I Repressed My Sexuality Till I Was 21 — Man Like Bolu Okupe

May 2, 2021

What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.


Today’s Man Like subject is Godwin Tom, a 34-year old talent manager, creative entrepreneur and the Chief Executive Officer at iManage Africa. He talks about struggling through poverty to make a name for himself, his approach to raising his son and managing one of the biggest rappers in West Africa at the age of 21.

Tell me something interesting about yourself.

 Before I turned 20, I had lived in Ikoyi, Dolphin Estate, Obalende, Mile 12, Ajegunle, Surulere, Enugu… 

Wow. Why did you move around so much?

My mom worked as a steward and my dad was a chauffeur. There was a lot of moving around depending on who my parents were working for. One time, my dad couldn’t secure a job, so we had to move in with my cousins in Ajegunle, all six of us. We later moved to our place in Ajegunle. When I attended Government College Ikoyi, I moved in with my brother who lived in Obalende.

When did you realise you were a man?

When I intentionally failed WAEC in SS 3 to spite him. I got mad at my father who refused to let me use my NECO result to enter the university in SS2. It wasn’t until I saw my name on the failed result sheet that I realised the foolishness of my actions. I’d be the one who would suffer for failing, not him. So I decided to get serious with my life.

What did you do?

After high school, I started teaching while working odd jobs on the side — washing cars, waiting tables, waiting at events. My parents didn’t even know I was working. They thought I was just out hanging out with my friends.. 

But I needed to raise money. We didn’t have money, so our parents were out working all day trying to put food on the table. I didn’t want to go the route of other boys in the neighbourhood and steal. 

To get the teaching job, I went to the vice-principal of the school I had just graduated from and asked to teach. She laughed me off. I asked for a chance to teach the introductory part of the Government Studies class to SS1 students and I did, without consulting a book. They were impressed. I was able to because I had been studying the government textbooks and practising how to teach the day before. So they gave me the job.

My car washing gig was at the American Embassy compound. I’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning to wash Chevrolet and GMC trucks before going to teach at the school. After my classes were done, I’d leave for my third job at events whenever I had them where I’d make N3000 – N5000 per job. I was doing all of these to put myself in a position where I could make a decision, without having to steal.

What lessons did you learn from being independent so early?

A lot of lessons, the first of which is — life is hard. And if I wanted to get through life, I needed to be harder. I needed to do more, work harder and surmount whatever challenges I faced. Having to fend for myself taught me that the default order of things is chaos, and what makes you successful is your ability to create order. That’s how people come to respect you and regard you as a competent person. It taught me not to be afraid of doing anything. I came from nothing, so what do I have to lose?

What happened after secondary school?

My dad wanted me to be an engineer, which was a preferred profession of Akwa Ibom people due to the presence of oil companies in the state. I wanted to be a lawyer but my dad wasn’t buying any of that. He said he wouldn’t pay my fees if I didn’t study what he wanted, so I had to find alternative means. Our relationship was strained from that point on.

Wow. How did you get to go to university?

I met a man named Christopher Ononye who promised to pay my first-year school tuition if I passed my jamb. I passed, and he paid.

I went on to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but after a few interactions with cult groups and seeing a dead victim, I knew I couldn’t stay there. I came back to Lagos and got a job at a company as a personal assistant. I moved on to another company as a head of administration and supervisor, which gave me a place to stay and a company car. By this time, my condition had improved considerably from my time in Ajegunle. A few more job hops later, I was in the music industry.

In 2006, I was 19. I got a job that was overseeing Nike products and sponsorship. That was the first time I made a million. It was also the first time I lost a million. Managing M.I. when I was 21 was another of my big breaks.

Wow. From an Ajegunle boy washing cars to a music exec managing M.I. How did that happen?

Funny story. I had told Osagie that I was bored with my work and needed to do more. She told me a new artist, M.I, was looking for a manager, but in fact, M.I. was looking for a personal assistant. I met him and asked him what his plans were. There he was, thinking he was interviewing a P.A, but I was asking him interview questions. A few days later, he called me and to tell me he was looking for a P.A, not a manager. He was however impressed and would like for me to be his manager.

How’s your relationship with your dad these days?

A lot of the conflict was on stuff he thought was best for me versus what I thought was good for me. We’re both stubborn people, so we disagree on many things. I stopped being dependent on him when I left secondary so I started making decisions on my affairs fairly early. By age 17, I was supporting the family financially and by 18, I had moved out of the house. But we continued fighting for a long time.

We were estranged many times, but I finally stopped fighting with him when I almost lost him in a car accident in 2015. That’s when I realised that all our squabbles were silly and I would regret not having a relationship if I lost him. 

Are there any lessons you’ve taken from your relationship with your dad?

His work ethic is unbelievable. He wasn’t educated and the only thing he believed in was hard work.  He came to Lagos from Akwa Ibom, not knowing anybody and living with some Hausa men for a while before finding work as a laundryman and learning to drive. We disagreed often, but I could see he just wanted a son who could fend for himself and his family, a son who would do better than him. I realised that he wasn’t just being a difficult person; he was raising us the way he knew how to and I’ve come to understand the value of that upbringing now that I’m a dad myself.

On the other hand, I’m learning not to see my son as my property. He’ll grow up to have a mind of his own — all I’m here to do is to guide. I have to ensure he’s not owing debts for his education and a duty to give him a name that has a good standing. I do the things I need to do so he can pick up and make a name for himself. I want to teach him to create order out of chaos. I want to teach him that life is fickle and you can be one surgery away from poverty, so you should never put anyone down.

Were there moments in your childhood that shaped who you became as a man?

Growing up, there was a lot of hardship. We were poor, my parents didn’t have jobs sometimes and at some point, we had to live with our cousins in a boys’ quarters apartment. After that, we moved to a one-bedroom face-me-I-face-you where all eight families shared two toilets. Ajegunle wasn’t the most conducive place to raise children. It was a difficult period. There were times where I had to go hungry for my younger brothers to eat. I’d leave the house to hang out at my friends’ houses to eat before going home.

The fact that we lived in Ajegunle is why I don’t blame my mother for going overboard with the discipline sometimes. Ajegunle was a rough place where children could easily go wayward and the fear of my mother prevented me from joining gangs. Beyond that, she sacrificed so much for her children. It’s easy to point fingers and talk about how damaging our parents have been, but we forget that they did a lot of the things they did because it was the only thing they knew.

As a father, what approach are you taking to raising your kids?

My son is only 5 months old, but for the next three years, I’m going to be as involved as possible. I want to be able to correct him without instilling fear in him. I’d like him to be able to ask questions. If I do discipline my son, I’d tell him why and ensure he knows that there are consequences for his actions. I want to raise him to know the value of things — money, family and privilege. I’m learning to be a dad that shows my son how to live by my actions, not just preaching to him how to be. For example, showing him how to treat women from the way I treat his mother.

Has your relationship with your wife changed since your son arrived?

Before we had our son, we were focused solely on each other. Now that he’s here, all our focus is on him. We have to be deliberate about our relationship, making sure that our relationship as parents is separate from our own relationship. We don’t want to wait till when the kids are older before we realise that our relationship has stagnated through the years. 

I’m rooting for you.

.

Check back every Sunday by 12 pm for new stories in the Man Like series. If you’d like to be featured or you know anyone that would be perfect for this, kindly send an email.

Are you a man who would like to be interviewed for a Zikoko article? Fill this form and we’ll be in your inbox quicker than you can say “Man Dem.”

Zikoko Donation Banner

Help Zikoko keep making the content you love

More than ever, people are turning to Zikoko for stories that matter and content they love. But still, we, like many media organisations, are feeling the financial heat of these times. If you find us valuable, please make a contribution to help keep Zikoko zikoko-ing.

Thank you for your support.

We are also cool with Crypto.

Donation Close
Zikoko Logo

Complete Your Commitment

Donation confirm

Your Contribution is confirmed! Amount


Today’s Man Like is Bolu Okupe, a 27-year old bodybuilder and model living in Paris. He talks about repressing his sexuality until he was in his 20s, having to assert his masculinity and how he deals with internet trolls.

When did it first hit you that you were a man?

I don’t think there was any single point where I realised I was a man. Even when I struggled with my sexuality, I knew innately that I was a man. I never called my gender expression into question because through it all, I was secure in myself.

Tell me about your journey with your sexuality.

Let me tell you a short story. On the 20th of January 2021, I hit send on an Instagram post that ended up going viral. In that post, I came out as gay. One of the reasons it went viral was because my father is Doyin Okupe, a popular Nigerian politician who championed Nigeria’s anti-LGBT legislation during Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.  

Wow.

I think that sums up my situation.

When did you realise you were gay?

I knew I was different since I was 10. I didn’t know I was sexually or romantically attracted to men because I wasn’t sexually aware yet. When I was a student at Dowen College, there was this boy who was my senior I was drawn to. I was always around him. I didn’t realise what I had then was a crush. In retrospect, that was when I started to see the signs that I was attracted to men. I think it wasn’t until I was 15 that I was certain. My hormones started to rage, and I was fully aware of sex and sexuality. 

How did becoming certain affect you?

I fought very intense personal battles. I didn’t start exploring with men until my 20s because I was trying to suppress my feelings. I felt guilt and shame, especially because I came from a religious family. I cried and prayed and begged God every night to fix me and turn me straight. Growing up in a religious home makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you for feeling differently. There were mental battles as well — I was depressed for several months and started abusing alcohol and weed just to make the mental torture stop.

I used to force myself to date and sleep with women. After I came out, some of those girls came to ask me if our relationships were fake. 

Were they fake?

I’m not going to say it wasn’t real. I liked them. Outside of physicality, I bonded emotionally with them. I believe you can have emotional connections with anybody regardless of their gender or your sexuality. I may not have been all the way honest with them but then again, I wasn’t being honest with myself.

When did you start being honest with yourself?

One day, I just said, “Fuck it. If I’m gay, I’m gay.” Fortunately for me, I lived in the UK at the time where you could be openly gay without any fear. 

How did your family react to this?

I had actually told my family. I used to be very dramatic so I called a family meeting with my older brother and mother when I was a teenager and said, “I’m sorry guys, but I think I’m queer.” So they always kinda knew. 

I never discussed it with my dad. I was surprised when I heard him say that he had always known I was gay during an interview. I used to make queer content on my YouTube channel and some of it must have found its way to him.

 

What was your relationship with your dad like, growing up?

I moved to the UK at a young age, so we never really had a close relationship, but it was good. Even now, with our differences, we talk on the phone often. One thing I’m never going to do is go anywhere to bash his name. I owe a lot of my life to him. While I no longer depend on him, he was responsible for me. It’s thanks to him I was able to travel to the UK and France, where I currently live. I’m always going to have that gratitude for the things he’s done for me.

Do you think things would have been different if you had grown up with him?

Definitely, and not in a good way. I would never have been comfortable with expressing myself or exploring my sexuality. I recognise the privilege that allowed me to grow up in a different country. I know that queer Nigerians don’t have that the privilege to live openly because of how homophobic Nigerians are. I’m satisfied with the life I’ve lived, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Interesting. Do people often question your masculinity because of your sexuality?

Of course. All the time. When I came out, mean homophobic people were in the comments replying with “yass queen” and “congratulations Miss Bolu” in obvious attempts to feminise me. There’s a stereotype that all gay men are hyperfeminine. I don’t even think it’s just a Nigerian homophobia issue. It’s a global notion that needs changing. There are different types of gay men and that’s okay. This is why it’s important to have different representations of gay men in the media. We don’t get to see a lot of masculine gay men, probably because it’s not as sensational.

I imagine you are a target of a lot of bullying and homophobia, being the son of a prominent Nigerian who supported the passing of Nigeria’s anti-LGBT law. How do you deal with it?

Frankly, I just laugh. I recognise that a lot of people are lost. I’m not trying to make excuses for them, but when you’ve grown up in such a religious culture and you’ve been indoctrinated daily since your childhood, it becomes all you know. It takes a certain amount of exposure, open-mindedness and willingness to learn to be able to divest yourself of homophobia. I’m really not surprised by the backlash I get for being gay.

Hmm.

I don’t think that every person who is homophobic is actually a bad person. I think that they are just operating based on what they know. They don’t know anything else until they make the decision to unlearn what they’ve been taught and not everyone is capable of doing that. 

I’m fortunate to have thick skin, so I’m not really bothered by what people say. I get the vilest, abusive remarks from people in the comments section of my IG even though I’ve never done anything to hurt any one of them. Thankfully, none of it gets to me. There’s also some positivity from people who show their support and let me know that I’m not alone. I get DMs and emails from people who say they were positively impacted by my situation, and honestly, I’d do it all again if given another chance.

That’s good to hear. 

Check back every Sunday by 12 pm for new stories in the Man Like series. If you’d like to be featured or you know anyone that would be perfect for this, kindly send an email.

Are you a man who would like to be interviewed for a Zikoko article? Fill this form and we’ll be in your inbox quicker than you can say “Man Dem.”

Zikoko Donation Banner

Help Zikoko keep making the content you love

More than ever, people are turning to Zikoko for stories that matter and content they love. But still, we, like many media organisations, are feeling the financial heat of these times. If you find us valuable, please make a contribution to help keep Zikoko zikoko-ing.

Thank you for your support.

We are also cool with Crypto.

Donation Close
Zikoko Logo

Complete Your Commitment

Donation confirm

Your Contribution is confirmed! Amount

Are you a man who would like to be interviewed for a Zikoko article? Fill this form and we’ll be in your inbox quicker than you can say “Man Dem.”

Olufemi Fadahunsi

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

April 11, 2021

Today’s Man Like is Andy Obuoforibo, a 40-year-old politician and product manager. He tells us about how his father’s warmth and work ethic taught him the real meaning of masculinity, how his mother’s foray into politics influenced him to participate in politics and why he supports the LGBTQ+ movement as a Nigerian politician. When did […]

Watch

Now on Zikoko

May 10, 2021

Emojis were created to make texting cooler and make conversations a lot more interesting. Since we are ever so kind at Zikoko, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to interpret what some emojis should mean.  1.🙂 This emoji should be called the 40+ emoji, it’s not a smile or a frown? It’s passive-aggressive, very much like […]

May 10, 2021

‘Real men don’t cry’ is one of the top three most stupid and inaccurate things I have ever heard. Men cry, that’s the reality of life and it doesn’t make them less of men. To help illustrate and normalize men crying for normal and silly things, we asked a few men what the weirdest and […]

May 10, 2021

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four Nigerians live with a mental health condition. That’s 50 million Nigerians. Yet, the country is ill-equipped to provide adequate care to the people who need it the most. With only eight federal government-run neuropsychiatric hospitals, there are a ton of people in need of mental health […]

Recommended Quizzes

November 15, 2019

There are two types of people in Nigeria right now: those who are proud Marlians, and those who are still in denial about stanning the divisive star. So, for those who proudly wear the Marlian tag, we made a quiz to test how well you really know Naira Marley. If you get more than 6 […]

October 30, 2019

2010 was a game-changing one for Nollywood, with our movies making serious cash and getting international acclaim. So, which of these hits released between 2010 and 2019 — from the pace-setting The Wedding Party to the divisive Trip To Jamaica — best suits your personality? Well, that’s what this quiz is here to answer:

November 12, 2019

Are you a single pringle, stuck in a complicated situationship or happily married to the love of your life? This quiz is here to guess your current relationship status, and as you know, Zikoko quizzes are incredibly accurate (don’t quote us). So, give a shot:

April 14, 2020

Every friend group consists of very different and specific characters — from the parent to the fun one — and it can be a little tough figuring out where you fall. So, we’ve created a quiz that lets you know exactly what kind of friend you are. Take to find out:

April 9, 2020

At some point in life, we all learnt that someone can be very intelligent and still lack common sense. That’s the difference between being book smart and being street smart. If you’re not sure where on the spectrum you fall, well, that’s what this quiz is here to tell you. Take it:

More from Man Dem

May 10, 2021

‘Real men don’t cry’ is one of the top three most stupid and inaccurate things I have ever heard. Men cry, that’s the reality of life and it doesn’t make them less of men. To help illustrate and normalize men crying for normal and silly things, we asked a few men what the weirdest and […]

zikoko- dating advice
May 5, 2021

I am fascinated by the lives of sex workers because I often wonder how they navigate a hypocritical and judgmental country like Nigeria. Over the weekend, I spoke with a few sex workers I personally knew and asked them if their partners would be willing to speak to me for a story on what it […]

April 30, 2021

As told to Femi We hope for easy lives. But life doesn’t always go the way the wish. I spoke to Balo*, a an educational program advisor. We talked about fending for his family when he lost his father and a culture that does now allow men to grieve. We had an interesting chat. My […]

April 26, 2021

I am personally very curious about what the lives of men whose realities are underrepresented look like. Over the weekend, I had a conversation with a friend about his brother who was a single dad and it made me wonder about what it is like being a single dad as a Nigerian man living in […]

Watch

Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.
X