A few days ago, Nigerian Twitter was a cesspool. Yes, even more than usual. My timeline was awash with opinions on gay men deceiving unsuspecting heterosexual women into marriages. The conversation was brutal, lacking in empathy.
Empathy is important, but to move the conversation forward we must look from empathy to nuance. Because even the most empathetic people will only consider the situation from a broad perspective whilst ignoring, albeit unwilfully, how individual circumstances may affect the considerations.
Nothing is ever either black or white. When we ignore nuance, we try to fit everything into neat little boxes. We say, in box A there are queer men and in Box B, heterosexual women. Then we further characterize those boxes; box A is evil and box B can do no wrong. Or is box A misunderstood and does box B have the capacity for evil. This is where we need nuance, empathy alone is ill-equipped to answer those questions or give us the “why”.
Understanding all sides means doing away with blanket statements. I think we fail to do this because it is hard, often thankless work and it takes forever. We cannot fully consider nuances in a 1000-word op-ed, and we don’t want to try because it’s easier to say things are A and B and leave out C, D, E, and all the other letters.
I want us to have a conversation where we consider Femi who is in love with his boyfriend but lives in a society where even holding eye contact for too long raises eyebrows. We need to consider how Femi has to navigate life trying to survive in a society that denies him existence. How he tries to get and keep a job, how he wants to hold on to his family, how he wants to make his mother happy. How there are too many questions about why he spends so much time with John, how his neighbours are starting to give him weird looks.
Men are not pressured to marry in the way that women are; when we say that we forget to mention that the men who don’t feel the pressure to marry are those who conform to society’s rules; they have nothing to hide, no need to seek shelter in the protective arms of marriage. Marriage, which is both oppression and salvation for women and queer people.
It is hard to see how gay men are oppressed in marriage, they are men after all. We are seduced by the notion that they benefit from the patriarchy, we overlook the fact that they are not men by the patriarchy’s standards.
In this discourse, both sides are victims. The cisgender heterosexual partner because they did not choose that life and deserve better. The queer partner because although they chose that life, is it a choice when the other option is death at best? The queer partner is the victim too because they have to go through life hiding who they are; the closet may have all the nice clothes, but it is far from fabulous.
There are alternatives — at least theoretically — to queer men marrying heterosexual women to avoid homophobic violence. All of these alternatives and solutions fail to consider one thing, the root of the problem. The problem isn’t the pulling of unsuspecting women into unsatisfying marriages by gay men, the problem is marriage. The problem is homophobia. The problem is cisheteronormativity. The problem is our patriarchal society which has said that to be anything but a cishet man is to be subhuman, to be less than. Which has said that to achieve full humanity, we must partake in heterosexual marriage.
Until we fix the root, until we can claim our humanity, see ourselves as fully human outside of the institution of marriage, until marriage is no longer an escape, we will continue to have these discussions and we will continue to make no headway.
Our solution is not to ask gay men to stay single or marry lesbians. It is not demanding that queer men reveal their sexuality to their partners. Our solution is the deconstruction of marriage, it is the eradication of homophobia, it is the burning of the patriarchy.
With love and everything nice,