Coming into my queerness as a young Nigerian child meant coming to terms with the fact that I’d one day be rejected by the people who raised me: I could hide it all I wanted, but there’d come a day where I slipped up, where I defended LGBTQ people from the homophobic remarks I heard around the house a little too hard and I wouldn’t be able to brush off questions of, “why do you care so much” with, “I’m just a really strong ally”. Or someone would notice just how close I was to a female friend, how I’d look at her in a way that straight girls just didn’t look at their gal pals.
In the end, it wasn’t even my queerness that got me kicked out of the nest the first time. It’s actually kind of stupid, and I don’t tell many people this because I want them to think I have more than one active brain cell, but this is a safe space right?
The first time I got kicked out of my house was because I left the kettle boiling on the stove for too long, and it melted onto the stovetop and messed up the glass. You can imagine how that call to my mother went: me, at my big age, trying to stammer out an explanation for why I’d left the kettle boiling for so long without supervision, something she’d warned me on more than one occasion not to do. Personally, I blame my ADHD and general exhaustion from a long period of mental and physical stress, but try telling that to a Nigerian mother. When she got home, she took one look at that cracked glass stovetop, and like the unsupervised kettle, she boiled over. She raged, she screamed, she said some things to me that I will not repeat, and she told me to pack my shit and get out. Maybe she didn’t think I actually would, but for once in my life, I listened to my mother without a challenge. I texted my best friend from childhood and said I needed a place to crash for a few days.
I posted something on my Instagram story along the lines of “kicked out of the house check” because growing up on social media has truly warped my ability to cope with difficult situations without making some absurd half-ironic joke about it. I deleted it shortly after.
Do you ever get that feeling where you get out of a toxic situation and you realize that you can breathe again? Like you didn’t realize how much weight you were carrying until you found a safe enough space to put it down? That’s what it felt like to be at my best friend’s house and it’s not because their house was more comfortable than mine. At home, it was just my mum and I but my friend lived with their mum and dad and multiple siblings and cousins.
I’d known this friend since high school, so I knew that I was always welcome, but I still felt like I was intruding a little bit. And yet, despite all that, I felt held. Whether I wanted to cry, to rage, to sit in silence while I smoked a cigarette at midnight while their parents were asleep, I had that. Away from home, I realized I’d been hiding the most important parts of myself and stifling my own growth just to avoid a conflict with my mother that was inevitable, because my mother, like many Nigerian parents, sees her children as an extension of herself.
Nigeria is a highly collectivist culture. The actions of an individual, for better or worse, are seen as bigger than the individual. Whatever you do, you have to think about the effects it will have on the reputations of your family and those in your community. Our parents don’t raise us to put ourselves first, because that’s just not how they were raised. Despite the issues I have with my mother, despite the ways we clash, I know that everything she does comes from a place of care. I know firsthand just how much she busts her ass to provide for me, especially since we lost my dad a couple of years ago, and I will never take that care for granted. But that care often comes at the cost of my mental health, my sense of self, my ability to be my most authentic self.
It wasn’t until I got kicked out of my house that first time (because yes ladies, we did get sent packing again!) that I was able to truly feel care and support without strings. My best friend, regardless of how long we’ve known each other, did not have to take me in. They live with their own parents, and they navigate all the difficulties that come with that, some of which I witnessed firsthand while staying over at theirs. They could have said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t” and I would have understood. But they took me in any way because even though they’re not related to me by blood, they’re my family.
The concept of “found family” is one that a lot of queer people are aware of. So many LGBTQ people are rejected by their homophobic parents and communities that they usually end up finding each other. Who else have they got? Your found family are the people that you care for because you share the same struggles, the people you care for because you know they need the care. Your found family are the friends who let you crash on their couch, the people you share resources with no matter how little you have between yourselves. You may meet each other through less than positive circumstances, but one of the most important parts of a found family is that you choose each other.
From being out of home, I’ve seen firsthand just how much Nigerian youth are engaging in this found family concept. I have seen many friends crashing on the couch or floor or a spare mattress (usually also on the floor). I’ve seen friends send each other money for food, for a ride, or even to send back home to family members not living in Lagos. I’ve seen friends share drinks, share plates of rice from the mama around the corner that also sells loose cigarettes. I’ve seen laughter, I’ve seen tears, I’ve seen clashes over differences in living habits–because if you put a group of twenty-somethings together in a tiny space, there’s going to be some clashes. I’ve seen people care for each other, not because they have to, but because they choose to. They know what it’s like to not be fully cared for.
Nigerian youth are choosing themselves more and more. We dye our hair, we drop out of law school to become artists, we refuse to be pushed into the closet. We do this at varying levels of risk. For some of us, these little acts of rebellion simply put a strain on our relationship with our parents or draw disapproving stares. For others, we lose our homes, our place on the will, or contact with the people who raised us. If we simply fell in line- if we got that degree, or took out our piercings, or played it straight for a couple of years-we could eventually find a sliver of freedom. That’s what our parents did. But the thing about younger generations is that we generally do not do what our parents did. We are choosing ourselves, despite the risks, and we are finding family outside of the traditional definition of the word.