Tired: The Black Queer Experience

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Tired: The Black Queer Experience

Your Black Lives Matter only really extends to one group of people within the black community because GOD FORBID, we talk about the black LGBTQ+ community."

Let me paint a scenario for you. You’re sitting down, minding your own business, you see a funny Tik Tok and laugh. There’s someone next to you saying, “Why do you laugh like that?” Okay… maybe I need to change how I laugh. 

Another scenario. You’re walking down the street with your sibling. All of a sudden, “Why do you walk like that?” Oh… I didn’t realise I was walking weird, let me just switch up the way I walk, maybe. 

One more: you’re giving a presentation in class, after the presentation, you sit back down. The person sitting next to you says, “Why do you talk like that?” Oh okay, damn… should I change the way I talk too? Right okay, so how do I do that? How are guys meant to talk? How am I supposed to walk? Is there a right way to laugh? Why can’t I figure it out? People often ask what the letters in LGBTQIA+ mean. To put it in simple terms, it means having to second guess every move you make. 

Growing up gay is growing up scared. You might not know it at the time, but really and truly you’re scared constantly. Scared because everything you dread that you are, might actually be true. I wanted to write this article, not to complain or wallow in self-pity, but situations that have occurred in recent weeks have made me realise I’ve never had the opportunity to put into words how I feel.

queer chapter z

Image credit: Stina Aleah

I’d say right now, I’m actually very happy with who I am, but that’s not to say I still have some reservations when being my authentic self. I grew up in a Nigerian household where I was the only boy with four sisters. I lived in a white area and went to a predominantly white Primary school. I wouldn’t say I actually noticed it though. I mean, of course, I noticed when a random black boy two years below me came into my lesson asking the teacher for some paper and the teacher screamed, “Oh you’re Tosin’s brother!”

I wasn’t blind, I just wasn’t bothered. If anything, I loved going to school, unlike most, it was something I always looked forward to, both primary and secondary. If anything, it was coming back home that I dreaded the most.

Now, before I get into this, I want to make a disclosure that I in no way shape or form hate my family. I am extremely grateful for my parents being able to find a life in the UK for themselves and setting up a solid foundation for their children. My sisters too, I love them with all my heart. That’s not to be said they didn’t mess me up though, LOL! I would always remember coming home and getting ridiculed for having white friends.

Now, not to toot my own horn, but I am pretty popular. I always have been. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it’s always been. Every friendship I have I hold dear to my heart and I think I kind of resent my family for always making that difficult for me. If they saw me with my white friends, I’d get made fun of. Thinking back to it now, it’s probably why I forced myself to “fall in love” with the only two black girls in my class. (Wait a minute… how you gon’ cuss me for making friends in the white school that YOU put me in?!)

queer - chapter z

Image credit: Ginstar

Sometimes I think about comments my family made to me about my white friends and I think maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe if I was straight it wouldn’t affect me as much. I don’t know if that makes sense but I feel like when you’re gay, anything anyone says to you, you automatically take it personally because you’re already so used to hearing that your very existence is wrong. But all of this kind of set me up for secondary school and university.

In the black community, having too many white friends looks bad. I remember one of my Bulgarian friends at university came up to me and said,“Oh, so I heard you’re an Oreo!”. This hit hard because I know she had only just learned that phrase – they sure as hell aren’t saying that in Bulgaria. It’s a term I’d heard said about me for a while in school and clearly, it was catching on again at university. 

The reality of it all is though, I do actually feel a lot more comfortable when I’m with my white friends. Over time, I came to realise that I preferred hanging out with white people than I do black people. In the black community, most of the time it feels like there’s not much space to be open with who you are. Especially as a gay man. Although there is homophobia in the white community too, somehow, they seem to be a whole lot more accepting, from my experience anyway.

But how can I tell my family the reason why I probably have a lot of white friends is that I don’t feel like I have to police myself around them? You see it now, with the Black Lives Matter movement, how passionate everyone is about racism. But your Black Lives Matter only really extends to one group of people within the black community because GOD FORBID, we talk about the black LGBTQ+ community and how everyone acts like they have to separate their identities. GOD FORBID we talk about how black trans women are the most likely group of people to be murdered out of any group of people.

These discussions are not typically had in the black community or with the black people I surrounded myself with. If anything was said about the LGBTQ+ group, it was always slander and homophobic language, and I’d sit and grin it. Don’t get me wrong though, I do have a lot of black friends (“I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black!”). I surround myself with like-minded people, people who I know are accepting of who I am. But I still have that immediate fear within me when I’m around me, “Am I acting too gay?” 

“Maybe I should deepen my voice?”

“Be careful not to cross your legs!”

…Thoughts and feelings I don’t have when I’m with my white friends.

The difficult thing about Nigerian parents is that they don’t talk to you. I mean, of course, they talk. But for the most part, it’s that they’re talking AT you. It’s very hard to speak about anything other than school or God (LOVE YOU GOD!) or being respectful to your elders. I think that’s why I always dread coming back home because we don’t actually TALK.

The thing is though when I think like that, I feel guilty. Guilty because there’s nothing actually really happening. When I say that I mean that there’s no sort of physical abuse happening at home, no severe financial problems; unlike many homes with distressed families. So how do I have the right to feel this way about my home life when others have it much worse?

Only recently have I been able to be more comfortable with who I am and I owe a lot of that to my friends. I realise that I actually really resent my family a lot, which I know is extremely unhealthy, but I just can’t help it.

Recently, when I think about memories at home, I think about the time my mum told ME off for my sister calling me gay. I think about when my dad rushed up the stairs and beat my toddler-self for wearing my mum’s clothes. I think about my sister looking at me in disgust when I sang in front of her (I’m pretty fucking good at singing y’all), but she didn’t like it because I looked gay. I don’t know why these memories have recently been lingering in my thoughts – but they have been a lot.

queer - chapter z

Image credit: Shay the Surrealist

I think the only way for me to let go of these memories is to actually finally come out to my family. But I think I resent them the most for making me so scared to actually do that. I could sugarcoat it anyway I want. I could say, “Oh no, I don’t need to come out. It’s 2021, I don’t believe people need to come out!”

But really and truly it’s because I’m scared as shit. I’m scared because I’m the only boy in the family. I’m scared because I don’t want to disappoint my dead mother, who may probably be turning in her grave. I’m scared because I know my family has a reputation in the Nigerian community and in our church (my dad is a pastor) for being the perfect, noble example of how a family should be. People look up to us. How I’m meant to deal with all of that… I don’t know. I always just seem to firm it.

But man, I’m tired.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, then contact the Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund for help, advice, and an ear to listen.

About Post Author

Henry Tolley

(he/him) Henry a previous Editor-in-Chief of Chapter Z magazine. He specialises in LGBTQ+, film and in-depth community/cultural features.