9 Nigerians Talk About Being Queer And Religious

June 2, 2021

How easy or difficult is it to reconcile being queer with being religious, especially if the said religion is homophobic? This is something I have always been curious about, so I put out a call for stories. I got a large number of responses, but I had to narrow the final ones down to nine.

These 9 stories highlight the fears, difficulties, doubts and triumphs of being queer and religious in Nigeria. I am grateful to everyone who shared their stories. I hope these stories move you as much as they moved me.

Afusat.

*Image used for illustrative purposes.

I am a Muslim and my faith is a part of my identity just like my queerness is. I don’t think it would be fair to erase a part of myself for another part to ‘flourish’. There are times I feel anxious and sad but choosing to accept myself and trust Allah always makes me feel better. I am still a Muslim and I always want to be. I know that sometimes it may get difficult as there are people who use religion as an excuse to be homophobic, but I always remember that Allah is The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful, and The Most Loving. He created me so He must understand all my paths. Day by day, I am learning to love myself anew. I am hoping to make more queer friends because I think having a community really helps. I also want to be more involved with the Muslim community because it feels good to know that you are loved for who you are. I am hoping that more parents love their queer children. I have not told my parents yet. I don’t know if I will ever tell them. I just want to live my life truthfully every day no matter what that looks like.

Demola.

I’m Catholic, but I’m not religious. I go to church when I’m with my parents or when I absolutely have to. But if I had the power to choose, I wouldn’t even watch if it was online. So for me, this means that I pick certain things and leave the rest. The Catholic church doesn’t support abortion. I do. The Catholic church says no to divorce. I do. I believe in the presence of God, I just don’t follow the ways He’s being served.

I think I’ve always been aware of my queerness, but I have just come to the acceptance that I am a queer person who believes in God. I’m able to function with both. I pray when I can, I read my Bible. It wasn’t always like this though. When I was younger, I was active in church and reconciling faith with queerness was difficuIt. I felt like I was putting up a performance, and I would always beat myself up.

Now, I think I’m good. I don’t stress myself anymore. Anywhere belle face, we move. I am a bad bitch and I also believe in God. This life is one, please. I really like church though. The choir is beautiful. I love praise and worship. But I know how all of my work as a Christian and the things I’ve done in the church can change if they simply find out the tiniest detail about my sexuality. Sometimes, it’s a bit confusing, but it is what it is.

Ebenezer.

Reconciling my faith with my sexuality has gone through a series of evolution. In my teenage years, I thought I would get over it. This was when I was being taught that everyone has a cross to bear. I thought my sexuality was my own cross and that if I carried it well, I would be found worthy of God’s love. Then there was the time I thought celibacy was the answer. I saw celibacy as a middle ground between my sexuality and my faith. I thought I could be gay and still be a Christian, and that all I needed to do was to remain celibate.

*Image used for illustrative purposes.

I was the President of my campus fellowship for two years (300 and 400 level). Prior to the appointment, I had already taken the celibacy vow, and as someone who has never had sex with a guy before, I thought I could keep at it. It was during my time as a President of a fellowship that I began seeking answers for myself on how to navigate being gay and being a Christian. I came across a couple of books on this, and it made me know that the translation and interpretation of the bible are political and for the purpose of control. Now I don’t believe in the absoluteness of the bible. I don’t believe the Bible is perfect and that every scripture there was wholly inspired by God. Man will always filter the scripture through his own biases and people have been doing that for centuries. I don’t think the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. I believe men did and men are flawed and short-sighted and will tend to infect the purity of God’s word with their own shortcomings and biases.

Now, my Christian faith is anchored on the two greatest commandments Christ gave which are “Love your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” According to Christ, all other commandments are contained within these two. As a gay Christian, all I need to do is to walk in love.

I have fallen in love with a guy and there’s nothing purer than that and it will be a travesty to say that the love I feel for him is not of God because all the characteristics of love as contained in 1 Corinthians 13 are present in the love I feel for this guy. Even if I hadn’t fallen in love, I am made to know by the scriptures that I am wonderfully and fearfully made and that God saw my unformed body since when I was in the womb and all the days ordained for me does He know. I am of God and like I always say to myself, God cannot be boxed into a cage. He is the source of diversity because he is vast and beyond categories.

Grace.

I stopped going to my parents’ church in 2019 because there was so much misogyny and hatred for anyone they consider different from them. The doctrine was based on fear and paranoia and I wanted no part of it. It was around the same time I started questioning Christianity as a faith and the clear sexism and homophobia. I didn’t know how to reconcile it so I just stopped identifying as a Christian. Late last year, I went to my sister’s church and it was nice. Worship was great, I always cry during worship, I love it so much. So I’ve been going sometimes. Not every week, just when I feel like it.

But then some weeks ago, the pastor started talking about how the rainbow was God’s promise to the earth and that it doesn’t belong to the LGBTQ community. And then he said everybody should pray to push back “darkness” and I just sat there, confused and so hurt. To me, it’s like, you say that this god created me and he loves me right? But then you turn around and say I am of darkness because I like girls the same way I like boys? It made no sense. Everybody around me was speaking in tongues and screaming and I just sat there. So confused. I couldn’t even pray. Right now, I think I’m in limbo again, I don’t know if I can go back there.

Kazim.

I started easing into my sexuality around 2019. I grew up in a typical Muslim home so it was a really, really confusing period for me. My sexuality makes sense to me, my religion makes sense to me and I don’t think I can deny myself of who I am because of my religion neither do I think I can renounce my religion because of my sexuality. At first, this acceptance of myself was confusing because queerness is practically against all the teachings of my religion. A man is not supposed to lay with another man, blah blah blah but fuck it, I didn’t choose to be gay. Honestly, I feel like there’s something we’re not understanding about the whole concept of God Vs Sexuality. The doubts still creep in sometimes but all in all, I’ve found a way to juxtapose these two things and I have no problem whatsoever with either of them. For the time being, I’ll just be the gayest version of myself and live my life according to my principles. The afterlife will sort itself out.

*Image used for illustrative purposes.

Isaac.

Being gay and Christian can be hard, especially when your parents are ministers in the church and you are effeminate. It has affected my faith a lot; I feel God’s love and I know it for myself, but during devotions, sermons, I hear that I am going to hell and I doubt the love I feel for myself and begin to ask for forgiveness. It’s draining.

I told a couple of pastors and people that I was queer, the next thing I knew was that I become a project for them. They began to treat me like a special candidate and policed my life. Self-acceptance as a Christian is very hard. I love the Lord, and I believe that in the circle of life, there is no such thing as a mistake. If the Bible says I am fearfully and wonderfully made, then there is nothing any man says that will change that fact. My escape from all the troubles around me is worship. Difficult as it might be, I am not going to live in condemnation of what a person says and all the subtle homophobic slurs. I am a believer and that’s on period.

Seun.

Before I even knew or understood what being queer was, I had been told it was wrong and that all homosexuals would go to hell. Back then, it didn’t really bother me because I had no idea of my sexuality or sexuality in general. I was just a young child doing what he was told and following his parents to church. But then I turned 12 and I had a brief stint in school. I told my parents about it because I was scared and confused, and in response, they gave me a good lashing and told me to go to my room and pray to God for forgiveness. They also changed me from a boarder to a day student in a school closer to home so they could monitor me closely and so I wouldn’t be influenced by the “evil boys” from my last school.

In the years that followed till I got to int university at 17, it was a dark time for me and a constant battle with myself and the person I was told God wanted me to be which was a heterosexual man. During that period, I gave my life to Christ too many times, went on several fasts and prayers all on my own because I had no one to talk to about it. I couldn’t tell my parents because I knew they would make it worse and I had no siblings so it was just me, God, and my internalized homophobia. It was really tough, but I couldn’t even consider suicide because I was also told that those who did went to hell so that scared me off.

Eventually, I became certain about myself and my sexuality, but in return, I became agnostic because I came to believe that religion doesn’t care much for those who do not believe in it or who do not believe completely. Last year, during a church service in school, a girl came out to share her testimony of how she was delivered from being gay and that service was a lot. First, the chaplain stopped the service and made her the message for the day. He then called out to other people to come for prayers, and all it was just a whole lot to deal with. After that service, I started to get really depressed about my sexuality again. Corona happened and because of the lockdown, I had to stay in Lagos with my aunt and her family for a few months before I could go home to my parents.

Staying with my aunt’s family was good for me because even though they are Christians, they are liberal, different from the conservative Christians I have always known. They explained God to me in a different light and answered some of the questions I’ve had about religion. This made a huge difference for me because I was starting to resent the whole idea of God and religion. Now I’ve decided to believe in God for myself.

This has helped me a lot. Now, I am a lot more secure in myself and my sexuality. I know a lot of people would argue about it, but if God made me queer then He made no mistake beacuse He is incapable of making mistakes. He made me with love and I am a walking embodiment of that love.

I’m not saying everything’s fixed. No, it’s far from that. There are still some days when all the religious hate gets to me, and as much as I am secure in myself and my faith, I still have some questions I would like answers to. I know now that spirituality is a journey and through it all, I can rest assured that God loves me.

Chi-Chi.

I am a very spiritual person and I know God created man and woman, but I have refused to confront my queerness because I feel like I am scared of what I am going to discover. I have not gone to the Bible to conduct research on it or whatnot, but sometimes, I think about the “natural” order of things. If I eventually confront it and do my research, it’s either I realize that religion is a sham and what the Bible says is not a foolproof guide to living. I cannot do away with the Bible. It is impossible. I don’t want to let go of the faith I know and the God I recognise.

*Image used for illustrative purposes.

But then again, I cannot stop feeling how I feel towards girls, and this is something I did not choose. Something I cannot stop. When people say you choose to be this way, feel that way, I feel like they don’t completely get it. I don’t look at girls and tell myself, “Oya, start feeling something for her.”

And so, I keep pushing away this confrontation, and living in denial, running away from the reality that I feel how I feel and that I also love God. I am scared of what answers I might arrive at.

Lawrence.

I’ve been aware of my queerness as far back as JSS1, and it became clearer in secondary school. But as the awareness grew clearer, the Christian guilt got heavier on me. In university, my Christianity got stronger and each time I considered my sexuality, I felt the guilt weigh me down. Each time I tried to become closer to God, queerness felt like the hindering block to attaining that level of spirituality. I always felt incomplete, lacking one last quality that would never go away.

In my final year, I had sex with someone and the guilt was so strong I never spoke to the person again, neither did I try to interact with any queer person. For like 7 years, I tried to live a ‘straight’ life. I refused to have sex or have any interaction with queerness. But throughout this time, the queerness was undeniably present. I just did not give it a voice or act on it. I wished it away, suppressed it, and let the guilt eat me up. My spirituality and my queerness felt like opposites. At one point, I wanted to stop being a Christian, but I did not know how to not be a Christian. It was too ingrained in my life.

My liberation came when it dawned on me one day that God actually loves me and He hasn’t given me any reason to think that He doesn’t love me or has stopped loving me. That was the switch that flipped: becoming aware of God’s love for me and basking in it. As I became more comfortable, the burden of guilt reduced.

This doesn’t mean that it’s completely gone though. It resurfaces once in a while. But I am refusing to let it have another hold on me. Seven years after suppressing my queerness to feel complete and acceptable to God, I vocally admitted it to someone, “Yes, I am gay”, and saying it for the first time, I felt no shame or guilt. Instead, I felt loved, whole.

Kunle Ologunro

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