When I was nine, my parents took me to a traditional healer. He used a razor to make three incisions on the tops of my feet, my wrists, my elbows, my forehead, and the back of my neck. When the blood began to flow, the healer rubbed a mixture of herbs on the incisions and gave me a potion to drink. He took alligator pepper and rubbed it on various parts of my body. There was a rooster on which he threw the “demon” inside of me. The rooster was slaughtered and thrown into the river, supposedly taking my sexuality with him.
In boarding school, I met a boy who I would say was my first love. We talked about everything and liked to take long walks. But he fought. I saw him struggle to accept his sexuality. He felt something was wrong with him, but he didn’t know how to help him. For me it was different. It wasn’t just about sexuality; it was also about gender. I was born a man but I have never felt like a man.
When I was 22 years old, in college, I met a transgender woman. She was much more open, more cosmopolitan, more frank about what she wanted. He had never met anyone like her. We had a sisterhood: fun, elegant, pure. It was as if the scales fell from my eyes.
My family was not happy with our friendship. They said he was embarrassing the family. They took me to a Catholic priest to get rid of the stubborn spirit that made me different. The priest told me that God had planned a great path for me, but some negative force had diverted me from him. It made me believe that I could change. For a year I fasted, went to mass and took communion. I recited all the prayers as if my life depended on it. And it felt like it was, you see, with the way everyone treated me.
But it was okay. I always was. The main problem with conversion therapy is that victims do not talk about it. It tends to make something that is so bad look good. The worst part is when they are able to convince you that a change can happen, that there is indeed something wrong with you, that you are a mistake of nature, an anomaly. It ruins you.
The encounter with the healer was many years ago, but the memory is still heartbreaking. What part of me has been lost in an effort to fit in a heteronormative and socially acceptable way? I am now 43 years old. Still gay, still a trans woman. I kept looking over my shoulder, afraid someone wanted to hurt me. I am much more scared than the average person. And I am not the only one. Exposure to gender identity conversion efforts may have serious adverse effects on mental health. There are thousands of young people in Nigeria who are subjected to these dangerous practices in an attempt to “cure” them.
There are no structures in Nigeria to deal with these psychological scars. That is why we need our community. We need to have conversations about safety and security, especially with regards to family relationships and dating. We need to speak openly about the devastating impact of conversion therapy. I have contemplated suicide several times. I tried it once; relieved that he failed.
I have found that when people have a personal experience (they discover that their partner, friend or child is LGBTQ +) they become less aggressive. I think my mother always knew, even when she made the moves of trying to convert me. At some point he realized that it was not something he could fight against. My father never accepted my reality, even until he died. He didn’t know how to deal with it. People need to realize that the world is not black and white; it is in color.
Many people, like my friend from university, went to other countries where they thought they could live freely. But no place is safe. Brazil, Ecuador, Taiwan, Malta, and Germany are the only countries in the world that have banned conversion therapy. Nigeria is a hostile place. The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act makes our existence illegal. I have not been able to have surgery here because there is no access to medical care to support the transition.
I know if I take care of myself, I’ll be fine. I worry about the youngest. the Commonwealth Equality Network works for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Commonwealth countries. I hope for freedom. It may not be my time. But we must keep fighting. Just so that future generations do not experience the same things that I have experienced.
• The author, from Nigeria, wanted to remain anonymous to protect her safety
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted by calling 116 123 or emailing [email protected] or [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
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