Editor’s note: In December 2014, Kehinde Bademosi, a highly-sought after Nigerian entrepreneur and writer, publicly revealed his HIV-positive status. A month later, in January 2015, he talked openly about his homosexuality. In a candid manner peculiar to him, Mr Bademosi breaks down his coming out as a gay man in Nigeria and what is costs not to let HIV define or limit him.
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As a gay man living in Nigeria, I was very afraid that I would die before my 40 birthday. My white blood cells continued to fall in value, despite my strict adherence to my HIV medication. My anti-retroviral cocktails were no longer as effective. My physician was worried that my problem might not be physiological. It was mainly psychosocial. Maybe he was right.
Earlier on in the year, the government had passed a jail-the-gay bill into law. Blackmail was on the rise as news of jungle justice filtered in from left and right. Someone I knew had just been murdered in his hotel room by some blackmailer who knew his victim had no protection under the law. My divorce from my ex-wife took a dramatic turn when she stood up in the courtroom to tell the booing audience how she suddenly found out I was gay. And how I should be punished for it. Don't blame her. She was acting the part of an average religious Nigerian fighting for God. You know that rewarding feeling a suicide bomber has on his face after murdering people in the name of God. Her lawyer generously quoted from the newly-passed law and demanded that justice be served for leaving a woman to pursue an "unnatural lifestyle." His words.
I remember that day in the family court in Ikeja. The weather was sultry and unforgiving. The court was full. It was a show of shame and name-calling. There were snide remarks by people who felt morally justified to judge me. I couldn’t say a word. My lawyer had advised me not to. It was a family court and not a crime court so I would not be sentenced just yet.
There, sitting in as the accused, I fixed my unworthy gaze on my ex-wife and wondered what she would gain from the public shaming. She was no longer the sweet lady I used to know. As soon as I told her that the heterosexual arrangement I was having with her was no longer working, she became another woman. She didn’t flinch in court. She didn’t mention that I was the one who had told her long before we got married that I was gay. I was the one who volunteered the information. I never hid anything from her. Now, it was her stage, and the newly-passed law was there in that courtroom to bolster her confidence. She told the court that she was carrying out her God-given mission. That after trying to save me from my evil lifestyle, she was ready to turn me over to the devil. She claimed she was a victim. All the eyeballs in that court turned into arrows darting right into the big hole in my heart. They jeered and undressed me with their eyes. I felt naked and vulnerable, and for once in my life, I thought it may be better for someone to die than face the shame of living as a gay man in Nigeria.
On the business front, I was already losing clients. My company used to host the Hot Corper, a national workshop on creative enterprising and idea management for youth corps members on major NYSC camps. We lost the account as soon as my ex-wife took the word to the officials that I was gay. After several attempts to reconnect with the program officials, one of them confided in me that my wife had hinted them I was gay and that I was not good enough to train the national youth corps. I didn’t understand the rationale. I had trained over 40,000 youth corps members, and I had never molested anyone. No one could say my sexuality had affected my work with them. Rather, I had worked with a rare team of young people to deliver life-changing workshops across the country. But, of course, everything paled at the mention of the word ‘gay'.
The brand communication industry where I had served for over a decade was not forgiving either. My name was quickly dropped from some of major workshops and meetings I used to facilitate. I became a fish out of the water. I became an abomination, no one may touch or do business with me. Resentment soon turned into slurs. Slurs soon turned into social media confrontations and hate messages.
My first set of hate messages came directly from my phone. An unknown prophet, who claimed he knew my wife, continually texted me with daily doses of judgment. How I would die like a chicken if I don’t return to the "wife of my youth." How God was going to kill me if I don’t repent of my sins.
More painfully, I started to lose friends. People whom I had helped in times past. A particular lady I helped to jumpstart her career in advertising (now one of the ‘big’ girls of the ad world) suddenly shut me out. You know what it means when you say "happy birthday" to someone on Facebook by private message, and they never respond. So many of such cases, one begins to wonder how one's sexuality could taint something as innocent as a happy birthday.
“Church is not the final voice of God"
How about church? I went to church one Sunday morning, and as soon as I walked in, I heard the minister narrate a story of a young man who was being possessed by the spirit of homosexuality. And how that demon was about to break his marriage apart. I sat there in the backseat and heard my story right from the pulpit - only without mentioning my name. I felt disgusted at such betrayals. The church never found me having homosexual affairs with anyone all those times I served as a youth minister, drama coordinator, choir director, and the coordinator of the children department. I was the one who told the pastors about my sexuality. They didn’t happen upon it. I went to them with confidence. Unfortunately, I heard it from their pulpit. I got it. They were doing God a service. It didn’t matter how I felt. That day, I walked away and never returned. I realized for the first time how I had neglected my own truth and lived for an imaginary being we call God.
My experience with the church was the most important wake-up call for me. For once, I chased after myself. I started to examine everything I had believed. I realized that the church was never the final voice of God. Because God could never blame me for being gay. I didn’t choose to be. Why would anyone choose such detestation? I realized that the church or organized religion was not ready to listen to someone like me. It was all about Jesus and the golden streets in heavens. But I know better now. I know that my feelings are legitimate. I need no pity. I need no approval. Some of us are gay, no matter how we try to un-gay our feelings.
A time to live
As I began to weigh my options to live, I started to consider a few admissions I had in view. I had previously applied for graduate programs in the US and the UK. When things started to turn uglier, and my health started to deteriorate, I decided to take a break from everything and from everyone I had ever known. I chose to look after me. It was about time I did me. It was about time I stopped waiting for the approval of others. I faced my worst fears. I left. I fled. I started life all over.
Today at 41, my health vitals have not only improved, I can tell there’s a big difference in my emotional well-being. It’s still a long and dreary road navigating through the unknown. America has given me a huge respite from all my troubles. I hope I will be able to walk freely in Nigeria one day without the fear of being lynched or jailed. I hope I will be appreciated for my works and not viewed through the lenses of my sexuality. Meanwhile, I think about so many thousands who may not be able to leave Nigeria to come and study abroad. I think about thousands of gay men who are HIV-positive and may not be able to access good Medicare. I think about the ones trapped in dogmas and trying so hard to get the approval of others. And I hope I can do something about it. No matter how small.
Kehinde Bademosi is a creative entrepreneur with over 15 years management experience in brand communication. In 2008, Mr Bademosi created Orange Academy, "Africa's first practical school of brand experience”. His recent online project, Is Anyone In Africa, helps connect people dealing with sexuality and HIV issues in Africa with help as discreetly as possible.
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