Once upon a time in the early 2000s, most folks depended on referrals or chance encounters when it came to dating or sexual partners. Now, even though this was common back in the day, it wasn’t an option available to me, a gay Nigerian man. Over the years, the gay community has had to hide in shadows and in the infamous closet by no fault of ours based on what has been described as our decision to feel and exist as our true selves. Over the years, the blatant homophobia that is rooted in acquired Nigerian culture has not only affected people like me physically, it’s taken its toll mentally too.
You, a straight man, are allowed to walk up to any girl you fancy and shoot your metaphorical shot. I mean, women are now kneeling down in malls these days to pop the question but one ‘gander’ still isn’t receiving the benefits of the goose. As much as it would be fun to sit here and drag problematic people from here to Pretoria, it’s high time we become aware of our own shortcomings when it comes to prejudice and bullying especially in spaces that are meant to be ours.
I remember being a horny 19-year-old when I got wind of Grindr. In my mind, it felt liberating to finally find a place where I could meet someone without the uncertainties and doubts of whether or not we ‘played for the same for the same team.’ It felt like I was about to be sucked into a disjointed Harmony Korine coming of age sex movie and I was here for it!
It wasn’t long before the euphoria wore off, reality set in and I was exposed to just how far down we had fallen into the sunken place when it came to our prejudices towards one another. My first experience with this was with a profile, which went thus:
“I don’t deal with fatties or femme niggas. If I wanted that I’d be with a girl.”
First things first, I was a freshman when it came to gay lingo so I needed to hit the library and release my inner Alan Turing to figure it out. To say I was offended and upset would be downplaying how I felt when I eventually figured out what he was referring to.
Thankfully, racism is something Africans, especially in Nigeria; don’t have to deal with too often in their own country. So, instead of white supremacists who won’t date outside their race, or those who fetishize black men, we have the “The Workout Gays” and the “Masc Club.’’
I have never been skinny and not even my long history with bullying, when it came to my weight, could prepare me for the way we, as a community, drag and bash guys who just happen to be fat. A good chunk of the men pumping iron in the gym are gay men and no, I’m not saying being healthy is wrong, but do we need to check the motive behind our new obsession with dumbbells? These days we see straight men doing the bare minimum with dad bods but, unfortunately, our community is also one that thrives on being superficial.
Being effeminate is something that has always been associated with gay culture and frowned upon even within the community. In Nigeria, this is driven by the need to avoid suspicion and seamlessly blend in with the crowd. It is an all too common situation on hook-up sites to come across questions like “hope you’re not a sissy?’’ and ‘’are you effeminate?’’ A boy who gesticulates, walks a certain way and has a high-pitched voice is immediately given the scarlet letter and brandished as gay. Yes, it’s not our fault that society is warped this way, but does it excuse the way we treat effeminate men? No.
Social media and TV have projected two types of gay men: The super girly best friend to the lead character and the Macho self-absorbed guy with an American Psycho skin care routine. In reality, however, only one of these categories is accepted. Luckily, I’m here to tell you: you do not have to fall into either of those categories, not explicitly anyway.
After years of studying and trying to make my way through these murky waters we know as online hookups, I realized, to my disdain, that I had become the exact douche bag prototype I abhorred. Now, comfortable in my own skin, it was easy to roll out a list of conditions that needed to be met by guys who hit me up. I found myself using the same words that cut me deeply when I was younger, perpetuating the body shame cycle. This goes a long way to show how this petty, self-absorbed, condescending attitude is normalized within the LGBTQ+ community. As the years went by I had conditioned my mind into accepting that these were just preferences and I had the right to tell another human being “Message me when you start working out.”
There’s nothing wrong in having a thing for the Kevin Carnells of the world but at what point does your preference for muscular guys turn you into someone who bullies fat guys? There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a guy who has late night radio baritone with a thing for sports (cliché, I know) but at what point does it make you offensive to guys who have all the zest in the world and are living their different truths? I guess what I’m trying to say is: preference is not a bad thing, as long as it is presented respectfully and without prejudice and malice towards another group of people.
-The author of this piece goes by: Damilola Grayson.