#PrideMonth: The Sacristy, Sex and Sexuality; A personal essay on self-acceptance

By Marian Nwakolo

Growing up, I was the child who dragged her parents to school to fight the management for making me an assistant class monitor while a boy was made class monitor, even though I came first in class. I was the child who refused to do the dishes because my mother said girls had to do dishes. I was also the child who hid to read all the books on sexuality my mother kept in her clinic and asked us to never touch.

I grew up frustrating my mother because I questioned everything. “Queer” was a word I heard her call me often, and by queer, she meant the literal meaning of the word – odd. She’d always ask why and how I “jumped” into her stomach. 

What did they say about words being the most powerful force available to humanity?

In Primary 2, the class teacher had shuffled our seats and took away Morenike my seatmate and crush who I never knew to be so until years later when I understood my sexuality and started piecing my experiences together.  I remember coming to school one early morning and spied on my crush and her seatmate touching themselves. As soon as the class teacher came in, I marched to her to report them because I was angry that Morenike could do that even though I gave her my snacks every day and ate just lunch. It felt like a betrayal. It is an experience that will make me laugh so hard as an adult when I finally understood why I felt that way at the time – I was jealous. Why her and not me?

I was raised catholic, got baptized as a child, did my first holy communion at age 10, and got confirmed at 15. These were the three sacraments in the catholic church that you had to partake in before the sacrament of marriage, to make your parents proud. I was used as an example by family friends to preach to their children about the kind of child they should be because I also belonged to the Legion of Mary and Lay Readers’ Association.

I never cared about boys and could not understand why the girls in my class were slim-fitting their uniforms for the appeal of the boys in the class that they were dating. I felt so off as a girl during puberty and when my friends talked about having crushes, I became so judgmental. It was my way of masking my sadness for not feeling what they felt. “Girly stuff” didn’t appeal to me, so I always lied to my friends that I wanted my hair low so I could focus on academics. I focused on my books and the church.

At 16, I met this new best friend at the church. She was in the boarding house and had just come home after senior secondary school exams. We became very close and went everywhere together. I became so drawn to her that I even left my legion of Mary praesidium just to join hers. We got consecrated together and a lot of persons came to know of our friendship, including our parents. And that was when I started becoming aware of what I felt. 

I was a church girl from a conservative catholic family, I was a child of Jesus and Mary, so how could I be having feelings for my best friend? I started praying to God to save me from what I was feeling because it was against the words of God and the bible. I loved her to the point where my immediate elder sister had to ask one day if I preferred my bestie to my sisters because why did I hang around her as I did? Why did I pay her that much attention?

All of these were happening and I didn’t even know that what I felt had a name. What I felt was so intense that I was terrified to mention it to my best friend. She could run from me. She could even report me to the church. Consecrated children of Jesus and Mary shouldn’t feel or engage with such feelings.

While we were both preparing for JAMB to gain admission into higher institutions, my best friend introduced me to a personal prelature of the Catholic Church, called Opus Dei. I started going to the center every Saturday. It was an all-women center and every time I was there, I never wanted to go home. Shortly afterward, I was assigned a mentor and was on my way to swearing into apostolic celibacy. The Opus Dei centers are similar to convents because the women in the centers also do not get married and dedicate their lives to God except that Opus Dei women do not wear uniforms like reverend sisters. Shortly I gained admission into the university, I took the oath of celibacy. I was not only excited that God was going to “heal” me, but I also found comfort in the fact that it would mask my queerness and no one would find out because they would assume I had dedicated my life to God. 

All hell broke loose when I told my parents about being in Opus Dei. I had expected it would sit well with them as devoted Catholics who were passionate about the things of God. My mother would not have it. She was not going to be paying fees for me to become a doctor while I was bent on ending up unmarried.  There were threats to withdraw my allowance and school fees, with my parents insisting on Opus Dei taking up the responsibilities since I was going to end up there after school.

During school breaks, I would go to the center to live and that was when the battle with my sexuality intensified. I started crushing on the spiritual director who was assigned to me. I was so attracted to her, physically and sexually. Whenever we were having my monthly chat on spiritual progress, I would elongate the conversation just to spend more time with her. I loved looking at her, at her thighs. I loved how that made me feel even though I always ended up judging myself for feeling that way and further judged myself for judging my feelings since I was human after all.

In Opus Dei, nursing “impure thought” was also a sin to be mentioned during confession. Yet here I was in the confessional keeping it from the priest because I thought homosexuality was the gravest sin. Until one day I summoned the courage to ask if it was okay for a woman to have feelings for other women and the priest sounding shocked, said it was abnormal. That sent shivers down my spine leaving me afraid and tongue-tied. I could not proceed with the other questions I had. I hated the queer couples and gender-nonconforming women I saw at school and would quickly castigate them while I was out with friends so they would never perceive my queerness. Every time I saw a queer person, it felt like I was looking at my reflection, causing me to battle some more within.

I fasted and prayed. 

Every time I lit the candles in the sacristy, I would whisper to the crucifix at the altar telling God that if he could deliver me of these “demonic feelings”, I would serve him for the rest of my life. The more I prayed out of fear for my attraction to women, the more the attraction intensified. 

After going through theology and philosophy classes in Opus Dei without solutions, I eventually left Opus Dei and started dating and having sex with men. There were always excuses each time I had to have sex. It’s either my tummy was aching or I was not in the mood or I was emotionally down or academically exhausted. There were always excuses. Sex was that chore I never looked forward to and when people talked about sex and fun, I was always confused if they were referring to this very sex I was having. I did not like the sight of penises, actually, I was disgusted by them. 

In my fourth year, I was dating this guy who always called me Mrs *his surname* and I cringed every time he did that. I put up with the relationship with the hope that getting married would eventually solve the problem of my attraction to women. 

In my second semester, he popped the question, “will you marry me?”, and that was when it dawned on me, that I could never be with a man. I could never marry a man. Something shifted at this point and that was how the journey to self-realization began. I started reading. I came out as bisexual, then queer because I was uncomfortable with the word “lesbian”.

Here I am in 2021, a proud lesbian. Each time I call myself a lesbian, it reaffirms me, it’s like coming out to myself again, and it feels like taking power away from my oppressors.

I knew I was gay before I knew it had a name.

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