Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
In anticipation of Bisexuality Awareness Week which takes place every September 16 – 23, I decided to speak to a bisexual woman about her experiences being out in Nigeria. The 29-year-old woman in this story talks about her decision to come out to her very religious parents while still living with them and the aftermath of coming out.
When did you first realise you were bisexual?
Unlike most people, I can’t pinpoint one moment and say this was the defining moment. I guess the same way straight people don’t wake up one day and realise, “oh hey, I’m heterosexual.” I do remember that when I was in secondary school, I had a crush on a girl, but that wasn’t my first crush. The girl had a boyfriend. When I realised she didn’t swing both ways, my crush died a harrowing death. Soon, I realised I had a crush on her boyfriend. Interesting how that worked out and we dated for years. I guess that’s my first memory of being attracted to a member of the opposite sex and same sex within the same time frame.
How did you deal with that, living a deeply religious society?
It was definitely not easy. Add to the fact that my parents are very religious. They go to one of the biggest Pentecostal churches and are pastors there, so they don’t tolerate nonsense. Just talking to boys was a problem, now imagine coming out as being attracted to women… that would have meant more trouble as a teen. I remember once my older brother read my messages where my then boyfriend wrote “goodnight dear” at the end of a text to me. He showed the text to my dad who was so aggravated by the use of the word “dear”, he started asking if I was still a virgin and what not. Right now, I cannot fathom why it was such a big deal.
My mum was no different. As soon as I was old enough — 16 ish — I made up my mind to not tell my parents about major life decisions: who I was dating, my job, etc. My plan was to simply disappear once I had the money to. I knew it was the only way to go if I wanted to live my best life.
I’m guessing that didn’t happen.
The older I grew, the better my relationship with my mum got. By the time I was done with university, she was no longer an unbearable, religious woman. We used to gist, hang out and shop together.
For context, where my dad was the loud, obnoxious one, my mum had always been more subtle. With a straight and calm face, she could tell you that there was something wrong with your entire life — something she’s said to me one too many times.
She changed in a very remarkable way and I couldn’t lock her out.
I can see how this relationship dynamic makes it hard to disappear on her.
Fam. At this point, I’d dated just one guy and three different women, none of whom she’d met. It felt like I was sinning or doing something bad. When I was dating a colleague from work, I brought her home and first introduced her as a friend. I was living under their roof. So calling her a friend was only wise — she could sleep over when she wanted, and they wouldn’t suspect a thing.
My parents took an interest in her. They really liked her. My dad would ask her about her boyfriend, she would smile politely and we would smile at each other knowingly. Lmao. I did like that there was no pressure from her to come out to my parents because the thought of doing that gave me serious anxiety.
That my mum was cool with me didn’t mean she was no longer a pastor in church or that her definition of morality wasn’t still very high and different. We once started to watch a movie with queer characters together and she said “I feel like vomiting. What has this world become?”
When did you finally muster the courage to come out to her?
Almost a year after my colleague and I broke up. In fact, I was dating a guy when I told my parents about it. I asked my siblings to come home, so they could help hold my parents just in case one of them decided to kill me.
How did it go?
Let’s just say, not very well. My father was raging and fuming and shouting “no child of mine”. There was a table just by his side, and he flung it against the wall.
And my mum was just staring. I tried to touch her to explain, but she brushed me off. She said, “Are you doing this on purpose? Are you trying to hurt me? Where did I go wrong?” We had to rush her to the hospital later because her blood pressure skyrocketed. I doubt that the two event are unrelated.
A few weeks later when things had settled down, my mum and I talked about it. She said she wanted to understand what exactly being bisexual meant for me. I told her. She asked if I wanted to pray about it. I said no. After a while, she just said, I can’t live your life for you, I can’t choose for you and a long ass speech which wasn’t exactly an approval, but it was peace.
What made you decide you were ready to come out?
I was tired of feeling as though I was living a double life. I really yearned for my parent’s approval — especially my mum’s in everything I did. I felt like if I spoke to her, she’d understand. It wasn’t one thing that triggered it. I was just tired of sneaking around and lying and pretending. I really just wanted peace and I’ve gotten that to an extent.
That’s reasonable. How prepared were you for this coming out experience?
I was prepared for the worst. I was prepared to be disowned and for like heaven to fall down. My mum’s reaction didn’t surprise me. I mean the high blood pressure bit was scary but every other thing was how I imagined it’d play out. I imagined my dad would be a lot worse though. It almost get there sha.
He outed me to some ministers in his church, and they wanted to perform conversion therapy on me. Luckily, my mum gave me the heads-up and that didn’t happen.
Whenever I mention a friend, he sort of gets alert, perhaps trying to figure out if I’m talking about a woman or not.
The plot twist is that I’m currently in a relationship that might end up in marriage.
In a relationship with a man?
Yup. I’m not doing it out of pressure to conform or to please my parents. I’m actually in love. In fact, I’m doing it more for the safety net that marriage as an institution confers on women than to please anyone. He knows I’m queer, and we’re both polyamorous. So we’ll be extending this to our marriage if and when we do get married.
Nice. What was the hardest part of coming out to your parents?
Coming out itself. I can’t take for granted the fact that coming out wasn’t as drawn out as I expected it to be. I am lucky in some ways. I know some people who can’t dream of mentioning it to their relatives. But I can’t deny that coming out severed something in my relationship with my mum and dad. Especially with my mum. And I really want it to be back to normal. If ever. I pray it does come back. But importantly, I feel at peace in my heart. It doesn’t feel like I’m sinning. That’s important to me.
If you’d like to share your experience as a Nigerian or African woman across a range of different issues that affect women, send me an email.