By Oluremi Olufemi. Photography by Deun Ivory.
It’s kind of amazing that acceptance can be so filled with confusion.
My dad’s flight back to Nigeria was set to leave in a few hours. I had made him a cup of chai and, as usual, was listening halfheartedly as he imparted wisdom to me regarding the importance of keeping of a clean home. He made eye contact with me over the kitchen island, and said with such seriousness, “A man won’t want to marry you if your kitchen is dirty.” I threw my head back laughed so deeply it startled him. I’m 26 years old and have been financially independent for quite some time. The beautiful apartment we were standing in, was of my own making. For the most part, I am in love with myself and my life. While romantic relationships are important to me, making sure my home is acceptable for a man, is the last thing on my mind. I expressed as much to my father, but he carried on. “What I truly want is for you to share your life and love with someone, it is so important to me that you share your happiness. Even if it’s not with a man.”
I was taken by surprise in that moment, rendered utterly speechless. It passed, as he changed the line of conversation, but internally I was crumbling. When my father left a few hours later, I was still completely taken aback.
For so long, I have focused on creating my identity in the background. A slow shift, to discover what I desired and loved. In creating space for myself, I rarely considered that my family was responding in kind. Whether intentional or not, most of my adolescence, I was given the freedom to discover who I could become: quietly and without repercussions. In contrast to the typical ‘coming out’ narrative, my sexuality wasn’t something I shouted from the rooftops. It just was how I moved through the world. I have always loved and desired with little regard to gender. I knew it before I could even communicate it with much clarity.
My earliest memory of my childhood was making the executive decision that my Barbies dolls would be better suited dating each other than giving all of their time and energy to Ken. My sexuality wasn’t something I ever had to personally reckon with. I also knew, however, that as a Black girl, it was something that wasn’t considered normal. Or at least, art, images, and stories that reflected Black queerness and how I felt, were almost nonexistent. There was no Janelle Monae or Lena Waithe, and I had yet to explore the works of Audre Lorde or Nella Larsen. At times, the messages regarding homosexuality in the Black community were at best, stifling. Knowing my dad was from a country where homosexuality was, and still is, considered a criminal act, was heartbreaking.
So I let that part of my identity take a backseat. With academic pressures, and ongoing family drama, my teen years were already complicated enough. My sexuality didn’t feel like a burden, just something that wasn’t on my to do list at the time. I had space to work through it alone, and luckily found community in so many others after leaving home for college. However, my experience is my own.
Your sexuality, or any part of your identity, shouldn’t feel like a secret you have to keep. Invisibility and self-erasure is smothering at best, and as a coping mechanism, harmful. What I want, is to complicate the narrative.
Yes, your expression of identity can be found boldly and loudly, but there is also pride in discovering yourself in the quiet.
Honesty is a process, and should happen in your own time.
It feels very essential to “come out of the closet,” when in fact, we know the realities and repercussions that can occur in communities that may not be welcoming to LGBTQ identities. It has been incredibly important for me to reach out to others who don’t have the privilege or don’t feel safe or comfortable sharing their sexuality with their families and communities. The most important thing, is to be honest with yourself. Acknowledging who you can trust and also becoming comfortable with who you are is so necessary.
Have patience, and take pride in it.
Be patient with yourself. Having pride in your identity and also giving yourself the space and patience to figure things out is essential. We don’t enter the world as fully formed beings, and we are all learning, constantly. You don’t know what you don’t know, but believe that you have the time to figure it out. Take the time to sit with being uncomfortable, and explore how you feel.
Finally, find community.
Creating your found families is by far the most essential thing you can do. When I couldn’t talk to my parents, I could talk to my friends and those in my created community that made me feel respected and loved.
Home has always been less of a place, and more about connectivity.
Sometimes, those around you need to be educated. However, you do yourself a disservice to not go in search of people who will love you as you are. Finally, don’t underestimate your loved ones. Given the resources, space and time to come to their own conclusions, I think most of our friends and family love us unconditionally.
Take the time to explore and discover who you are, and continue to make space for those doing the same.
Oluremi Olufemi is an editor at Spoken Black Girl, a digital magazine dedicated to creating space for women of color to discuss mental health and accessible self-care. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. working in education. Her main goal is to integrate wellness into communities of color; specifically in the classroom, where the social and emotional well-being of Black students is typically ignored. You can follow her on Instagram @oluremi_sophia.