Marline Oluchi is a Nigerian-Cameroonian writer and the creative director of Kemjey Creatives. As the communications officer for WISE, a pan-African feminist LGBT+ organization in Nigeria, she is part of the Pride Afrique team, the first virtual pan-African Pride event on the continent
Sharing about visibility, the struggles, the triumphs, the wellbeing and the needs of LGBT+ people in Africa is a creative struggle between emotions, sensibility, objectivity and the need to write from a deep place of hurt, layering down my vulnerabilities.
It is first of all, an inner struggle to validate yourself, rationalize your feelings, and follow your passions, without having to worry about people frowning at your choices, to adequately capture what it means to be different from the acceptable societal norm our people have been preconditioned to expect, in a bid to promote bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and a gross violation of human rights.
Even defining our rays of sunshine on days when we get tiny snippets of what freedom and happiness feels like, is difficult because it comes with such pain. There is the inner struggle to accept your reality, before looking on the outside, and herein lies the incessant search for validation.
It’s in the little realities of waking up one morning as a nine-year-old, wondering why you like the girl next door and why it feels so uncomfortable.
It’s in the reality of finding out you’re not alone at 14, but thinking that society knows better. The holy books you’re getting indoctrinated with know better. Your family knows better, and you wouldn’t want the embarrassment of being the odd one out who needs some fixing.
It’s in the reality of watching your first lynching at 18, when two naked girls are dragged out of their hostel on campus, and forced to make out in front of everyone, to replay the abomination they were caught engaging in by a neighbor who spied them from their window. A slap here, a slap there, more loud voices, Nokia phones springing out of pockets to record their humiliation, as you march down to your room, broken, full of questions, wondering what would become of life for you with such a drab prospective.
It’s in the reality of discovering at 21, that the world is larger than you aspired for, and that you can find your tribe across social boundaries, exhaling, learning how to be audacious, realizing your power and daring to live.
Your reality is reflected in the gay man who just wants to love. The lesbian who just yearns for freedom. The trans woman who just wants to choose her identity. The bisexual man who just wants to live his feelings. The non-binary woman who just wants the autonomy to be. You’d find clusters of different people, drawn together by their similarity of purpose, in a world that seeks to tell them how to live, what to be, whom to love and how to exist.
And then, you’d realize that silence in itself is a cage limiting the happiness you’ve always longed for. Maybe, just maybe, your voice can amplify the throng of others to mend the hurt spread across and tell the world to just pause, and listen to your ripple effect, because you matter. Because even you, are deserving of basic decency, preserved dignity and respect of rights as an individual, and because freedom is priceless.
This is why as LGBT+ persons in Africa, we proudly anticipate all Pride events like Pride Afrique, an opportunity to stand tall in all our tenacity and remind the universe that we are here, strong, representing all the ones who cannot live their authentic selves because our society has been preconditioned to sustain homophobia through religious, legal and social constructs.
For those who come after us, we understand your journey and it is okay to know that you do not need to hide behind social constructs to build up excuses for who you are.
We live out, so that you will get the pass we had to fight for.