The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, signed by former president, Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 was a horrible time for queer people in Nigeria. I remember feeling so defeated the day I heard the news. Everything felt hopeless and I felt obligated to perform compulsory heterosexuality before I officially came out to myself and met other amazing queer people.
Existing as a queer Nigerian is a difficult, yet unique experience. There’s the constant reminder from people around us; our families, places of worship and schools, that we are ‘other’ and we aren’t seen as worthy to be treated with basic human decency.
When I think of queerness, I immediately remember sad or traumatic events, especially in a place like Nigeria. It is easy to remember books, stories or movies where there are either no happy endings or where the queer character gets a happy ending but only after a lot of suffering.
A few months ago, I watched the music video for ‘Same Size Shoe’ by serpentwithfeet with a friend and I remember being so overwhelmed with happiness and thinking ‘I want what they have’, I ended up watching that video over and over again, just to see the Black queer couple be happy together.
Queer joy is empowering because it is a form of resistance that celebrates the progress we’ve made as a community, as we exist unapologetically, even though we know there is a long road ahead. While it is important to show that queer trauma is real and sometimes a part of our story, it is also important to represent queer joy in the media and to actively promote things that are positive. As a polyamorous queer person, I find queer joy in hanging out with my chosen family and in communicating with my partners. I find queer joy in seeing other Nigerians take up space, even behind queer-coded Twitter accounts.
I find queer joy in seeing a Nigerian lesbian boldly wave the pride flag on the streets of a queerphobic country, and in seeing a queer person scream “queer lives matter” at the top of their lungs, in the middle of a protest.
I find queer joy in seeing other queer people with their partners when I’m walking in school and other public places. I find queer joy when my friend talks to me very excitedly about a girl in her class that she has a crush on, who is also queer. Everywhere I find queer people thriving, I feel different shades of happiness.
Queer people in Nigeria have negative experiences with their families and with people who were supposed to be their support systems. Government policies like the SSMPA have directly enabled the increased discrimination of queer people in Nigerians. From loneliness and anxiety to depression and low self-image, the mental health of many queer people in Nigeria is a direct result of bullying and violence carried out by society and enabled by religious bodies and queerphobic laws. The fear that comes from the thought of being outed and faced with unacceptance and withdrawal of support has led a lot of queer Nigerians to a life of planning for the unknown by working extra hard to save up in case we get disowned by our families or saving up to find a way to leave our oppressive country and families for the rest of our lives.
Due to these situations, a lot of queer people seek out friendships with other queer people to help deal with the feeling of loneliness. Every day on social media and in real life, queer Nigerians are reminded by their chosen families that they are not alone. In situations where we fear that family could be lost if we’re outed, other queer people are reassuring us that DNA isn’t what makes up a family, love is.
Pro-LGBTQ+ organisations are prioritising the mental health of queer people by providing easy access to therapy, organising emergency funds and temporary accommodation for queer Nigerians who have lost their homes. Queer Nigerians are also helping themselves heal collectively by sharing experiences with each other, organising events to network with other queer people and engaging in creative outlets like writing, art and music that tells the stories of their lived experiences.
Therapy services that centre queer experiences are very much needed especially in a country where most organisations exclude queer people from the services they offer. Ndidi, a private psychotherapy practice, is doing an amazing job at being inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community by putting their staff through training courses to educate them about gender and sexuality, including respecting and affirming their clients by using their correct pronouns. In the words of Amanda Iheme, the owner of Ndidi:
“Therapy that centres marginalised groups is very important. There needs to be help available that understands and takes into consideration the unique experiences of queer people for them to be adequately supported”.
In spite of all that is happening in Nigeria, I feel very happy being a queer person. The same is true for many queer people in Nigeria. In moments where I feel the sadness of my present reality, I also remember how powerful the joy I feel can be, and how that joy amplifies my resolve to exist fiercely in a country that keeps trying to break me down. The light at the end of the tunnel seems very dim from where we stand, but even if everything else is uncertain, we know we have each other. We are creating spaces where our voices and experiences are prioritized, and with the actions of several Nigerian queer people living in and outside of the closet, I can feel a revolution coming our way, and the revolution will be queer.