#PrideMonth: Validating queer love in the ‘closet’

Pride Special

Amplifying LGBTQ voices have been part of YNaija’s content ethos since 2017. And with this year’s Pride themed as Loving in Colour: A Celebration of Queer Love for our Pride Month special, we recognise yet again the necessity for LGBTQ+ people to exist in a world where they aren’t harmed or discriminated against for who they love.

Queer people around the world aren’t a monolith and their marginalised experiences differ from person to person. Also, celebrating Pride month is geographically and politically nuanced. Unlike American LGBTQ communities that have made progress with some affirming policies, can troop out in the streets during Pride as a political statement, queer folks elsewhere are prosecuted just for being queer.

For Nigerians, what it means to be queer and love queerly is often oversimplified as a function of homophobia. How queer Nigerians exist in interpersonal spaces or the relations with non-queer persons is one of conformity, evading violent surveillance from family, communities and institutions. Thanks to the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act passed in 2013, homosexuality is still outlawed in the country, and this is where the politics of the closet should be examined in relation to Pride.

Of course, the queer closet and Pride seem as oxymoronic concepts, opposing each other but as the current climate in Nigeria goes, being in the closet mitigates the exposure to homophobic violence and other negative outcomes. If the closet is what LGBTQ Nigerians have, does that invalidate their love? Homophobia is the simple reason LGBTQ Nigerians will continue to remain in the closet, but what if the ”closet” informs a new kind of radical politics that pushes back on harmful patriarchal assumptions about sexuality and gender?

The assumption that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender comes from patriarchy and not only is there an assumption, there’s also an imposition. Attitudes expressed by children are scrutinized to maintain this rigidity: masculine traits for boys and feminine traits for girls. Religious teachings uphold the heteronormative gaze, defining relationships strictly between a man and woman. Having identities outside of the gender binary is still a contentious subject and comes with antagonisms.

All in all, people are othered and punished for not fulfilling expectations of patriarchy, and this is why the closet becomes a tool for LGBTQ persons in navigating potentially violent spaces. Remaining in the ”closet” though as a liberating framework or politic puts the responsibility on non-queer people to do away with cisheteronomative assumptions. This means that rather than expecting LGBTQ persons to come out, cisgender and heterosexual persons would have to come in. This involves interrogating the internalisation that everyone is a cisgendered, heterosexual person and embracing an expansive, inclusive definition of gender and sexuality.

This kind of de-programming involves continuous labour around unlearning what we have already been taught, but is it doable? There are queer people who are proponents of this radical politic, but this isn’t to say that coming out can’t be useful in claiming identity or resisting imposed patriarchal labels. But staying in the ”closet” can be a new kind of resistance in a way that reimagines queerness.

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