Shutterstock

5 tips on how to combat gay shame

Being gay and living in a country like Nigeria where homophobia has been institutionalized through its Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) means often looking over your shoulders and living in perpetual fear,

For those who are still in the closet or yet to fully accept themselves and their sexuality, it could also mean shame. The shame from being different. Shame from not fitting in. Shame because you're considered an anomaly, an abomination. Shame for being gay.

The many years of being raised in a society and religion that teaches same-sex attraction is taboo, sin, means a lifetime of shame for a lot of gay Nigerians. This could stem from the fact that they could be punished by a prison sentence (as stipulated in SSMPA, homosexual acts carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment), or death by stoning (as provided under the sharia law of 12 Northern Nigerian states), or a sentence to an eternity of rotting in an unquenchable fiery fire.

And for those who do not fit into gender constructs, especially effeminate boys, it means years of bullying for not playing football, for choosing the female company or for walking differently. This grim and traumatic experiences stay even to adulthood and being gay now means war with living a true and authentic life, and navigating religious guilt and the accompanying shame.

And you really do not break free of this guilt and shame by being open or coming out of the closet. It can be a step in the right direction, but it surely doesn't end there. There have been instances of gay people coming out (which often means being despised and disowned by family and friends) and days or weeks later, giving into suicide, evident of years of shame that's led to depression. A 2019 study found that gay youths are five times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youths.

Some gay people live out their lives trying to combat the shame. This combat sometimes translates into a number of harmful practices. You find gay men with internalised homophobia who distance themselves or try not to be associated with other gay men they deem too"open", too effeminate, too gay. Even going as far as preying on other gay people. Some try to numb the harrowing feelings through alcohol and drug use. And there are those who overcompensate by trying too hard to fit in—you find gay men who overexert themselves at the gym to "make up" for their supposed lack of masculinity.

Here are a few suggestions to help you overcome the shame of being gay and live authentically.
Be honest and open with yourself

We often underestimate the importance of self-communication. Speak to yourself about how you feel about yourself and examine those feelings. Are you ashamed of your sexuality because you genuinely think that same-sex attraction is wrong? Or because you've been raised in a religion and society that says so? What is shameful about being attracted to/loving someone. Or having consensual sex.

Invest in good relationships

It is important that you make friends with people who are not homophobic, who are queer allies. You might also want to make friends with people who share the same experiences with you. Being gay in Nigeria, or anywhere else, can be a very lonely experience. You might feel, you are the only different one, the only gay one, while everyone else is "normal" and heterosexual. But that is not true. There are gay people. There are gay Nigerians. You might want to seek them out online. However, remember that while you share some things in common, it does not necessarily mean all gay people would make great friendships. You must be intentional when making friends and search out good and healthy friendships. And when they prove to be people you can trust, allow yourself to be vulnerable with them.

Cut out toxic people

This can be daunting because these toxic people could include your family and friends, but a great step to overcoming the shame of being gay is cutting out toxic people and cutting out from toxic environments. You do not want to remain in a space or with people who question the validity of your existence.

Consume Queer Entertainment

The stories of gay people you might have heard from childhood were perhaps mostly negative. Watching people like yourself represented truthfully and just existing as regular and normal people can really be a positive and heart-warming experience. Sometimes the stories might not be one with a happy ending but sadly the gay experience is not bubblegum. But it is affirmative watching people like you go through the same challenges and emotions that you feel. Sometimes winning. Sometimes losing. So, watch films and shows about queer people or with some queer representation. Read novels about queer people. Listen to music by queer people. Watch Moonlight. Watch Call Me By Your Name. Watch Hollywood. Watch Inxeba. Watch Rafiki. Watch Love, Simon. Watch Pose. Read Less. Read The Great Believers. Read On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Listen to Sam Smith. Listen to Bronze Avery.

Respecting Yourself and Your Body

You might be dissatisfied with your looks and/or general body makeup. This dissatisfaction could come from years of being bullied for being thin, for being a "sissy". And some gay men have plunged themselves into hours at the gym trying to be "masculine". But it is important to remember that beauty comes in variation, and while exercising is a worthwhile experience, it's important that one does it for the right reasons and not to make up for the supposed lack of masculinity. Whether you would want to go on a diet and work out for a certain body type, one road to feeling better about yourself is accepting and loving your body as it is now. There really is not an ideal body.

Keep in mind that no matter how much positivity you feed yourself daily, you can't completely blank off from the world. You still live in a very homophobic society, and there'd be days when you'd hear negative comments directed at you or at people like you. So when those feelings resurface, try not to give in to them, remind yourself that they're temporary and work towards staving them off.

You're gay. You're simply just gay. And it isn't something to be ashamed of.

Comments
Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.