Monday, 2 April 2012

Cultural Censorship: My Coming Out is not a threat to your Closet!

I do a double take whenever I hear the words “Your coming out is threatening the safety of closeted gays”, and the addendum “Protesting 'Anti Same Sex' bills and homophobic behavior is a threat to closeted gays, please stop the protests”.
Really? I mean, really?

Recently on a group page, an African who identifies as queer recently called me selfish for daring to come out as bisexual and for protesting against oppression of LGBTs.  She suggested that African lesbians and gays should be discrete and not flaunt their love-life. Well, she wasn’t the first African to say that., it really is that sad and that is why I have decided to write a blog post about this issue.

What exactly qualifies as flaunting ones' love-life? Is it that goodbye kiss at the train station? The hand-in-hand walk you take with your lover when the weather permits? Or the dance you have together at that office party? I see heterosexuals do all these every day and no one ever accused them of flaunting their love life, in fact it is often referred to as ‘celebrating their love”. Also, to the best of my knowledge, no Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans has ever stoned anyone to death for being heterosexual, however many LGBTs risk that possibility in my beloved country, Nigeria, where it is actually legal in the northern part of the country to stone homosexuals to death.   

Why should my having a love life and expressing my love openly like every other normal adult, be considered as 'flaunting' simply because my lover and I are of the same sex? Why should my being in love with a same-sex adult and celebrating my love lead to 14 years imprisonment or public stoning? More importantly, why should closeted gays try to stop me from being OUT and PROUD? Why the censorship?

I decided to post the exchange I had with the self identified African queer as a blog post because these arguments or “reasoning” seems to be applauded in some closeted African LGBTs forum. The arguments raised are often always the same....
  •  “If you present yourself as a person who has the same basic needs as the next individual you begin to establish bonds of humanity which may compel others to partner with you in this race.”
My thought on this is…
Hmm… Wait a minute I am no longer a human being by default? Yuk! Now, because of my sexual orientation, I have to proof that I am a person? And to think this argument came from a self identified queer African activist! Double Yuks! 

And here is another one-
  • “NO ONE will listen to you if they feel as though you are violating their sensibilities.”
 My thoughts-
 Hmm… Now I have to walk on egg shells, deny my orientation, live in the closet, be less than who I am and pretend to be who I am not, just so I wouldn’t violate the sensibilities of homophobes? Really? Sorry, but no thanks, I will rather they do not violate my fundamental human rights. Is that too much to ask for?

And here comes another one- 
  • “This fight must be fashioned within the cultural framework. I’m not sure we fully comprehend that every single time we use words like "homophobia, gay, dyke, trans, etc" we conjure images in the minds of our people that just equate FOREIGN and create a discomfiture that is virtually impossible to overcome.”
 And my take on this is - 

We do not have to present ourselves as a person; we are already PERSONS before any TAGS. I see many things as FOREIGN, including CHRISTIANITY, but I see a human being before the tags. Most of the time, as Homosexuals, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, we seek approval from our IMMEDIATE FAMILY. If our family members suddenly stopped seeing us as A PERSON once we identify as GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL TRANS, the problem is not with us or our IDENTITY (We have a right to self identity), the problem lies with the person who refused to see beyond their perceived culture or understanding of things.

The argument that any sexual act or relationship that deviates from the standard heterosexual norm is against African culture is using “Culture” to sanction the erasure of dialogue about alternative sexualities and to condone homophobia, therefore constituting a form of cultural violence. A society that stifles sexual and gender identities discourages the recognition of human dignity. LGBTI rights are human rights and these rights must be fought for no matter whose Ox or culture is gored because HUMAN RIGHTS ARE WORTH FIGHTING FOR EVERYWHERE.

And then I was hit with this- 
  •   “And with all Human rights actions or protests if you persistently transgress the laws of the land you will not get anywhere. All successful movement in history have included the efforts of allies and sympathisers, in order to garner this sort of support there is always sacrifice on either side. Also I think we forget that the same space required for the coming out process should be afforded family and close friends. in my experience they do not fail to see your humanity, it’s that they must mourn a loss first before accepting the new expanded definition of who one is, which should be entirely conceivable.”
My response to the above- 
 And my point is EVEN If family members, friends or colleagues must mourn a "LOSS", they must NOT DENY LESBIANS, GAYS, BISEXUALS OR TRANS the right to assert that they are LIVING. In most cases, mourning this LOSS often means DEMANDING the SILENCE and INVISIBILITY of LESBIANS, GAYS BISEXUALS and TRANSSEXUALS. Civil Rights movements everywhere has had to do with transgressing the existing laws of the lands, and these include Black movements and Women movements. To make progress, we must be ready for the consequences.

 AN  ALLY WOULD NOT DEMAND THAT I LIVE IN A CLOSET. Living in the closet is not ALWAYS A CHOICE, it is FORCED on many. COMING OUT in some society is not just about losing friends and family members; it could mean the loss of life. However, people must have the right to come out without feeling that they are endangering the lives of those in the closets. I say this from experience because even when fully residing in Nigeria, I was told by some members of the Nigerian LGBT community that MY being OPENLY OUT as a BISEXUAL is a THREAT to THEIR own existence, they would prefer I remain in the closet! Needless to say that was not, and still not, an acceptable option for me. Also, the organized protests by the group ‘Nigerian in Diaspora Against Anti Same Sex Laws’ to protest the ‘Anti Same Sex Marriage’ bill was seen by some people as a threat to closeted gays in Nigeria and my take on this is, WE ALL HAVE A RIGHT TO PROTEST OUR OPPRESSION. We are all stakeholders.

Unfortunately SEX TALK is still considered a taboo in many African homes. Sex education that encompasses sexual orientation won't be making it to Nigerian school curriculum anytime soon, many African schools do not even teach EVOLUTION! In the meantime, we try our best to positively influence policies, change laws and be visible enough, so as not to be ignored or be told we do not exist. Discussions and debates on social networks help take the education into people's homes. Let us continue to break the silence.

   The unbelievable response I got was-  
  • “I'm not confident that evolution should be taught in schools”. 
      (OK, I must confess that at this junction I had serious doubt about the possibility of having a logical debate with someone who does not believe evolution should be taught in schools!)  

She continues- “My point from my words is that we start to infiltrate people's thought space by showing them the very humanity they seek to deny others. Yes, these social movements transgressed the written law, but people appealed to the sensibilities of the common man. You annoy alienate the very people you wish to win over. The education must come from many perspectives and in my opinion the militant stance will only continue to cause strife & see blood shed. No one need die over this, we have too many lessons from the past to learn from. Also it's important that under the guise of being openly ourselves we do not endanger others. No one wins that way. Discretion isn't such a bad thing, not everyone need know who you take to your bed."

My response-
 Evolution just like Gravity is a scientific fact. How do you teach SCIENCE in schools without teaching its basic theory because it contradicts the teachings of some cultures and religion?

Personally, I am not engaged in a war to win people over, World Wars and the 1948 declaration on human rights already did that for me since it asserts unequivocally that ALL HUMAN BEINGS ARE BORN EQUAL IN RIGHTS AND DIGNITY. I do not intend to start another war before I assert that right. People that still do not get this basic human right fact need to be confronted with this unequivocal truth.

I do not demand DISCRETION from HETEROSEXUAL couples, why should ANYONE demand DISCRETION from me because I am GAY, LESBIAN or BISEXUAL? I guess a TRANS has no choice in this, by this theory, they should remain true to their birth sex so as not to get anyone annoyed? Really? Well, I strongly believe that if I chose to kiss my same sex partner in public just like every other heterosexual is allowed to, I should not be stoned for that!

Do unto others what you expect them to do unto you. I refuse to be blamed for the ignorance and intolerance of others and forcing me to be discreet in my love life because of my sexual orientation is BLAMING and PUNISHING ME for the ignorance of others. This is SIMPLY NOT ACCEPTABLE. BTW, if people do not wish to know who I take to my bed, they should stop peeking into my bedroom and they should stop legislating on my sex life. SIMPLE!

    Her response-
  •  " You may not, the society does. Sorry to say but you're stance sounds a little selfish and doesn't really account for the reality of the greater good of even this niche in society.
(Err…I must confess that at this point I realized I should have stopped any debate with someone who does not believe evolution should be taught in schools!)

My response-
 And forcing Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals into the closet and denying them the right to be themselves is NOT SELFISH? How does the society’s stance of discriminating against LGBTs account for the greater good of "even a niche" in this society? I really am failing to see your point here. Are you calling me SELFISH for COMING OUT as a BISEXUAL and for PROTESTING for my HUMAN RIGHTS? BTW, you said my stance sounds selfish and does not count, sorry to wake you up but MY stance COUNTS because ONLY I get to LIVE my life and WE all make up the society, not the other way round.

   Her response-
  • " Dude, you know the issues of same-sex/gender relations in Nigeria and I'll venture to say in other parts of the continent is about more than just coming out. So you make you grand stand, then what?! What options does the average young person outside of major cities have? How does 'coming out' translate in local contexts. We mustn't be short sighted and decide to with people's lives because of alphabets soup. I knew who I was & who I like way before I heard of these foreign terms. People continue to live even under the pressure of harsh laws. The question becomes how to reframe the discussions privileging a rights based approach & the need for access to basic goods and services. These are the stakes for many Africans, not attaching a label to one."
 My response-
Well, for one, I do not identify as "Dude" so I will take it that the comment was not addressed to me. Coming out is not about "making a grand stand" like you unfortunately put it, it is about BEING OPENLY ME. Labels are labels; it does not matter whether they are foreign labels or African labels. Some of us do not wish to have labels FORCED on us whether by family members, fellow Africans or well meaning foreigners, therefore we CHOOSE to DEFINE ourselves. Identifying as a BISEXUAL is me defining who I am without APOLOGY, because I got nothing to apologize for. If my definition of myself inconveniences you, then YOU are the one with the problem, not me.

At that point I followed it up with my classic poem ‘I am coming out’ and I got a terse “congrats” to which I courtly responded , “Thank you”.

There are few points I cannot but stress enough, these are:- 
  1.  Coming Out is as much of a right as staying in the Closet.
  2. We all have a right to protest or not protest our oppression. The fact that I choose to speak out against my oppression does not infringe on your right to remain silent. I won’t force you to carry protests placards, please do not assume you can force me to go into the closets. 
  3.  Strategies differ, respect my strategy and I will respect yours but do not force your strategy down my throat. 
  4.  Labels do not cease to be labels simply because they are local labels. Gender and sexual identification is a personal right, it is not the duty of a community whether foreign or local, to force a label on anyone. 
  5. LGBTs, especially African LGBTs, need to first convince themselves that LGBT Rights are Human Rights. It is not a rhetoric, it is not a slogan; it is a conviction. Any residue of doubt about the validity of the claim leads to hesitation about standing up for your inalienable human rights.
I do not need the approval of anyone before I stand up and assert my human right not to be discriminated against based on my sexual orientation. My advocacy is about opening other people’s eyes to this self-evident truth. It is my hope that other sexual minorities would come to this self realization and stop apologizing for who they are. Cultural Censorship has no place in a democracy and Culture should never be an excuse for victimisation.  

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