Friday nights were always lively at this club located somewhere in one of the more secluded parts of Lagos, but there was an extra dimension to the frenzy that night. It was as if the rain that fell earlier in the day did much to fuel the mood. Everyone was dressed in bright-coloured clothes as if previously planned, the diverse genres of music that seeped from the club’s loudspeakers influenced the dance moves on show, and no one chose to shy away from the drinks that flowed from table to table. Somewhere at one end of the room, two lovers were making out with that passion which suggested they may not have seen each other in months. No one could blame them though, this was one of the very few places where they could really express how they felt about each other.
Yes, this was one of the few hangouts in Lagos, or South-western Nigeria as a matter of fact, where two people of the same sex could give expression to the sexual desires they felt for each other. Club Rainbow, the most exquisite of the very few gay clubs in these parts, was strategically built in a part of town most difficult to locate or maintain surveillance, and thrived on patronage by some of those in the upper class who could effectively combine guts and discretion. For Alex and Bob, the two males whose lips were so passionately tangled, this was the best place they could celebrate the fourth year anniversary of their romantic relationship without the fear of being arrested, or worse still, lynched.
Seated at the club’s bar, apparently scouting for some boy-loving company, was Frank, a branch manager of one of the nation’s leading banks. Frank became aware of his sexual preference at the end of his secondary school days, and had managed to keep it under wraps since then, getting into relationships with ladies from time to time, of which the longest lasted for ten weeks. Standing six feet two inches tall and rather handsome, he was used to having lots of female bank staff and customers make passes at him, and they sometimes even teased him about his sexual orientation, not knowing that they were actually right. It was his habit to sneak in here every other weekend and cart a young man away to Hotel Pink Heaven, which was 50 minutes’ drive away and equally ‘hidden’. He wished that people knew what it felt like to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, or what it felt like to have ‘’ruptured chromosomes.’’ He liked to think that the bond in homosexual relationships was deeper than the emotional farce that prevailed everywhere between heterosexuals, where guys just wanted a convenient spot for their thrusts and paper dolls who called themselves ladies went for the highest bidder. He attributed society’s perception of gay people to a lack of appreciation of people’s individual psycho-physiological dispositions, and could only hope that there would surface more shrinks who could understand and explain things.
Laura and Diane, undergraduates whose romance had sparked off six months earlier, were chatting away at a table not too far off, their eyes radiating with amor as they looked at each other. Laura had been disowned by her Methodist parents as soon as she told them who she was upon entering the university, and had begun to fend for herself. She was now in her penultimate year in the state university’s Faculty of Law, and it wasn’t so hard convincing Sociology fresher Diane, who needed a break from her abusive father. They wished in both their minds that the world was as free for them as Club Rainbow was. They wished the nation’s legislators could face real pressing issues such as security, unemployment, power and education with the same zeal as they pursued the passing of the anti-gay bill, just to seem as if they were actually working. Unemployed graduates prowled the streets, inhabitants of Northern Nigeria slept with both eyes open, roads had remained death-traps, tertiary institutions had been shut down for months, yet all those pot-bellied moneybags knew how to do was to clamp down on interactions between consenting adults, just to score some cheap moral points. It was not like a number of them had not been at this very club before.
George, impatient to set eyes on his date, had already set upon two bottles of Night Train, but in his fading sobriety, he managed to reflect on the all the cheerfulness around, and how things were so different out there. He wondered when society could accept him the same way the American society accepted Ricky Martin, Ellen Degeneres, or Raven Symone. For crying out loud, this was 2013, not 1994 when England-based footballer Justin Fashanu committed suicide due to the stigma that followed his decision to come out. He wondered why people could not be seen beyond their bedroom choices. How did his choice of sexual partners affect his next-door neighbour? Heaven knows how many intelligent and industrious Nigerians have had to leave the country because of their sexual orientation, he mused. That was how ideas and manpower are lost, yet people wail about brain drain. He could relate to this, as his architect ex-lover Iyke had left him for Australia two years before. So what if Jane prefers Helen to Charles? Should her brilliant ideas not earn her a job? Why should people be judged with only one aspect of their character? Yes, being gay was seen as a mental disorder some three decades ago, but so was it a crime to be black back then. Damn, even science as well as some pockets of Christianity tried to prove the supposed inferiority of blacks! Did Wentworth Miller’s sexual preference get in the way when he starred as Michael Scofield in Prison Break? Did it stop Ian Mckellen from perfecting his role as Magneto in X-men? Does being gay take anything from Elton John’s or Frank Ocean’s musical talent or prowess? Does it make Anderson Cooper a less efficient CNN anchor? These were questions George wanted the larger society to answer. He found a hero in U.S. gay politician Harvey Milk, who had been assassinated in the late 1970s for daring to advocate for gay rights.
In all the intense moments with Alex that night, Bob found time to think. He was no longer finding it easy to hide his true identity from the congregation of St. Anthony’s parish, where he served as a chief instrumentalist. He had been introduced to homosexual acts in his days at the junior seminary where he had his secondary school education, and after series of unsuccessful personal retreats, monastery visits and counselling, had chosen to accept who he had now seen himself as. He wished he was as lucky as Gabby, his secondary school classmate who moved with his family to England and eventually left the closet soon after, without the backlash and stigmatisation that would have followed if it had happened in Nigeria. He wished people could understand that being gay was more than matching outfits and butt lubrication, that it involved something much more selfless and sincere, like the friendship that existed in the Bible between David and Jonathan. He wished people could understand that two men could actually have much love for each other, or what did they think when the Bible referred to John as ‘’the one Jesus loved’’? Yes, it was a sin, but so was stealing and lying, so why did people have to set double standards? Why did people have to classify wrongs just to make themselves look better than others? Was he more guilty than the promiscuous lady who went for an abortion, or the office clerk who falsified cheques? Why did churches choose to preach hatred and resentment for gays from the pulpits, as opposed to Jesus’ teaching to show love? Why did people choose to play God over a pre-disposition? Well at least Pope Francis had decided to show a little bit tolerance, if his statement ‘’who am I to judge them?’’ was anything to go by. He loved to think that God loved him just the way he was, and hoped that one day people would understand St. Paul’s words ‘’love covers a multitude of sins’’.
There was however one person who did not share the sentiments of the rest of the people in Club Rainbow that night. Jerry barely managed to avoid throwing up as he turned away while snatching a beer bottle from Chris the bartender, who had chosen to apply eye shadow and lip gloss that day. Jerry was only here because he had come to get the money due to him from a Northern state legislator after he had linked up the latter to his gay cousin Ifeanyi. Jerry had discovered Ifeanyi’s tendencies shortly after they had begun to live together following the death of Ifeanyi’s parents, and while Jerry found it disgusting, he decided to see it as a financial opportunity. That was how he managed to pay rent at their little apartment in the state’s capital, and that was how Ifeanyi funded the pursuit of his Engineering degree at the state’s federal university. The deal was simple: get a rich butt-thirsty fellow, link them up to his cousin, get paid in advance, and get the balance after their rendezvous whose details he didn’t want to imagine. He couldn’t understand why a man would want to choose Brad Pitt in bed over Sofia Vergara, or Jon Dumelo over Nadia Buari. Except for the goose and a few other annoying species, animals didn’t even get down with those of their own gender.
Jerry’s urge to walk out could only intensify as he saw two men hold each other by the waist, heading to the rest room. If only I didn’t have to come get money from that filthy Alhaji, he said to himself. He wished that there would be an opportunity to gather all these ‘’sexually confused beings’’ (as he liked to call them) from all over the world into one building and set them ablaze, like God cleaned out Sodom, or like Hitler tried to rid the planet of Jews. He wanted them to ask themselves how they would be here tonight if their parents had chosen to follow the path they now did. Maybe the world’s population would have been a couple of millions rather than seven billion as we now had it. Or why didn’t God churn out Bruce and Steve the same away he made Adam and Eve? And for those who felt they could just adopt children, didn’t they think that the kids would have problems knowing whom to call Dad or Mum? He admired the stand which Nigeria had taken so far; world powers could go to blazes with their foreign aid. He secretly hated Ifeanyi for being gay, moreso as he loved to be the one doing the ‘receiving’, but what could he do? They needed money! After a long nauseating wait, Jerry finally got his money and stormed out without so much as a word of appreciation, hoping that he would never have to be back in that club anytime soon.
Jerry would eventually get his wish three weekends later, as irate residents chose to reduce the club to a pile of debris. They had been showing their discontent from the very first day the club building was erected three years earlier, but the efforts of police and some big shots in the state had kept them in check. That fateful Saturday night however, they decided they had enough. They had to make it clear that this was still Nigeria, and that people like Frank and Laura who dreamt of freedom for the ‘’sexual minority’’ would have to go find it elsewhere. They burnt the club to the ground, and with it the romance between Alex and Bob, who had been unfortunate to be within club premises when the residents struck, and were too drunk to escape.
(Follow on Twitter @Le_Bouquineur)