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BellaNaija Presents Living Your Difference: Meet the Pink Panther

The realisation that some of the injustices we face may not happen if we were not queer. That’s what makes me really sad. I suppose that’s what I would call the disadvantage when I think about how the culture is stacked against us because of our sexuality. It makes me feel very very sad.

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Really, I believe, strongly, that being gay has contributed to making me be a better person. I believe that very very strongly. I believe that if I wasn’t gay, I would not be as attune to—because I believe that being in a place of disadvantage makes you appreciate life. That’s why I give straight men a sort of leeway, knowing that they were born into a place of privilege that their gender and sexuality affords them. But that is only when they express an ignorance that’s not steeped in malice or wickedness

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If you live in Nigeria, you’re probably aware that our country is one where minorities are either misunderstood, and/or explicitly discriminated against. Because of this, BellaNaija presents Living Your Difference, where sexual, gender and physical minorities tell their stories about living and surviving as Nigerians in Nigeria.

We’re hoping, with this series, that Nigerians see that there are several ways to be human, and that no matter how different we may be, we all feel the same emotions on the inside.

We started the series with the beautiful interview with Cobhams Asuquo, where he talked to us about his experience as a blind man in Nigeria. Today, we’re sharing Pink Panther’s story. He is a 34 year old writer and a publisher of one of the most widely read online magazines in Nigeria.

Pink Panther on Himself

I’m Pink Panther, a 34-year-old man. I’m an editor and a writer, although I studied the sciences. My family wanted me to be in science, and growing up I was good in science, even though my heart was in the arts. I guess you could say I just wanted to finish and say, “Oh you know what, here’s your certificate. Now let me go do what I want to do.” It’s a struggle to be what you want to be, especially in a profession that isn’t really lucrative in Nigeria. But, you know, it’s something that I wake up every day and feel like: this is what I want to do, this is what I’m meant to do. I’m from Imo State, and I’m gay.

I grew up in a middle class family, and I was lucky to have parents who wanted the best for their children. I was a lot reserved, and I think in many ways, the vibes I gave off growing up, is what sort of gave my family the allowance to accept me when I came out. I think they must have been like, this one.

Initially my reserved nature came from my writing, or my direction toward the arts. I got exposed to writing while I was having all these thoughts in my head. I was sort of transferring all the thoughts in my head to paper. And because I knew it was a weird thing for someone to be talking to himself. I wasn’t comfortable with being around people, so I used to be on my own a lot.

Pink Panther on Discovering His Difference

I was 13. I started having questions when I was 12. There was this gorgeous boy who was in another class. We were in the same JSS2, but he was JSS2F and I was in B. I remember the first day I saw him as in the backyard of my class. I just—it was like in the movies. Before then I had never had any sexual interest, guy or girl. And then here I was and I was suddenly “Oh my God.” I was like, But wait, why are you thinking that about a guy? There were all these questions that I think I was too young to explore them. I was in JSS2, I was still trying to figure out living in boarding school.

When I was in JSS1, there was this boy who was always bullying me. I wouldn’t even provoke him, he would just come  tear at me or hold me or something. And then I was in JSS2 and I was made the class captain and I thought, Okay, now I have some authority. But f*** that. Authority where? He didn’t care. Your authority is in your pocket. I was so scared of him, I didn’t even know how to subdue him. I couldn’t tell him to sweep the class. I had to remove his name from the class roster because I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I could see a long road of bullying because we were in the same class.

And then in Jss3, I was still the class captain. And after the night prep, class captains are usually the last to leave the class. I was waiting, and then he comes through the door. Immediately I saw him I started begging him. “I am tired. I don’t need stress. Please. Just let me go. Please. I don’t want wahala.”

He asked me, “What makes you think I want to give you wahala?” and I was like, “This is the third year of your problem. Please.”

He was blocking the door and approaching, and I was avoiding him, playing a game of chasee and chaser, dodging between chairs. But eventually he caught me. And while I was ducking, trying to block whatever blows, he just grabbed me and kissed me. And, I was struck by one thing. And I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t fight my sexuality. I wasn’t one of those people who was growing up and was feeling guilty and was praying and was casting and all that. I felt so right about my sexuality because that first kiss felt right. I did not feel any guilt. I just wanted to go on kissing him right there in class.

Pink Panther on living his difference

I didn’t have a template for how it was supposed to be. I was first a teenager who was just going through life, living what he knew to be the way he felt about what his desires were. And then I was in my 20s. I didn’t have anybody I was mapping my life after.

The first person who knew in my family was my immediate younger brother. He was staying in Port Harcourt, and he was trying to travel out of the country. He was visiting Lagos a lot, staying with me. On that day, he wanted to use my phone to check something, and I suppose he saw something he wasn’t supposed to see. He didn’t confront me. He casually returned my phone and left. He returned to Port Harcourt. Then he called me. Now, that conversation told me a lot of things I needed to know about myself. He was talking, fuming, “He’s this, he’s that,” he was saying a lot of really really homophobic things. And my reaction to it all was calm. I was on the phone, not reacting. Just listening. I didn’t feel any panic. Up until the point when he threatened me with outing me to our parents. I was like, “Okay. Sure. You would even be doing me a favour. You can go ahead.” I mean, all I would now do was to confirm. “The actual telling is the hard work,” I told him. He was like, “What are you saying? What are you saying?” That was that. I would call it a fight, except I wasn’t fighting, he was. After he travelled out, he allowed himself time to grow, and he became amazing. My birthday was coming up, I think about close to a year after he travelled out, and he just made this post about me on Facebook that was lovely and amazing and I was near tears. And I was thinking, Wait, am I not supposed to be having a Cold War with this guy? What is this? So I buzzed him, told him, “I’m sorry, but what was that you did?” We had not spoken before then. That was like him apologising.

My other brother, I can’t honestly tell you when he knew, because he’s the kind of person who observes a lot. I don’t know. When I started suspecting that he knew something was one of the times I travelled home, and a friend of mine visited. A very platonic friend of mine, but a guy. We were in the living room, and my brother and I were the only ones at home. He walked into the living room and saw me and my friend. He was like, “Okay,” then left. He closed the door adjoining the living room to the rest of the house. That door is never closed. He closed it and went in. Then later, after an hour or so, he wanted to collect something from me, then came and knocked on the door. I was like, “Enter na.” He opened and then peeped, and I was like, Okay, no, this guy knows something. It was funny.

Growing up I was like my mother’s ally. Whenever there was an issue between my parents, I don’t care who started what, I’m on my mother’s side. That sort of gave me this thinking that when I do come out that my mother would be my rock, my dad would be the one who would be like: I disown you. That’s the way I saw it. the question of coming out was not even a question. I knew I was going to come out. I knew what alliances would happen. But, when I did come out, the opposite was the case. My dad became the incredibly supportive parent, and mom… it just messed with my mind somehow.

It’s just weird. And sort of sad, actually.

There was one time we had a very long conversation, that I tried everything that I could. Up until the point that I was using emotional blackmail. “How can you say you cannot recognise me as your child? After everything we have—” I’m laughing now, but then I was all shades of negative emotions. From sadness to anger. But my dad? Total surprise. It’s gotten to the stage where friends of mine who know my parents, they tell me, “It’s time we elect your dad the LGBT parent of the year.” Because he’s been amazing.

We were having a conversation and he said something, referring to my sexuality, and he said “Your condition.” And I was like, “No, it’s not a condition. It’s who I am. It’s not a condition. You can say, ‘Your sexuality.’ Not condition”. And he was like, “Nna, I don’t understand these things. Just tell me everything.” Basically opening himself up. So I told him a lot of things. Not everything, but enough to make him cry. By the time I finished, he was like, why didn’t I know these things? He just sort of blamed himself for the part where he felt he could have protected me as a child.

I am no longer anywhere near the neighbourhood of thinking, Oh, how I wish I wasn’t gay, how I wish I could change myself to be straight. That’s one. But there are moments when it’s really hard, especially because I’m prone to depression. It’s usually triggered by different things, but it’s mostly when I get an overwhelming information about issues. I feel a lot of pain when people tell me what they’re going through. The realisation that some of the injustices we face may not happen if we were not queer. That’s what makes me really sad. I suppose that’s what I would call the disadvantage when I think about how the culture is stacked against us because of our sexuality. It makes me feel very very sad. Just—in the general societal sense, the limitations on my freedom, the way the things are structured to be against me, the police, all those things. There was a comment on my blog about one guy who was talking about—it wasn’t clear, but there was an implication in the comment that made it seem like he killed one of his attackers. Some people were calling me, agitating, telling me, “That guy, you should take the comment down.” And I said, “Sorry, but, are you trying to make me feel empathy for the people who he supposedly killed, who were going to kill him?” And then I sat down and thought about how messed up it was that I had gotten to the point where I get so angry that I can justify murder. And it’s sad. It’s really really sad. It’s sad. I don’t know. I don’t know.

And then my dad. He’s a naturally worrisome parent. But, in my own case, it feels like his worrisomeness has turned something else. Like when I went home the other week, he went, “This killing they’re killing people, lynching people, please, my son, I hope you’re taking care of yourself. Hope you’re doing this. Hope you’re doing that. All these things. And I look at him and I think, it is so sad that this has now been placed on him. Instead of you to just worry normal for your child, you have an added layer of, What if people find out? That is sad. And the strain it causes on my relationships. Even though it’s without a question something I cannot condone – a relationship that is toxic to who I am. I can’t deal. But then I think, Why? Why do we have situations where these things have to happen, these cut offs of these things have to happen? Why?

I had this friend, we were close. We had conversations about starting a publishing house together, and all that stuff. It was all just talk. But we may have actualized the dream eventually, who knows? When I started to become vocal about my sexuality, she was one of those people who became anti-gay. And I can’t deal with that. I told her, See, you’re my friend. You owe it to me to respect—not even respect, to accept me, and respect everyone who identifies the way I do. It is your responsibility as my friend. I don’t want you to tolerate me. F*** your tolerance. I’m not telling you to accept me because I’m a murderer or a killer or a thief. I’m telling you to accept me because I am light skinned, I’m black, I’m the things I am. Because I’m a man. It just pains me that things like this have to be an issue in our relationships. That people have to do all kinds of gymnastics about their friends. I have to be like this with him. I have to be like this with them. You know all these things that make you go, Ahhhh! Tolerance—it’s like me being misogynistic. Oh, I don’t respect you as a woman, but let’s go and be friends. How do you deal with that? No.

Pink Panther on how Nigerians react to his difference

I don’t even let it be like some big reveal. I let it work itself into the conversation. It’s the same way, I remember one guy I was casually chatting with. So we’d been chatting and chatting and chatting, and one day he was talking about his girlfriend, “Oh his girlfriend was doing this and this and that,” and I was like, “Oh, thank God I don’t have to deal with that.” He was like, “What do I mean?” I said, “Oh, because it’s boys I have to deal with, I don’t have to deal with girls.” So he did a double take. He paused. I now told him, Here’s where you have to be very careful with what you say to me next. I have just told you that I am gay, the next thing you say is what will determine where we’re going with this friendship. So, yeah.

There’s mostly amazement. Especially from friends who—there’s a show called minority report, which my friends and I post on YouTube, and basically we use it to talk about minority issues – sexuality, gender, and stuff like that. It was a stretching out of my comfort zone to put a face and voice to a statement of change. It was totally different from what I was used to. But last year was totally different. I took a position of someone who was mostly talking about this because we have to talk about this. About these people. But then this year we suddenly did like a U-turn and started personifying it. Me. Us. We. And I remember our first episode of this year, or our second—I can’t remember. I had this flurry of movement into my inbox: Jesus what are you doing? Are you out? What are you doing? People were so afraid for me. That’s the reaction most of the time, my friends going: What did I just see you do? In a country like Nigeria. But, you know, I’m yet to face any antagonism. Not like I’m praying for it to happen. I’m not oo, please. They should stay away from me. I want to just be gay in peace. But, yeah, I haven’t experienced any antagonism. I’m grateful for that.

Pink Panther on what Nigerians need to know about his difference

Like my friend would say: It’s 2020, please. If you don’t know what this thing is about, then you have no business talking.

Really, I believe, strongly, that being gay has contributed to making me be a better person. I believe that very very strongly. I believe that if I wasn’t gay, I would not be as attune to—because I believe that being in a place of disadvantage makes you appreciate life. That’s why I give straight men a sort of leeway, knowing that they were born into a place of privilege that their gender and sexuality affords them. But that is only when they express an ignorance that’s not steeped in malice or wickedness. Yes. Then I get why I can give you some excuse. But when it’s a willful ignorance, an ignorance that insists on itself, a wicked one, I’m like, No, you did not come into this world a wicked person. Why should I excuse you? You need to do better!

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We absolutely loved loved loved the insight shared by this phenomenal man. We are very grateful to The Pink Panther for taking time to talk to BellaNaija on this series. BNers, stay tuned to this series because we have many more inspiring features for you. You can join the conversation on social media with #BNLivingYourDifference. We welcome your suggestions and feedback on the series, so send us an email: submissions(at)bellanaija(dot)com.

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