Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Coming Out: The Life vs Label Wars

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

William Shakespeare

I struggle with my labels. There is so much attached to anything that we choose to identify as: the pressure of expectations, the disappointment of failing to live up to those expectations, the way our choices and decisions are informed by that identity, the ease that we are afforded in forming alliances based on perceived similarities and conversely, the ease with which we can 'other' people. 

I think a lot about the things I choose to identify as. Some of my labels are easier to handle than others. 'Woman' comes to mind first. Even though I don't perform femininity like the average Nigerian woman is expected to, I can get away with it because I don't care enough about other people's expectations in that regard. 'Mother' is a bit harder. I never wanted to be a parent, but life had other plans. It's still taking some getting used to. 'Feminist' is one I'm still figuring out; I haven't worn it long enough for it to fit well.

But this post is about how I am unable to discard 'Christian' and be done with it for good.

Of all the labels I have, this is the one that is most demanding and painful to live by. I was born into a family that lived (lives) Christ, but somehow I never quite caught the bug. I've been running from God my whole life (a really tricky thing to do when the majority of the people you love are making daily decisions that scream 'Jesus!'). My rebellion is made doubly difficult because I don't have enough faith to become an atheist. So eventually, no matter how far or how long I run, He catches me. (The upheavals thereafter invariably cause me to run again, of course.)

But I'm tired. It's an endless cycle, each iteration more painful than the last, each excision of habits and relationships more heartbreaking, each prodigal return more costly.

I don't want to do it anymore.

This is why I'm going public. My soul can probably take some more breaking-to-be-reformed, but I am loath to find out. It hurts too fucking much.

I'm a Christian. 

Here's why: painful as my returning to the foot of the cross can be, there is little that can be compared to knowing God so intimately that I become like Him; to being known so intimately that before I speak, my thoughts have been answered; to the insane peace that He gives, the shameless grace that I am availed of, the endless, boundless, incomprehensible love that is mine for the taking, simply because I believe.

This is why I am choosing, in spite of and because of my tendency to run, doubt and falter, to call myself a Christian. Not 'religious', 'spiritual', 'theist' or 'believing'; Christian.

I will likely be no better at embracing this label than I am at being a 'real woman', a 'good mother' or an 'effective feminist', but i have the next fiftyish years to practise. If you're still reading my blog when I'm 75, please remind me to do a Label vs Life evaluation. 

I hope I pass.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Shut Up! Am I Your Mate?!

Let's talk about respect. 
"A positive feeling of esteem of deference for a person or other entity, and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem."
And respect in Nigeria?
*Silence.* "Yes, sir." *Silence.*

I have always lived in Nigeria. Growing up in a middle-class household where I was the last child, in the larger context of an educated extended family where I was the youngest girl, adults (not just family members) liked me. They thought I was irrepressible, funny, quick - they encouraged me to speak my mind and sometimes even to contribute to their conversations. It was like living an episode of 'Kids Say' every day. 

Then I went to boarding school, and suddenly none of the adults wanted to hear my voice anymore. I wasn't allowed to question anything or chime in, regardless of the relevance or value of my contributions. I went from being called sharp and funny to being called rude and 'mannerless'. The fact that I had an opinion, that I could think for myself, became a problem instead of a plus. I was beaten and sent out of class by teachers who were affronted by my audacity to raise my hand when they had not opened the floor. I heard things like:

"Oya come and take over now, ITK ('I too know', or 'know-it-all'.)"
"You are very stupid. You were not even born when I started teaching!"
"I know your mother, she is a very nice woman. I'm sure she trained you well, so I don't understand where this rudeness is coming from."

I later learned that I was often the topic of staff room conversations. Things were worst of all with my English and Literature teachers; one of them, having been promoted to principal, vetoed the student body's election of me as head girl because I was 'rude and indisciplined.' And this trend continued the older I got, the more certain of myself and my ideas and place in the world I became. I started to hear things like:

"Don't you know you're a Nigerian girl?"
"Your strong-head (stubbornness) is too much. No one will marry you."
"This your white-girl behavior is so fake. Stay there and be deceiving yourself."

There is something wrong with a culture in which a young person (read: young woman, but that is another post entirely) having a mind of her own is perceived as behavior deserving of punishment. When young people are infantilized while older adults and/or people in positions of authority are practically deified, how can we expect to raise much other than mindless mules? A Nigerian 'adult's word is law, without question. A person who dares to ask for explanation or require presentation of rationale is instantly branded rebellious and disrespectful. (Yet these older adults expect these young people to, after years of being taught to follow instructions like mute sheep, go out and change the world. Or at least Nigeria, so they can have light and water and not have to bribe policemen every day.)
I am reminded of this: We were told as children, 'you are tomorrow's leaders', yet tomorrow has come and yesterday's leaders remain. And now our parents are complaining that nothing is changing, even though we are grown. So I ask them, how is this magical leap from "shut up!" to "speak out against the madness!" supposed to come about? 

Nigeria doesn't have a voiceless youth population; we have a silenced one. 

Until we learn to let our children think for themselves, to use their voices at home and in school and in religious gatherings, until authority figures no longer feel threatened by honest inquiry and constructive criticism, Nigeria will not change. Our greatest resource is our youth, whose greatest resource is their minds, yet we perpetuate a culture that stifles those minds. So you, Pastor, Principal, Parent, next time you want to point fingers and cast blame about the state of our nation, you know exactly where to look. You are entirely complicit in the production of incompetent graduates and vapid young adults. You are responsible for Nigeria's stagnation. Don't look to us to change the country; look to yourself to handle your authority better. 

Let tomorrow's leaders be great, and see if Nigeria won't follow suit. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Jail the Gays, Nigeria.

Nigeria is in the news again, and as usual, it's not because we've done something right. This time around, a revised secret version of the anti-gay bill has been passed into law, very quietly (so as to prevent another lobby by LGBTQI bodies in Nigeria, I suspect), and our normally unpopular legislature seems to have hit a home run with this move. In one fell swoop Nigeria's generally inept leadership has managed to unify all the different factions and groups warring for supremacy (or at least some kind of majority foothold) in this great nation: Christian, Muslim, PDP, APC, Igbo, Tiv -  90+% of the Nigerian populace is solidly behind them in this incredible violation of human rights because, hey, we never liked the gays anyway.

I'll just ask one question here: how many (out) gay people does the average Nigerian even know? Usually, none. So there is this malicious scourge, this vile, reprehensible minority whose very existence is a stench in the nostrils of the Nigerian populace, never mind that most of the Nigerian populace doesn't know anyone who actually belongs to this group. And just like with every other human rights violation, the (often willfully ignorant, irrationally prejudiced) majority reserves the right to endanger the lives of innocent people because they can. We can oppress the gays and strip them of their humanity and their rights, like historically the blacks, the women, the mentally ill, the lower castes, and any number of other minority or culturally 'inferior' groups was and often continues to be oppressed.

What is it about homosexuality that makes it okay for a failing leadership to latch onto a non-issue, create a human rights fiasco out of it, and still win the praise of its disenfranchised polity? Please be sure to leave comments about how gayness chips away at the very fabric of our great culture and traditional values (because obviously culture is static and the gatekeepers of African tradition are people who dress like Westerners and worship Middle-Eastern deities), how gayness endangers our children (because gayness is a communicable disease), how gayness threatens procreation (because despite environmental issues and overpopulation, what the Earth needs is more people), how gayness offends god (please be specific as to which god you're referring to; there's a ton of them) - please be sure to set your human decency aside and propagate hatred and victimization of innocent people.

For those who will say that Nigeria is a majorly religious nation and in Christian and Muslim doctrine, homosexuality is a sin, I have two statements. One, Homosexuality is not a sin; it is a state of being. No state of being is sinful. Latent sexuality is simply that: latent sexuality. Neither good nor bad. Neither sacred nor profane. How is romantic love sinful? How is sexual desire sinful? If you proceed to say that it is homosexual behavior that is sinful, please read my second point: your religion is yours and yours alone. Religious beliefs are not an absolute standard; they are a personal choice. So if your god, gods or God frowns on same-sex relationships, that doesn't mean everyone's does. Nigeria is a secular state: a religious majority should not mean the criminalization of orientations or behaviors that do not follow the mores of that religion. Otherwise, every single person in Nigeria would be liable for jail time. And that includes you, Soldier in the Divine Army of God.

Truth be told, the general bent of the comments on this issue has been astonishing in the depth of prejudice and ignorance. All you have to be to see that this law is a terrible thing, is a decent human being who is capable of compassion and empathy. Discrimination, persecution and criminalization of any innocent person based on differences in religion, gender, sexual orientation, income level, or whatever else contributes to identity is a violation of basic human rights. You do not get to pick and choose what rights another human being qualifies for on the basis of your personal (or in this case, collective) biases, prejudices, ignorance, intolerance or bigotry. A human being is a human being, regardless of who they love or how they fuck. And it's none of your business, and certainly none of the law's.

PS: the comments on this post will be moderated. If your comment will include accusations of homosexuality, passages of scripture, ignorance, derailment or bigotry, please don't bother. 

Further reading: