
I am the first daughter of my Igbo family. This means I am expected to act a certain way and live a certain life as my parents’ daughter. They hate that I prefer wearing a T-shirt and jeans to the things other girls wear so my mum buys dresses for me often. She also makes sure I wear makeup before leaving the house because according to her, it makes me more womanly and more likely to find a husband. Even now that I am 26, they still insist on knowing the exact places I’m headed when I leave the house. It’s been difficult to break free from them especially because I am queer.
I have always known I liked girls. When I was about 14 years old, my mum had this friend she visited often, who had a daughter called Nkem*. Most times, I went with my mum to her friend’s house so I could see Nkem. She was so beautiful. She was a year younger than me so we bonded fast. We would watch movies, play video games or just talk when there was no light. I found myself drawn to her in a way I didn’t understand. I guess she felt the same way but we both didn’t know how to say it. One day, when I was at her house playing video games, as usual, she kissed me and I liked it. After the kiss, we just stayed there, leaning on the bed frame, holding hands. That was the day I confirmed I was queer.
Before then, I thought it was a phase that I would get over. I knew I liked some of the girls in my class in secondary school but I stayed away from them, hoping the feelings would go away. I started dating guys to distract myself but the relationships never lasted. I would kiss them but I didn’t want to do anything else with them. When my friends talked about having sex with their boyfriends and I couldn’t relate because it wasn’t something I even desired.
I kept forcing myself to like guys until I got into the university. I thought I had a problem because conversations with guys were always awkward. Trying to get intimate with them was even worse — it didn’t feel right. But talking to girls was easy. In my first year, I had a crush on a girl that lived in my hostel but she was three years ahead of me. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world but I never told her because I was scared of how she would take it.
In my second year, I met Isoken*. I liked her and she liked me too. We would always hang out together and if we weren’t able to, we would be texting each other. I knew what we had was love so I brought it up one day and we talked about it. That’s how we started dating. Sex with her was epic — I finally understood what my friends were always gushing about. But we also had our issues. She’s from a religious home and was committed to going to church. Whenever we kissed or had sex, it was bittersweet for her because even though she liked it, she felt like she was sinning against God. One day, she loves me and another day she’s sad because she thinks God is angry with her. I understood it because I was a worker in my church at the time but I had gotten to a point where I knew nothing was wrong with me. I would tell her this but it wasn’t enough.
We had to end our relationship after eight months because she couldn’t deal with guilt anymore. I cried for weeks because we had both decided to stay away from each other so we could heal. It felt like hell but eventually, I got over it and was able to be friends with her. I continued dating other women after her until I graduated from university.
Since I returned home from school, my parents have been asking me for a boyfriend. My mum said she has never seen me with a boy before and my dad agreed. I told them I was too busy to sustain a relationship. This excuse worked until sometime during the lockdown. My dad noticed that I had not been wearing the dresses my mum bought me. He asked my siblings if they knew what was going on with me. It was funny to me because they are just clothes. However, one day, I had just returned home when my dad cornered me in the kitchen. He said, “I know you are a lesbian.” Before I could respond, he grabbed my phone. Then he said, “Open it before I slap you.” I did. He went through my pictures. He read my messages with women I was flirting with and some groups I was in with other queer people. He called me a disgrace to our family. He followed me around for the rest of the day calling me names.
The next day, he asked me to pray with some bible verses against the spirit of homosexuality. I pretended to so we could move on but that wasn’t the end of the harassment. A few weeks later, my father grabbed my phone again and went through my messages. He slapped me and kept insulting me until it was time to eat. Another time, he used a koboko to flog me, while threatening to kill me, “aka m ka m ga e ji gbuo gi ma obu na I choro I kwusi I bi ndu ndi okpo ntu.” That’s when I knew that I was living with a psychopath.
What scares me most is how my father doesn’t care about how I feel or what anyone else thinks of how he treats me. I have always been the perfect child — the one with good grades and a calm demeanour. He doesn’t think of that when he is hurting me. He calls me an abomination whenever he gets the chance. On some days, he wants me to go for deliverance to cast the demon out. On other days, he is convinced he can cast it out himself. My siblings can’t do much for me except console me after his rage has subsided but when he’s there, they have to act like they hate who I am too.
I have fallen into depression. I have bad dreams where he is beating me nonstop until I wake up. I am now under a form of house arrest. No one can come to visit me and I can’t go out unless I am supervised. They know I’m a strong-willed person and I could run away but where would I go? I am glad I have my phone and I can still talk to some of my queer friends. I made a burner account on Twitter that I log out of often because I realised my dad could be monitoring my main account. I delete texts as soon as they come in so he doesn’t find them. I try not to spend time on my phone when I am in front of my parents or answer any calls so they don’t get suspicious and ask questions. Every day feels just as painful as the one before. I don’t know how I am ever going to leave this hell.