Labels? –No, thank you! by Osazeme O

Labels do not become me, because my complete identity is as complex as it is varied. I am truly the sum of my parts. I once wrote, “I am a Nigeria woman, an African woman, a Black woman, and a God fearing woman. I am a Queer woman. I walk through this world as all of these things and yet in the face of adversity, at times I feel that I am none of them.” Today, only parts of this declaration hold true. Were I to dare such a declaration again it would sound something like this. I am a Bini woman, a Nigerian woman, a Black woman, a Southern African transplant, an African woman, and a God respecting woman. I now know that you can have fear with without respect, but respect cannot exist without reverence. I would also say, I am an Afropolitan, a polyglot, a womanist, an Africanist, a chef and a food scholar. On my sexual identity, I would simply say that I am a woman who loves women!

Today in the face of adversity, I feel that I am no single one of my parts, but a woman who lives at the intersection of all her parts. You might as why any of this is important? I was ‘outed’ to my family by someone very close to me at the tender age of 15. When I think back to that time I realise that I had no idea who I was, and so part of the my parent response was not ill fitting. At 15 I was certainly not ready to apply the labels “lesbian, bisexual, queer or gay” to myself and I didn’t. I was in boarding school and had not yet come to terms with the fact that while all my peers where kissing boys or eager to get boyfriends, I was having dreams about some of my female peers. I felt the only way to grapple with this new reality was to hide my feelings. Ergo, I went about vilifying the subjects of my affection. I remember the names I conjured up for theses girls whom I secretly desired in the way my friends spoke of desiring boys. I had to believe that those girls were the problem; I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t like them, and that this difference wasn’t bad at all. At a time of such utter confusion it was even more damaging for someone to explode my very complicated take on heterosexual marriage, and use that to first pass judgement and then impose an identity on me that I was not ready for. In any event from that day on I was made to know that how I felt and who I was becoming was unacceptable according to world I came from. So I tried to fight against it with every fibre in my being. I began to spend less time with my females peers, rationalising my decision by telling myself that it was too difficult being friends with girls, because girls are full of drama and gossip. Consequently, I became a very good friend to boys. To me communicating with boys was uncomplicated and basic while affording me ample space to avoid my feelings for my same gender. I recently found a letter I wrote to God, I begged to not be who I ultimately knew I was. Again, because I wasn’t ready for labels I simply prayed, “God please don’t let me be like this. This thing is a problem and I don’t want to have it, make me like the other girls.” That prayer became my mantra for an entire summer. I prayed that prayer despite the fact that I wasn’t really interested in engaging with sexuality at all, least of all with boys. I was still dedicated to updating my music playlists almost daily, reading insatiably and believe it or not I was in my all black everything phase, dark eyeliner and long sleeves, the works!

Now, following that experience, I believe it’s important to do things at the pace that you feel comfortable. Do let anyone define you to or for you, it takes more time to adjust and heal. We are on this earth to live our lives to the best of your ability, to leave our mark and if you believe in a higher power, it is your duty to honour that being. Thankfully, I turned out ok, because after praying that mantra the peace I found was knowing that my God loves me anyhow. That who I love and how I love them doesn’t make me any less worthy than the next person. The people who matter in my life perceive this inner peace and they respect and love me for it. I’m still not comfortable with the labels, because after close interrogation, I’ve decided that as they are they do not capture my whole existence. But, I know who I am, and I am proud of me. The worst person to lie to and hide from is yourself, so live your truth fiercely and find time to heal.

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