Folu* is a 35 year-old gay Nigerian man living in Atlanta, Georgia. Before leaving Nigeria, he didn’t have or feel like he needed a gay community of friends. But everything changed when he finally moved to a country where he didn’t have to hide behind machismo. 

This is Folu’s story, as told to Conrad

Have you ever heard of straight-passing? It’s the queer version of how biracial people like Mariah Carey can often pass for white, but for sexuality, it’s a queer person passing as straight. Even though straight-passing is a controversial subject, it’s something I’ve always done, consciously and unconsciously.  

I’d always known I was gay for as long as I could remember. There wasn’t any significant moment of realisation; my queerness just came with my consciousness as a human being. But the thing is, I didn’t tick any of the stereotypical boxes gay men were supposed to tick. I didn’t care about fashion, pop music or Drag Race. I was a “guy’s guy” who liked football and beer. The only thing that differentiated me from the next guy was that I might be attracted to that guy. 

Because of my ability to easily assimilate into the straight community, I never suffered any form of bullying or discrimination. All my friends were straight except one — another straight-passing guy. I’d always assumed it was an unconscious choice, but the older I got, the more I had to confront the truth that part of my blending in was a defence mechanism. If I looked and sounded “straight”, no one would suspect anything, and I’d be safe. 

But all of that changed when I relocated from Lagos to Atlanta in 2021. 

When I started applying for jobs in Atlanta, I honestly didn’t think I’d get one. In a post-lockdown world where people were losing their jobs everywhere, here I was on a plane to take up a job that would’ve easily been given to an American. 

I left Nigeria, never knowing what it felt like to have openly gay friends. All the other gay men I knew were men I’d met on hookup apps and had sex with. And because of my internalised homophobia and the fear of being outed

, I’d confined our relationships to just sex. I didn’t really have a gay male friend until I met my co-worker, Nathan*

Like me, Nathan was Nigerian, but he’d moved to Atlanta right after secondary school for university. He was nothing like I’d ever experienced, and till today, I still like to say he forced our friendship. Because he’d moved to America earlier, Nathan had a surer sense of self and sexuality. He’d experienced loved loudly, chopped breakfast, gone back to the streets and expressed himself freely as a gay man. I avoided him at first because I didn’t want to be the new gay guy from Nigeria, but he saw through my bullshit and persisted. 

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Even though I knew I was finally in a country where I didn’t have to pretend, I was still very discreet. I  kept all my interactions with queer men to just sex. And oh boy, I was having a lot of it. However, when the novelty of meeting new men every two days started to wear off, I started to feel lonely, and that’s when Nathan and I became friends. He was the first Nigerian I got close to and the only person who understood the loneliness I was feeling at the time. I eventually warmed up to having my first openly gay friend. 

The first time I admitted to being gay in Atlanta was while filling out a hospital form. After the “Male”, “Female, and “Others” part of the form, there was a box for “Sexual Orientation”. Coming from Nigeria, this was new to me. After much thought, I ticked the “Gay” part. That moment turned out to be a major turning point for me. 

The final part of my acceptance happened when Nathan dragged me to the 2021 pride ceremony in Atlanta. I’d heard about pride when I was in Nigeria, and I also remember when young Nigerians were calling for one. I distinctly remember reading an article by Vincent Desmond and wondering why we needed pride in Nigeria, knowing we weren’t even safe in the first place. I thought it was the new generation of gays being extra and overly influenced by Western media. 

Before getting to America, I used to think of pride as a massive petri dish of gay men and women looking to hook up. And while that can be true, in Atlanta,  I also noticed something more: community. Thanks to Nathan, I ended up talking to many people, and everyone there had a story to tell. Some struggled with self acceptance, some had accepted themselves but struggled with a lack of acceptance from their friends and family while others just came out with a “fuck the world” attitude. 

Despite the diverse skin tones and experiences, we were all connected, not just by our pain but by our joy. Pride was a celebration I didn’t know I needed until I was smack in the middle of it. 

The emotions during the pride march got so overwhelming that I found myself crying. The tears were for many things: for the time I’d lost building relationships where I was scared to be myself; for the fact that this glorious thing I was experiencing was something many Nigerian queer men needed but lacked access to; andbecause I recognised how lucky I was to be in a space where I could love and be loved without fear. 

I’m not big on tears, so this was a moment for me. 

Even though I’d made plans to go back home with someone and have lots of sex, I left that march with something more. For the first time, I not only realised who I was, but I also accepted it. I’ll never tick the stereotypical boxes of being gay, and that’s alright. While I’m still the football-loving, super macho gym bro, I’m also gay AF and not afraid to show it anymore. It took leaving Nigeria for me to finally accept who I really am. 

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the subject involved. 

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