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.
The subject of today’s “Man Like” is Desmond, a renowned writer. He talks about not fitting into the masculine stereotype, being raised by women, and how his anxiety about money pushes him.
When did you get that you’re a man now vibe?
I feel like I’ve always been aware that I was different. Growing up as an only child with my mum, I was always aware that my actions affected other people. This meant that I grew up as a super good kid who never got into trouble or had a fight.
One time, someone put my name in the list of noisemakers and somehow my mum got involved. She had them remove my name from the list because to her, “it’s very unlike Desmond.”
Teachers would enter to flog the whole class and not touch me. They’d always be like: “It’s Desmond. He doesn’t make noise.” I wasn’t well behaved because it was my nature but because I felt that “life is trash but my mum is looking up to me and I have the responsibility to be all of these things [responsible] to her and my family.” I wasn’t like the other children who could play, have fun and be destructive the way kids usually are. I’ve always made decisions knowing if I fucked up, other people’s lives would be fucked up.
It’s fine. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided to live life for myself on my own terms. I need to have fuck ups and make my own mistakes. I’m constantly telling myself: live your life and have fun.
Give me an instance you chose yourself first.
My mum called me the other day to ask for a huge favour, and it involved money. I knew getting the money would inconvenience me so I declined.
At the end of the day, everyone will be fine.
Boundaries are important and that’s something therapy is helping me work on. My therapist told me that I have zero boundaries because I’m always giving and giving.
I have situations where I know I’m inconveniencing myself financially and mentally, yet, I still send money home. I don’t tell my friends and therapist about it. In my head I’m like, I shouldn’t be doing this because I’m falling back into old patterns — but also like, no one will know. I’m aware that change is not a straight path. As long as you keep trying, you’ll get to your destination. It’s just that every now and then, we fuck up.
Lmao. That’s my mantra for 2021.
You said something about your dad not being in the picture. Which men did you look up to growing up?
Almost every single one of the people I looked up to growing up were women. In particular, Black African women. My mum has six sisters, and all of them had a hand in raising me. It has always been women who took a special interest in my life. With men, my interaction usually involves them telling me to “Man Up.” And because I don’t care about the “regular” man stuff, I don’t have much in common with men. Because of the type of masculinity I saw growing up and how genuinely problematic it was, I believed that every man was a cheater. I had terrible models of men growing up.
Career-wise, most of the people I look up to are black women — from Beyonce to my mum. Women taught me how to be a man — they made me see all the ways men fuck up, therefore, things I should not do as “a man.”
I’ve had to leave behind the definition of a man because I don’t entirely fit the description.
How would you define your masculinity?
I don’t. Because it’s hard.
It feels like you must have had a hard time fitting in with kids in school…
I had an unbelievably hard life in school. One of the worst experiences I had was when I was in uni for the first time and a lecturer was dividing the class for a debate. The lecturer split the guys and the girls into different corners. As I was going to the guys corner, the guys were like, I shouldn’t come to their side — I should go to the girl’s side because I’m a girl. Incidents like this make it hard for me to define masculinity or what being a man is. The funniest part of that incident was that the girls were open to allowing me to stay with them. My masculinity as a whole revolves around being rejected by men but accepted by women.
I’m so sorry. How did the incident make you feel?
At the time, I felt stupid as fuck. I was standing in the middle of the class, all the attention on me. It’s more annoying because it’s not an isolated incident. Similar stuff like this happened in secondary school and it was repeating itself in uni. I can’t even say it’s a locality thing because my secondary school wasn’t even in Nigeria.
Sigh. Is this not frustrating?
It’s extremely frustrating because I’m always on my own, and I have people going out of their way to be mean to me because I don’t fit their idea of what a man is supposed to look like or act like.
I’ve been in a cab where the driver was asking why my ears were pierced or why I had my nails painted. More often than not, women are open to how I am. But men will always want to ask you why? Almost like how dare you not be like them?
Has there ever been violence?
I’m lucky that it always ended with dialogue. Because I don’t want to push my luck, the moment someone starts to be passionate about my appearance, I start to move away. I’m a very peaceful person, and I try not to fight people. At least not by myself.
I’m from PH, I’m covered.
I’m curious, what makes you happy as a person?
I stan a focused king.
It’s not even banter. Money gives you a certain level of protection. As a queer person in Nigeria, money gives you a level of independence. The major reason why it’s easy for me to be out is because I make my own money. I don’t have my family dictating my life or anything for me. I know it’s the money I’ve made that gives me that level of independence. Any time I get a new credit alert, I get reminded that I can renew my protection.
Another thing that gives me joy is the fact that I’ve been able to build a small community that distracts me from how incredibly violent Nigeria can get.
I love it.
Does anything scare you?
I’m a very anxious person, and my anxiety makes me work extremely hard. I get anxious because I know that protection with money is limited. This realisation makes me push myself harder. It also makes it difficult for me to say no when I get an opportunity that’ll give me more money. My biggest fear is allowing anxiety overwhelm me and dictate my my life.
I’m also anxious about losing a loved one. Death is one thing that no matter how smart you are, no money, social capital, or connection can help you figure because it has happened. My mum raised me with the motto: “Anything wey happen, e get how we go do am.” What’s the solution to death?
I’m now also worried about dying and realising there’s an afterlife.
Bro. Me too.
It’s not even discovering hell or anything. I don’t want an afterlife. I want to die and just die. If God comes now and says choose between dying and nothing, I’ll choose nothing. I just want to die and sleep forever. It have do. I’ve suffered enough.
We’re all living the same lives.
I’m curious: what’s your relationship like with your mum these days?
My mum and I used to be really close growing up. However, at the point I came out to my mum, she was religious. Everything went downhill from there. She reacted violently to the news that her only son was not straight. Now, she has not warmed up to the idea, but she’s better. She still tries to get me a girlfriend though. I guess this is her own way of trying to make me a “regular Nigerian man.”
I’m sorry. I can’t help but wonder who you go to for advice…
I look within. Have you ever listened to Whitney Houston’s song The Greatest Love Of All? There’s a part that goes: “I never found anyone who fulfill my needs, A lonely place to be, And so I learned to depend on me.” That’s how I navigate life.
There are not many people at the intersection I live in, so it’s hard to find people to talk to. I try to learn little bits from different people. When that doesn’t work, I take a leaf from people who have been in similar situations. And for me it’s very important that those people are as close to my identity as possible. I can’t possibly be taking advice from a heterosexual white man; we don’t have the same reality.
You don’t oh.
How much of your identity has been defined by your career?
My career defined me because most of what I write are things that I care about. So work is an extension of myself and my passion. It also helps that I’m not poor in the process of pursuing my passion.
Before I go, I want to ask what you think are the necessary ingredients to living a happy life.
Money. Followed by a lot of therapy, which is also tied to money. You need the right people around you, and therapy allows you to be the right person for the right people.
You also need to be doing good work, work that you’re proud to show off. Then you need love. We all need love. Lastly, and most importantly, you need to be as far away from Nigeria as possible.
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.