Today’s incredible guest post is by Anaene (she/her), a new contributor to Coffee & Kink. I’m so honoured to be sharing her brilliant and important story with you all.
Gay Yearning: A Transatlantic Journey by Anaene Achinu
Queerness is expensive in Nigeria.
If you can afford it, you wear it quietly. Your sexuality winds up as gossip fodder, playful but on the verge of vicious. A rumor that floats around in the air. And it will remain so, as long as you are not too loud about it. The more money you have, the louder you can be. Simple economics. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford this luxury good of self expression. They have their own class of options, but here are the three main ones; repression, activism, or visa. Perform heterosexuality, fight for your basic human rights to the point of near death, or fly away, far away, far, far, away.
My coming out is a complex yet simple affair. Western media has not addressed my own process, except maybe Hulu Original’s Shrill, where Fran, a queer Nigerian American, is out to her parents, but not fully accepted. Although pleasing to the sight, it is not my or many others reality. This is not their responsibility, because this is a nice start, but what can we say? I have friends who are out on the Internet, out to their friends, but not to their nuclear family. We certainly are not there yet. Some of us are too busy trying to survive the many isms that plague us; sexism, racism, tribalism. Oh, don’t forget poverty [ism]. Haha.
But enough of the “woe is me.” Let me tell you the story of a woman who discovered the softness of women in three different continents.
Our journey starts in Nigeria, in the heat of repression. High school was a breeding ground for the exploration of raging hormones and budding sexual identities, but my nose was mostly too buried in the Word of God to notice that perhaps my affinity towards certain girls at school was more than fondness, but crushes. Infatuation. It was easy to not dig deep, because I am unfortunately also attracted to men; the ensuing heartbreak took up most of my time. I had a tendency to magnify any slight attraction someone of the opposite sex would feel towards me. It was a combination of the usual glorified validation a teenager lends to “Mars”, and “fitting in”; wishfully believing that you are more conventional than your unidentifiable but present yearnings for something more yet familiar.
This pattern followed me to England, where I slowly allowed myself to dream outside of hetero conventions, thanks to my very straight best friend, who accepted me for who I was before I even had a clue. She was the one that made me realize that perhaps I was not interested in marriage or child-breeding, but I was interested in a companionship similar to ours; soft, simple and beautiful. It took some time for me to realize I could have this outside the walls of friendship; slowly, my world expanded, and the yearning became more defined. A poignant example of this happened during a house party, where, from afar, I fell in love with a masculine woman. I followed her with my eyes all night, weirdly excited, until I discovered with pure disappointment that this was a mere cis man.
What a shame. What a shame.
(Un)fortunately, I was unable to physically explore this side of me, but I made up for it in Nigeria. Not in numbers, but in quality. Though I never fell in love with these women, I fell in love with femininity. I was finally becoming, whatever that means. The softness, the generosity, the similarities and differences. The security, even in the dizzying madness of discovery.
I entered the Nigerian workforce with few to no illusions. My colleagues could “manage” my UK-contracted atheism, but not my sexuality. I was not ready for the possible fetishization, ostracism, or even the gradual reduction of financial opportunity. It was not worth it. I carefully picked those I could disclose myself to, because it is very hard to keep your truth to yourself, especially in the honeymoon stage of it, when you are post-Eureka but it is not well worn yet.
Thankfully, I found solace in the nightlife scene, where body grinding was non-discriminate. However, I did not have what it took to fully step up to a woman, to ask her to dance, to initiate anything. I once fell in love with a girl with golden braids. I danced with men throughout the night, but I could not get her out of my mind. I told her she was beautiful. She thanked me, hugged me. We exchanged social media. Then, I found out she had a boyfriend.
Now here I am, in America, still coming out. I come out on dating apps, where I meet interesting women. I am still wary of work colleagues knowing my sexuality, but those I tell do not bat an eyelid. I am not deceived by the illusion though; the homophobia is still palpable. I was once subjected to listening to a horrible homophobic conversation between two people who clearly had nothing better to say on a train. It was so triggering. No one was a direct target in that exchange, thank goodness, but it was a stark reminder that rainbow colors on advertisements, magazine spreads, etc. do not mean full acceptance; it is still paraphernalia. Maybe one can feel more comfortable when it is normal, not “celebrated”. I mean, it should be celebrated. But maybe in a “this is normal” way, not a “we are still fighting for the right to breathe in front of our parents” way.
That’s a conversation for another time.
I have had moments where I wanted to come out fully, like Lena Waithe did on Master of None. But my mother is not Angela Bassett. My grandmother’s hearing, unlike hers, is very sharp and Catholic. And although this partial freedom can be uncomfortable, although I yearn for more, I am content with what I have.
Anaene Achinu is a New York based writer.