Words are a funny thing in life, aren’t they? If someone had walked up to me while I was having a blast in a club twenty years ago and asked if I was gay, the answer would have been a loud, “heck, yeah!”
Those were the days when to be gay was a good thing for your soul. It meant you were very happy. What you didn’t want to be, at least publicly, is a homosexual.
Then something very interesting happened, gay took the place of homosexual and a bland word like “cool” was redefined.
Imagine what would happen today if you stand in a crowded marketplace and sing, “I’m gay and I know it!” You surely won’t be carted off to a singing talent competition. In Nigeria, you get a one-way ticket to the big house.
That new law got a lot of people fuming and shaking as if malaria had spread to Europe and America. It also led to the discovery that there were indeed Nigerian “anti-gay activists”, at least on foreign television. I wonder what these folks were doing before last week. Nigeria is not exactly the kind of place you hang up a sign that either reads, “the place for all your gay needs”.
I didn’t even know Nigeria had passed an anti-gay law until I got roused out of bed by a text message from my friend in London. He was wondering how Nigeria could pass an anti-gay law and he ended by saying, “you have to do something about it”.
I told my friend that if I package his view and present it as mine to my father, he would not only disown me, he may even dust his dane gun. Then my friend told me I had to make him reconsider. And, that is one of the most frustrating thing about being a Nigerian in my little end of the world. People think your father is the paramount ruler of the little hamlet with oil in Africa. And, you’re always having to defend Nigeria and Nigerians.
The gay debacle is a different kind of battle. It’s old world versus new world, conservative culture versus liberal social media age. And, when Nigeria aligns with culture against anything inside Nigeria, it’s not even a contest. Now, the western world thinks Nigeria is back to the middle ages – a place the state of California was a few years ago when they voted against gay marriage and it took the courts to overturn the votes of the people. A place where much of America still is. Or, Russia.
Gay is not an easy sell in a place like Nigeria. It’s a country that is steeped in culture, tradition and religion.. A Nigerian kid grows up either completely oblivious that there are a set of people who are gay or knowing it is evil. It takes years and generations to color that perception. And, some people go to their graves believing if you’re gay they would not see you in heaven.
The gay debate has always been a fascinating one. When I moved to California, an elderly friend counseled me to start wearing diapers because “you never know when you may need an extra layer of protection with those people.” I thought it was a good advice because truly you never know when nature may call and a bathroom may not be close by.
But, there was this uncle whom, when he discovered I was not only going to Los Angeles but also going into the film industry, requested special prayers for me. For him the film industry was bad enough but now I was in Los Angeles. “Don’t you know they’re all gays in that place?” he bellowed when I talked to him.
I remember when I first got into California, I had a very Catholic view on gays. And, I held it in an industry that has been described as “a third Catholic; a third Jews, a third gays and the others that fall in there somewhere”. But, life plays ticks on you. I couldn’t tell a gay person even if he has a tattoo on his forehead that said “I’m gay.” So, I made friends who were great people and when I found out they were gay, I had a moral dilemma – are they bad people because they were gay or are they the good people they were when I didn’t know they were gay?
In the end, I found refuge in my Bible. In the parts where it said not to judge so you would not be judged. And, I think it would help Nigeria and the world to take to that portion of the Bible too. People should be free to be who they are but cultures and traditions also must be nurtured.
It’s crazy but people seems to conveniently forget that President Barrack Obama was forced by his very loose-lipped vice president into acknowledging his support for gay marriage. It wasn’t that Obama did not support gay marriage, it was that there is a time and a place for everything.
Mr. Ose Oyamendan-Eimakhu is a film maker based in Los Angeles.