Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
Let’s start at the beginning
When I was about four, my father donated his compound for a friend to use when he was starting a church, so you can say I lived in church growing up. I was immersed in the culture around church, religion and spirituality, and I loved it so much.
My childhood friends were children of ministers and workers who were also always in church — my home. I wasn’t as close to my primary school friends because I was always excited to get back home and hang with the church kids all evening. I was also excited about Sunday School and the Bible stories and lessons we were taught.
The church had all these activities for the kids: drama, dance, singing and competitions. I used to win all the Bible-related competitions like Bible sword, reciting memory verses, etc.
Sounds so nostalgic
Yes. My favourite things about that period were the beautiful Christian picture books I owned, with vivid illustrations of the creation story, the nativity. I especially loved the depictions of Egypt — the stories of Moses and Joseph.
I’m a digital artist today because I fell in love with art while replicating those picture book scenes with my paper and crayons, and later, watercolours. I’d paste my replicas all over the walls of my room. I found art through Jesus.
I grew to love Jesus because He was so good, kind and caring. I still love the idea of being connected to and loved by such a divine figure. I had such a beautiful, happy childhood. I didn’t really notice anything missing until I entered secondary school.
What was missing?
I discovered what it meant to be poor or rich, pretty or ugly, lonely or popular.
I always felt my parents were comfortable because they’d give stuff away and help people with money when they were in need. But they weren’t really; we were just getting by. Before secondary school, everyone hung out with everyone because the concept of being popular wasn’t a thing. But my church friends made new friends at their own schools and didn’t attend church as much. A lot of them even japa’d with their families or went to boarding school, or just weren’t as outgoing as we were when we were younger.
And how did you navigate all that?
I found singing, again, through Jesus.
While my school was secular, the owner was a devoted Christian, so there was strict assembly and devotion every morning with at least 30 minutes of praise and worship. In JSS 2, I volunteered to lead those. I did so well the first time that I was selected to lead the morning assembly once every week. I eventually became chapel prefect in SS 3.
Having that, and of course, studying to get good grades, gave me purpose, but I still struggled with loneliness.
Things happening at home made me terribly sad.
My parents were constantly fighting abusive and violent fights at this point. They’d leave me and my siblings alone at home until nighttime. And as the middle child of three, I felt scared and neglected. I wanted to kill myself all the time. I’d lie in bed, seriously considering it because I didn’t have anything to look forward to. I wasn’t happy anymore.
But Jesus, and the thought of continuing my suffering in hell, stopped me from doing that.
Did adulthood help these feelings?
Adulthood comes with its own struggles — from family drama to work pressure to money wahala. There’s also the depression that comes with not achieving your dreams or goals. I find that I’m always struggling to find joy in the little things just to get by. And then, finding that I wasn’t straight didn’t help matters.
How did that happen?
In secondary school, I crushed on up to ten different guys, especially in senior school. I felt I was really attracted to these guys. I’d stare at them and some ended up being my friends.
But I only dated one guy towards the end of SS 2. We broke up in SS 3 first term because I didn’t know how to commit. I “liked” this guy, but I didn’t really want him in my personal space. I didn’t want to always hang out with him, which makes sense because I was 16 then. I think back to my classmates now and wonder how they could be so committed to their boyfriends at that age.
That’s a good question
Exactly. But then for university, I went to a Christian private school, so it was more church culture, and I immersed myself in it. It was my comfort zone, after all. I joined the choir and was generally at peace until I realised I didn’t like any of the guys. It’s not like I was caught up in dating, but you know at that stage in life, it’s a huge focus for most.
At one point, I thought I was a misandrist, but I didn’t have a problem being friends with guys. In fact, I get along with guys a lot. Most of my friends are guys today. But once they try to get romantic or remotely sexual, I get turned off. I’d just literally switch off and freeze up before I even notice.
How did your church preach about sex? Do you think that affected your perception of it?
I don’t think so.
My alma mater was strict regarding sex and relationships: if you were caught alone with a guy or even holding hands walking down the streets, you could get anything from a warning to suspension from school. But that didn’t stop anyone.
I wouldn’t say my church affected my perception of sex, but maybe my personal relationship with God did.
All right. How did you figure out what the problem was?
Towards the end of 100 level, someone told me I behaved like a lesbian, and I was so confused. Until that point, I thought lesbians had to be tomboys. I’m quite feminine in my dressing and behaviour. Well, actually, I’m in between. I’m quite sporty and tend to be assertive, things people wrongly associate with being manly. But other than that, I wouldn’t consider myself a tomboy.
In 200 level, I realised I had a crush on my roommate. We were roommates for three years, and we’re still friends today, but she still doesn’t know I like her. In school, I wondered how boys weren’t falling over themselves to date her because she was so attractive.
So you’re not attracted to men at all?
No. I can’t stand them romantically, TBH.
How they talk once they’ve decided they want to date you or get in your pants? It’s off-putting to me. They aren’t all like that, of course. Some are actually serious about liking you and being committed, but on a fundamental level, I don’t really connect to how men think or process things.
Even their build and essence turn me off. When I think back now, all the guys I ever crushed on — secondary schoolmates, celebrities — were all almost effeminate. I know my friends would never be able to wrap their heads around this, but it really just feels natural.
Got it. And how’s it been since you discovered your sexuality?
Uneventful. I haven’t had the nerve to approach women sexually or even search for communities where I’ll be welcome. I’m still very much in the closet. No one knows. Not one single person I know knows I’m gay.
Not even your family?
My mother and siblings know I’m a pride ally and speak up against homophobia and for gay rights, but that’s it. I’ve tried to hint it to my mother because we’re like besties, and I’ve noticed she’s been much more respectful of the gay community, but she just zones out anytime I try to connect myself directly to it.
One time, while we were having a conversation, I told her I sometimes understand lesbians because I can’t stand men romantically, and it was like I didn’t even say anything. She just went on with what she was saying beforehand.
She’s a Nigerian mum after all
True. And I’m not really upset with it. But finding my sexuality in university brought back that feeling I had entering secondary school. I felt and still feel lonely, alone with my thoughts and wishes. Oh, and guilty because Jesus doesn’t love gay people.
About that. How do you reconcile your faith with your sexuality?
By not trying to date women? I don’t know. I don’t really reconcile it, and that’s why I’m so miserable right now. I’m not exactly active in church, but I never miss Sunday service. I find my relationship with Christ ironically uplifting when I temporarily suspend my interest in women.
Do you have an escape this time, at least?
My art and listening to music still. But I know I’m going to break and find a woman who’ll love me soon because I’m dying of loneliness.
How do you plan to find someone?
I’ve reached an age where my worldview has expanded, especially with work and social media.
During COVID, I found out one of our freelancers was gay when my ex-boss told me about it in this scandalous tone as reason for cancelling her contract. My ex-boss never would’ve guessed I, too, was a lesbian. Through the freelancer, I’ve discovered a couple of other people like us. Honestly, I feel relieved because Nigeria can be so homophobic, right?
Right. Would you ever come out to your friends and family?
I don’t want to think that far. I have no idea. I’m so sure they’d just not get it.
I have this feeling I’d elope with a woman one day and leave my parents to believe I chose spinsterhood. Or maybe I’ll do nothing and just try to conform to being straight and a proper Christian. I’m not sure I’ll ever let go of the guilt otherwise. I’ll always think of how Jesus is disappointed with me.
He saves me from taking my own life every day, so maybe my sexuality is a small sacrifice to pay to show gratitude?